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Negative Campaigns Require Quick, Aggressive Strategy of Deflection

By John DillinStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 28, 1992



BOSTON

MICHAEL DUKAKIS, who was condemned in Republican TV ads as weak on defense, crime, and the environment in the 1988 presidential election, says his party is "getting a little smarter" about negative campaign tactics.

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"You have to have a strategy," he says. But the answer is "not simply to throw mud at the other guy."

Mr. Dukakis, now teaching political science at Northeastern University, explains how Democrats recently handled President Bush's explosive charge that a Democratic civil rights bill required racial quotas:

"What you try to do is turn the other guy's negative campaign into a character issue about him. Bush gets on this quota thing. It's as phony as a $3 bill.... But Bush keeps saying it ... and it's strictly political. We all know that."

So United States Sen. Bill Bradley (D) of New Jersey "gets up on the floor of the Senate ... basically saying, 'Mr. President, stop it! You ought to be ashamed of yourself. You're the first president in modern times to use race for political purposes.

Other Democrats, including Senate majority leader George Mitchell, make similar criticisms, comparing Bush's tactics with the Willie Horton ads of the 1988 campaign Willie Quota implying this is racial politics.

Quickly, the White House backs away and Bush signs the bill.

During an interview at his university office, Dukakis also touched on these other topics:

* Current economic problems.

"There are only three things you can do to get out of a recession.

"One, continue benefits for unemployed workers so you don't, by cutting them off, further deflate the economy. Even Ronald Reagan understood that.

"Two, cut interest rates. It's not the most effective strategy because everybody knows that monetary policy works a lot better to restrain [an economy] than to revive a depressed economy.

"Three, get construction money into the economy, get construction workers back, prime the pump.

"Where does the money come from? Well, stop spending $150 billion on defense of Western Europe. Close a few of those bases over there. Bring the money home and get it in roads and bridges and get people back to work."

* International economic competition.

"The reason Japanese cars are selling in the US is that American consumers seem to prefer them. I'm still driving American, but I'm frustrated. I'm like a lot of other Americans, I want to buy American....

"What is the matter with the American automotive industry that they can't produce a car that is competitive? It isn't American workers because those guys in Ohio are producing a Honda that's being exported to Japan. So there's something wrong with the way those American companies are being run and managed. It's the only conclusion one can come to."

* Health care.

"There is more than enough money in the health-care system without one additional dime of taxes to pay for comprehensive health care [for everyone]. That's the truth. We're spending unbelievable sums of money.

"People are fed up with what are the details [of how health insurance will work]. They expect the politicians to work out the details. They want to wake up one day and know that everyone in this country has access to decent health care at reasonable cost, not hear all this Mickey Mouse stuff....

"There's a line that [US Sen. Harris] Wofford [a Pennsylvania Democrat] used when [Republican candidate Dick] Thornburg, taking the bait, said, 'This is a very complicated issue.' Wofford replied: 'Complexity is the last refuge of politicians who don't want to deal with the problem.

* Mexican free trade.

"I think [opposing it] is legitimate. Not to mention the whole issue of environmental standards and whether Mexico is going to impose the same standards as we do up here. We're trying to clean up the environment, and you get an awful lot of acid rain coming out of those smelters on the Mexican side of the border. In my judgment, it's much more relevant than Japan bashing."

* Future of government.

"Most Americans want their government to be lean but effective. They want a good quality level of essential public services, whether that means a first-class highway and transportation system, whether it means good public schools, a clean environment, whatever.... At the same time, people are struggling to make ends meet in their own households, and they expect the government to do the same."