The State of the Union: Perspectives on the Post-Election Political Terrain

WHERE THERE IS NO VISION, THE PEOPLE PERISH (Proverbs 29:18). If 1988 offers any evidence, this biblical prophecy is as true for presidential candidacies as it is for civilizations. The failure to heed it surely doomed the candidacy of Michael Dukakis.

The politics of blame began before the campaign was over. Dukakis' campaign staff even trashed their candidate on the front page of The Wall Street Journal on election day. Much will be written about the tactical failures, the technical incompetence, the mismanagement of the Dukakis campaign, particularly by political operatives trying to clear their reputations.

But this campaign, however mismanaged, was lost not on tactics but on strategy. And this candidate, however uninspiring, lost not on packaging but on message.

The Dukakis campaign strategy was formed before the primaries and was followed consistently. It reflected the best conventional wisdom of the political pollsters. Since this was a time of peace and prosperity, they opined, no "hot" candidacy was possible. Bush was widely perceived as personally weak. So a candidacy based upon experience and competence and a campaign focused on personality and character were deemed the best hope for the Democratic Party.

Dukakis followed this advice remorselessly. Moreover, it was an approach that fit his own temperament. Dukakis was the first Democratic candidate formed in the affluent suburbs, a suburban reformer who in earlier decades might have been a Rockefeller Republican. His cool demeanor, his dispassionate approach, his belief in expertise and technical solutions--all were consistent with his campaign strategy.

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