February 9, 2003

Dukakis Rides Again


Memo to Governor Mike Dukakis

From: Mark Katz

Subject: Thoughts on 2004

Now that your old rivals Gary Hart and Dick Gephardt have once again tossed their hats into the ring, it is only natural for people to recall the 1988 campaign and the Democratic Party's nominee for president. That was you.

Here are some thoughts on why the time is so right for Mike Dukakis to run again.

  • Today, President Mike Dukakis could negotiate with Mikhail Gorbachev from a position of real strength.
  • The state you once governed so well is ripe for another "Massachusetts miracle." In fact, your slogan, "good jobs at good wages," resonates now more than ever!
  • Boston Harbor is clean. No problem there.
  • No one has given more speeches on "déjà voodoo economics" — humongous tax cuts and enormous defense spending — than you. Suggested warmed-over sound bite: Bushonomics is déjà-voodoo economics all over again again!
  • Your killer stuff on the Strategic Defense Initiative — "we need star schools, not Star Wars"— still works for me.
  • Your running mate, Lloyd Bentsen, was vindicated by time: Dan Quayle was no Jack Kennedy.

Governor, perhaps the most compelling case to be made for a new campaign is your track record against a similar-looking field of candidates.

In 1988, you vanquished all rivals: an attractive Southern moderate, Al Gore (attention, John Edwards!); the spoiler, Jesse Jackson (Al Sharpton, look out!); an avuncular nerd, Paul Simon (Joe Lieberman's ears are burning); as well as a populist Congressman, Dick Gephardt (Dick Gephardt beware!). As for John Kerry, certainly your former lieutenant governor will have no choice but to endorse you like the good soldier and mensch that he is. Gary Hart? Go ahead and watch him campaign. You'll be bored.

You may not know that your 1988 campaign had a rapid-response team, and that I was on it. Here are some of the hard-hitting lines I should have gotten to you sooner:

  • I love the American flag and anyone who suggests otherwise will get a punch in the nose!
  • Hey, wait a minute, Bernie Shaw — that's my wife you are talking about!
  • Willie Horton? Trent Lott!

Governor Dukakis, I strongly believe that you have a second date with destiny and urge you to run. Al Gore was wise to get out of the way. You are the guy with the grudge to settle against George Bush.


Mark Katz, speechwriter and humorist, was a member of the Dukakis presidential campaign's rapid-response team.

Author's note: the following lines did not appear in print

"Read your lips? Read my eyebrows!"

The only former rival of yours that still scares me is Senator Joseph Biden. That guy has more hair today that he did in 1988!

Admittedly, that picture of you in the tank did look silly. But the updated C-41 assault tanks that we would put you in today is much sleeker and aesthetically pleasing.

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