Boston Globe Imagines 'What If?' Dukakis Won 20 Years Ago

Over a drawing of Michael Dukakis waving in front of Air Force One, the cover story for last Sunday's Boston Globe Magazine posed the question very few have ever wanted answered, but if such people exist they most likely live within the Globe's home delivery area: “What If? Twenty years later, imagining there was a President Dukakis.” While certainly hagiographic, staff magazine writer Charles P. Pierce avoided the ludicrous level of veneration he espoused in a 2003 profile of Senator Ted Kennedy:
If she had lived, Mary Jo Kopechne would be 62 years old. Through his tireless work as a legislator, Edward Kennedy would have brought comfort to her in her old age.
The August 3 piece imagined a tour of the new Michael Dukakis Presidential Museum and Library in Lowell, Mass. which highlights how the former Massachusetts Governor slam-dunked Bernard Shaw's murder of Kitty Dukakis question, “deftly saved” himself from the tank ride embarrassment “by quipping, 'I looked silly in a tank for 15 minutes. George Bush has been in the tank for 30 years,'” applied his diplomatic skills to prevent Saddam Hussein from invading Iraq and thus avoided the Gulf War, and “the success of his diplomatic efforts in the Middle East gave him the political capital to spend on reforming the nation's passenger-rail system” and so “the third floor of the museum is built around a central hall celebrating what Dukakis had come to call 'The Steel Interstate.'”

In a retrospective portion of the article looking at Dukakis's real life, Pierce portrayed the Democrat as a victim of unfair attacks during the 1988 campaign:
He was pilloried over the Pledge of Allegiance in schools and over a prisoner furlough program that had begun under his Republican predecessor. America got to know who Willie Horton was because the Republicans introduced them to each other, and the Dukakis campaign seemed incapable of fighting back. When unfounded rumors arose concerning Dukakis's mental health, then-president Ronald Reagan chimed in that he "wasn't going to pick on an invalid." Much of the campaign was so feverish that Lee Atwater, the Republican consultant who was its principal architect, apologized for it on his deathbed. After winning the Democratic nomination, Dukakis never found his feet again.
An excerpt from Pierce's pretend world in which President Dukakis served two-terms, as recounted by a look inside his presidential museum:
...Early on, Dukakis had piled up a 17-point lead over Bush, but the power of incumbency began to whittle that away. Most political observers believe that Dukakis managed to recover his lead because of two pivotal moments. On a television screen on one wall of the museum, CNN anchor Bernard Shaw is shown asking Dukakis if he would support the death penalty for a criminal who had raped and murdered his wife. "If this were anyplace else and any other time, Bernie," Dukakis memorably replied, "I'd ask you to step outside for a minute." Raucous applause broke out in the studio audience.

Not far away, on another wall, was the famous photograph of Dukakis riding in a tank outside a General Dynamics plant in Michigan. The visual might have become a blunder of historic proportion had Dukakis not deftly saved the situation by quipping, "I looked silly in a tank for 15 minutes. George Bush has been in the tank for 30 years." Both incidents had worked to undermine the image of Dukakis as a bloodless technocrat and are widely credited with helping him to his narrow victory.

....

Illustration by Josue EvillaThe second floor of the Dukakis Library is dominated by a multimedia presentation concerning the Persian Gulf Crisis of 1991. After President Dukakis cut off all aid to both sides of the Iran-Iraq conflict, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein felt his grip on power threatened. He appeared to be mobilizing his army to move south into Kuwait. Secretary of State Joseph Biden -- who'd taken the Cabinet job after reconciling with Dukakis over the role the latter's campaign had played in hanging a plagiarism charge on Biden during the primary season -- warned Hussein against such a move.

The story is now well known as to how Biden and Gary Hart, whom Dukakis had appointed a special envoy to the Middle East, enlisted the help of Republican operative James Baker to build an international coalition to resist Iraqi aggression. The United Nations passed a resolution threatening massive military action if Hussein moved into Kuwait. For two weeks, the Iraqi president fumed and dithered but, ultimately, his troops stayed in Iraq. Hussein's capitulation caused his regime to gradually become less and less stable in the face of a Kurdish independence movement in the north and a restive Shiite majority elsewhere in the country.

....

The success of his diplomatic efforts in the Middle East gave him the political capital to spend on reforming the nation's passenger-rail system. The third floor of the museum is built around a central hall celebrating what Dukakis had come to call "The Steel Interstate." There is a scale model of the system of regional rail networks in the middle. And the walls are full of photos in which the president, surrounded by local officials and smiling citizens, is opening yet another station.

....

Next to it is a picture of President Dukakis throwing out the first pitch of the 1994 World Series. Next to him is the former co-owner of the Texas Rangers who became the baseball commissioner, George W. Bush, the son of the man Dukakis had defeated in 1988 and widely regarded as the man who saved baseball from its own folly....
As for Pierce's claim about Kopechne and Kennedy, that won the “Ozzy Osbourne Award (for the Wackiest Comment)” in the MRC's 2004 DisHonors Awards.

The January 13, 2003 MRC CyberAlert item, “Kennedy Would've 'Brought Comfort' to Kopechne 'In Her Old Age,'” related:
In what Tony Snow all too accurately dubbed, in the “Below the Fold” segment on Fox News Sunday, as “the macabre political observation of the year,” in a Boston Globe Magazine tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy, veteran Globe staffer Charles Pierce asserted: “If she had lived, Mary Jo Kopechne would be 62 years old. Through his tireless work as a legislator, Edward Kennedy would have brought comfort to her in her old age.”

Wow. That's some rationalization.

Kopechne was the woman who drown while trapped in Kennedy's car on Chappaquiddick Island off Martha's Vineyard in 1969.

Here's the paragraph in full from the piece in the January 5 Boston Globe Magazine: “And that's the key. That's how you survive what he's survived. That's how you move forward, one step after another, even though your name is Edward Moore Kennedy. You work, always, as though your name were Edward Moore. If she had lived, Mary Jo Kopechne would be 62 years old. Through his tireless work as a legislator, Edward Kennedy would have brought comfort to her in her old age.”

“Kennedy Unbound” read the headline over the profile. The fawning subhead: “After 40 years in the U.S. Senate, Edward M. Kennedy has transcended the family mythology and become his own man.”
Boston Globe illustrations by Josue Evilla.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center