Campaign Commentary: A Conversation with Former Gov. Dukakis of Peace and Politics

Maggie Randall

There is no better way to understand a presidential election than to speak with someone who has run one before. There is also no better way to understand local politics than to ask someone who served as governor of Massachusetts for two terms, graduated from Brookline High School and has been using the MBTA since he was five years old.

On Wednesday, Massachusetts Peace Action, a nonprofit organization dedicated to domestic and foreign peace initiatives through politics, hosted former Gov. Michael Dukakis to share his thoughts on his presidential race, his time as governor and, above all, the need for peace.

In 1988, Dukakis ran for president as the Democratic nominee against then Vice President George H. W. Bush, the Republican nominee. Dukakis had previously served as governor of Massachusetts from 1975 to 1979 and later from 1983 to 1991.

One noteworthy aspect of Dukakis’s time in office is that he rode the T to work almost every day.

“I learned more about my administration riding the T than at the State House,” he said.

Jonathan King, an MIT professor who introduced Dukakis on Wednesday night, agreed that this small element aided Dukakis in understanding the city he oversaw.

“In 1974, I learned during the gubernatorial race that Gov. Dukakis took the Green Line to work … That put him more in touch with average people,” King said.

It certainly did. When the T faced issues later on, Dukakis sought a solution from the T operators themselves.

“Ask the guy operating and he’ll tell what’s wrong,” he said.

Besides initiatives to make the MBTA as efficient as possible, Dukakis is outspoken about his desire to invest more in infrastructure than in the military. He pointed out the fact that “the world is going by us” in terms of technology and transportation.

Dukakis’ vision for peace takes root in his views of international policies, as he pointed out the ways in which the United States has obstructed steps towards a more peaceful world.

“[Peace] may happen in my children’s lifetime, where war is ruled out,” he said.

He questioned aggression toward Russia by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and deemed the current Syrian refugee crisis “one of the most tragic humanitarian disasters in recent history.”

To make peace more of an option, Dukakis proposed that the United Nations be used as a first resort when it comes to foreign relations, rather than the last. The UN is “how we use our leadership in the right way,” he said.

By focusing on international issues more than domestic ones, Dukakis says we are “starving the public sector.” An example, he said, lies in the fact that the U.S. has military bases in over 150 different countries, the cost of which affects  taxpayers.

All of these issues must be faced by the next U.S. president. Before explaining his hopes for the future president, Dukakis acknowledged the achievements of President Barack Obama.

“I think he’s going to have a hell of a last year,” he said.

Both the presidential and congressional elections this year will be crucial to domestic and international policies.

If any candidate wants to win, though, Dukakis insisted that they have to run what he called a “50-state campaign.” As an example, he cited the 2008 election between Obama and Sen. John McCain. In the state of Mississippi, Obama was only behind McCain by five points. Had Obama campaigned more in a typically-Republican state, he could have won there.

Dukakis also highlighted that the “chaos in the Republican race has given [the Democratic] party an incredible opportunity.”

While Mass. Peace Action has endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders, Dukakis admitted that his support is with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.