It remains unproven that Michael Dukakis was created in a German lab in a quest to create the ideal bad presidential candidate. After all, the former Massachusetts governor would have been worse if, for example, he had eaten a live kitten during his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention.
But that's a quibble. Give the man his due. Roughly 15 years later, Democrats from Massachusetts still have to disavow Dukakis. "I am not Michael Dukakis, and Michael Dukakis is not me, and the first person who would tell you that is Michael Dukakis," Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry explained to the Boston Globe on Nov. 25.
And to be fair, that's true. Yes, Sen. Kerry is a Massachusetts liberal (who has voted 100 percent with Ted Kennedy in recent years). And, yes, Kerry is arrogant and condescending, also much like candidate Dukakis was. Yes, Dukakis believed he was the heir to John F. Kennedy. Kerry, too, is famously infatuated with Camelot. Kerry even signed his name "JFK" as a young man -his middle name is Forbes -and affected a Kennedyesque accent.
But there are important differences between Kerry and Dukakis. Kerry served with distinction in Vietnam. Kerry was born rich and married even richer. And Kerry has more important-looking hair.
So, while the comparison to Dukakis is unfair and overplayed, there's another comparison that deserves more attention. John Kerry looks an awful lot like Al Gore, with a dash of Bill Clinton thrown in for flavor.
Al Gore famously joined the Army -as an Army journalist -because it would help his father, the late Senator Albert Gore Sr., who was in a tight re-election campaign and because Gore Jr. was being groomed for political office. Bill Clinton -another man deeply enraptured by the Camelot myth -didn't serve in Vietnam, but he always tried to claim that wasn't by choice. And when anguishing over whether or not he should comply with the draft, he explained to a friend that while he "loathed" the military he was desperate to "maintain my political viability within the system."
John Kerry not only went to Vietnam but he served with distinction. But, for him as well, presidential ambition was always part of the equation. While in Vietnam, for example, he filmed his adventures. "John was thinking Camelot when he shot that film, absolutely," a friend later explained to the Boston Globe.
Clinton was lucky. He got that priceless footage of himself shaking hands with JFK simply by joining Boy's Nation.
When Kerry returned from Vietnam he became an anti-war activist, famously "returning" medals to the U.S. government by throwing them on the steps of Capitol Hill for a photo-op. It was later revealed that they were not in fact his own medals, which he kept safely at home.
Kerry has always been a liberal, unlike Gore and Clinton who were willing to change their positions based upon the prevailing political climate. Of course, they were politicians from increasingly conservative Southern states, while Kerry didn't need to change his spots in Massachusetts, the State that Time Forgot. Nevertheless, Kerry, like Gore and Clinton, is a man governed by ambition, and that makes him inclined to say whatever is necessary.
Consider, for example, Kerry's position on the death penalty. When Kerry announced he would be forming a presidential exploratory committee on "Meet the Press" last Sunday, he explained, "I don't think it is right to have a criminal justice system that kills innocent people." OK. Fair enough. But who, exactly, is in favor of killing innocent people?
More to the point, he said, "I'm opposed to the death penalty in the criminal justice system because I think it's applied unfairly … and because I'm for a worse punishment. I think it is worse to take somebody and put them in a small cell for the rest of their life." He continued, "I've seen people die and I know what it's like to almost die. I don't think that -you know, dying is scary for a while, but in the end, the punishment is gone. When you're alive and you're deprived of your freedom each day … that is tough, my friend."
This is very weird. Kerry's position isn't that state-sanctioned killing is wrong or cruel. Rather, Kerry holds that capital punishment is wrong because it's not cruel enough. Of course, this flies in the face of how criminal defendants feel, who often plead guilty just to be spared the death penalty. But Kerry says he favors the death penalty for terrorists, which sounds popular but also puts him in the position of favoring mercy for terrorists he would deny to Americans.
This sort of effort to get credit for a popular position while actually holding an unpopular one is classic Clintonism, and Kerry's eagerness to say something that he knows makes no sense is quintessential Gore. And, in that sense, I'd prefer Dukakis. He may have been a loser, but at least he was honest about it.