Michael Stanley Dukakis


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(b. Brookline, Massachusetts, 3 Nov. 1933)

US; member of Massachusetts House of Representatives 1963–70, Governor of Massachusetts 1975–9, 1983–91, Democratic presidential nominee 1988 The son of Greek immigrant parents (his father was a doctor and his mother a school-teacher), Dukakis graduated BA from Swarthmore College 1955. After two year's military service with the US army in Korea he returned to his studies in 1957 and graduated LLB from Harvard Law School in 1960. He was called to the bar in Massachusetts that same year and began to practise law in Boston 1960–74. A Democrat, he embarked on his political career in 1962 when he was elected to the lower house of the Massachusetts State Legislature. In 1970 he ran unsuccessfully for the office of Lieutenant-Governor. Already combining a career in law and politics, he added a further string to his bow, 1971–3, by presenting a weekly television news programme, The Advocates. He gained election to the state governorship in 1975, but in 1979 returned to Harvard in the role of Director of Intergovernmental Studies in the Kennedy School of Government, when he failed to secure the Massachusetts governorship for a second term. This did not mark the end of his political career. He regained the governorship in 1983 and in 1988 he successfully competed against Jesse Jackson and Al Gore for the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency.

Dukakis is described by his critics as an arrogant technocrat who possesses an analytical mind but lacks the passion and vision needed for leadership. His first term as governor was marred by an autocratic style of administration. He set about cleaning up the old political machine in Boston, a course of action almost guaranteed to make enemies. He was accused of being ruthless and insensitive to former allies who had outlived their usefulness. The interlude at Harvard gave him time for reflection. When seeking to regain the governorship in 1983 he promised a more consensual approach if re-elected. His second period in office coincided with the Massachusetts economic miracle of the mid-1980s. Dukakis was the beneficiary of this economic prosperity. He was returned to office with an increased majority in 1986. After receiving the Democratic nomination in 1988 he managed to transform a huge lead in the opinion polls to a landslide defeat. The Bush camp succeeded in burdening Dukakis with the ‘l-word’ image. A moderate in terms of social reform, he failed to either clearly embrace or repudiate the liberal label. This left voters confused and unwilling to support him on polling day. The result appears to have drawn a line under Dukakis's career in national politics. The downturn in the Massachusetts economic boom discouraged him from seeking a further term as governor in 1990 and he returned instead to an academic career.

Subjects: Politics.

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