Dukakis - what kind of president? Sifting through clues about what would happen with a Duke in the White House
IN his 45-minute acceptance speech in Atlanta, Gov. Michael Dukakis swept aside a public perception of him as a coolly disciplined technocrat lacking the warmth and flair that can stir a national electorate. He struck, it is widely thought, a rapport with the delegates and millions of viewers. Still, no single event can give a clear idea of what kind of president a candidate would make. Such assessments are difficult: There is no real training for the job, and events often intrude on political philosophy and personal intentions. But precedent and a candidate's past experiences offer clues to potential performance.
Here is one vision of a President Dukakis.
Personal style: Mr. Dukakis relishes his image as a no-frills, subway-commuting, hardworking public servant. He enjoys a close relationship with his family. And he likes to display his frugality - his discount clothes, aging automobile, hand-powered lawn mower.
The Dukakis White House would be more Brookline than Hollywood. Cinematic stars and self-made southern California multi-millionaires who found a home in the Reagan White House will fade back into their old Malibu haunts. And there will be none of the Gilbert and Sullivan flourishes President Nixon tried to introduce.
Dukakis, however, runs a risk in overemphasizing the common-man theme. It may suit a governor, but less so a president, as Jimmy Carter learned when he dispensed with the playing of ``Hail to the Chief.'' Americans resent monarchical airs by their presidents; but they are aware that as the most visible national symbol, the chief executive should be accorded those creature comforts and special privileges that befit his rank.
Managerial style: During eight years in the Massachusetts legislature and his first term as governor (1975-79), Dukakis was faulted for rigidity, for being a poor listener and an unskilled delegator. He thought of himself as a reformer in the mold of Ralph Nader; he remained aloof from the nitty-gritty of politics and did not mix easily with other legislators. They disliked his style, but they respected him.
Dukakis had alienated both the liberals and the business community by cutting state programs, slashing welfare benefits, and raising taxes. He consequently suffered a stunning defeat in his 1978 bid for reelection. He next spent three years teaching at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Those years in the State House and the Kennedy School were the formative years in his political career. Longtime aides and state Cabinet officials agree that he changed during that period. While he is still a hands-on executive who wants to be consulted at the early stages of policy and program development, he is now far more willing to bargain, to search for a compromise, and to delegate responsibility.
Close associates say Dukakis can get testy and reveals a stubborn streak. ``But we can at least come back to him two or three times and keep trying to get his approval,'' a top economic development aide commented. Dukakis may now recognize that he doesn't have all the answers and that it is perhaps what you learn ``after you think you know it all'' that really matters.
Like Mr. Carter, he is vulnerable to the illusion that running the federal government is not unlike governing at the state level. But he would discover it is vastly different. He must negotiate with a national legislature of 535 memers, each of whom has his or her own agenda; he must cope with the sensitive intricacies of foreign policy and national security; try to make sense out of an intractable federal budget; preside over a civilian federal bureaucracy of 3 million employees; serve as commander in chief of the nation's military forces; and be expected to satisfy 20,000 different interest groups, many of which will resist innovations and change, except those in their own self-interest.
Use of vice-presidency: Almost certainly, Dukakis would continue the practice begun by Jimmy Carter and followed by Ronald Reagan. Lloyd Bentsen would have an office in the White House - the sine qua non in Washington's hierarchical structure. The vice-president would also head certain task force and advisory units and enjoy easy access to the Oval Office. Mr. Bentsen's ties to Congress and business would surely be exploited, and he would probably become an important player in Dukakis's efforts to promote regional economic-development programs and a national industrial policy.
Still, the history of presidential/vice-presidential relations is not entirely one of compatibility and personal affection. Their respective staffs are often jealous of each other and work at cross-purposes. Once in office, presidents usually don't take kindly to being questioned by someone who reminds them of their own mortality and is in line to succeed them.
Since Dukakis and Bentsen, a conservative with alliances with big oil and political-action committees, have been on opposite sides of numerous issues - including aid to the contras, school prayer, abortion, and development of the B-1 bomber and MX missile - it would be interesting to see how their relationship played out.
Use of the Cabinet: Predictably, in line with the practice of ``Cabinet government'' - the implication being that authority is to be dispersed throughout the government - Dukakis would almost surely announce that Cabinet meetings would be held frequently and that he would rely on its members for advice, effective administration, and carrying out policy. He has clearly indicated that he firmly believes in a team approach. And as a chief aide in his campaign put it, the governor strongly believes staff are staff and that the Cabinet members are those with the main responsibility for planning and executing programs.
In the early phase of his administration he would attempt to follow the scenario. Yet inevitably, like his modern predecessors, he would find he needed to exercise firmer control over his administration and would take steps to centralize authority within the White House. Full Cabinet meetings would be held less often.
He might even copy or adopt a similar version of Mr. Reagan's Cabinet council system, in which small groups of Cabinet and sub-Cabinet officials are organized to concentrate on issues that directly affect them, such as economic policy, human resources, or the environment.
Dukakis would be expected to cast a wide net for Cabinet appointees who are highly educated, younger than usual, varied in ethnicity and race, and including several women. In all likelihood, he would tap Harvard types for prominent posts, prompting more than a little criticism.
Names likely to be considered for highly visible positions include former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt; former Utah Gov. Scott Matheson; US Reps. Lee Hamilton and Robert Matsui; advisers to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, like Rep. William Gray, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Ronald Brown; Mayors Henry Cisneros of San Antonio and George Latimer of St. Paul, Minn.; and former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein. On Treasury and eco nomic matters, among those to be looked over are Paul Volcker, Lawrence Sommers, Robert Reich, and Felix Rohatyn. Mentioned for foreign policy spots are Harvard's Joseph Nye and Graham Allison, and Madeleine Albright of Georgetown University. Conceivably, Walter Mondale might be lured back to government to restore integrity to the Justice Department as attorney general.
Speculative choices to head the Central Intelligence Agency include Adm. Bobby Inman and Mr. Hamilton. Look for Mr. Jackson to head up a major war on drugs.
White House staff and inner circle: Look for Dukakis to create a traditional White House organization with a chief of staff, perhaps Susan Estrich, his campaign manager, at the apex of the pyramid and strong presidential coordinators for national security, economic development, and domestic policy.
In vain, he would direct that they maintain a low profile and not promote their own pet projects or let their proximity to him interfere with access to the Oval Office by Cabinet officers. He would contend that his White House aides serve primarily as surrogates carrying out his directives and as ``honest brokers'' or intermediaries between the Cabinet and the president. Before long, however, principal aides would emerge as public figures and major influences in their own right.
Candidates for Dukakis's inner circle, besides Ms. Estrich, include Paul Brountas, his campaign chairman; Hale Champion, a former undersecretary at the Department of Human Health and Services and the governor's chief of staff; Kirk O'Donnell and Jack Corrigan, two of his key political advisers; Ira Jackson and Frank Keefe, who worked closely with him in the governor's office; and Christopher Edley, the campaign issues coordinator.
Just as with the Bentsen selection, Dukakis would have to reach out and find new faces and fashion a new team. In contrast to most politicians, he does not operate by the quid pro quo principle. He judges people on their competence and performance rather than their ideology or reputation. He would also be likely to fire or transfer people far more readily than recent presidents.
Congressional relations: Dukakis's recent overtures to Congress indicate that he is no longer afflicted by the hubris of earlier years in Massachusetts. He would make a concerted effort to establish a close working relationship with Congress and seek bipartisan support on some issues. The latter may be a formidable task, however, when matched against Republican stalwarts in Congress like Reps. Robert Michel and Dick Cheney and Sens. Alan Simpson and Bob Dole, not to mention Sen. Jesse Helms.
Learning from Carter's mistakes, Dukakis would certainly consult with the members on critical issues and major legislation and pay homage to the political protocol and social niceties that legislators value so highly. Yet he would likely be a stickler on recognizing the line that separates the executive and legislative branches. And he favors the line item veto for presidents.
At the personal level, he suffers from the fact he is not a back-slapping, gossip-swapping, old-boy-network type.
He would discover, as did Carter, that doing what he is convinced is right might not always be politically feasible. Finally he would discover, as Reagan did and as most Democrats failed to learn, that it is wiser to have a few top priorities than a hundred of them.
Media relations: Given his nature, Dukakis would not likely have a close, warm relationship with the Washington press corps. While Dukakis would not be able to match Reagan as a public speaker, he would do much better than Reagan in unrehearsed press conferences. Whereas Reagan frequently fumbles over details, Dukakis is always well prepared, if lackluster. In any event, there would assuredly be more full-blown press conferences under Dukakis.
Dukakis had been a television moderator for a well-received Public Broadcasting Service program called ``The Advocates.'' He knows how to play to the cameras and how to handle the press from his years as state legislator and governor.
As president, his dealings with the White House press would follow a preordained pattern: After a tenuous honeymoon, there would be a period of mutual tolerance, followed by a conventional adversarial relationship.
Foreign affairs and defense policy: Although Dukakis is campaigning on a theme of competence and stresses his hands-on managerial skills, he lacks high-level experience in foreign affairs and defense policy.
Still, he is no stranger to foreign affairs. As a young man he was an exchange student in Peru, where he learned to speak Spanish. And while serving as a private in the United States Army, he spent more than a year in Korea. He has a gift for languages, being fluent in Spanish and having a working knowledge of Greek and French and even some Portuguese and Korean.
Dukakis has staked out a liberal-Democratic mainstream foreign policy-and-defense posture. He has emphasized what he refers to as a policy position reflecting ``American values,'' including human rights, respect for the rule of law, and a multilateral approach to solving global problems through organizations such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States.
He strongly opposes aid to the contras. He is a staunch supporter of Israel but refuses to take a definitive stand for or against a Palestinian state. He has speculated on the possibility of some form of sanctions against nations such as South Korea because of human rights violations, and exploring avenues for opening talks with Cuba.
Diplomatic initiatives would replace Grenada invasions and Libyan raids, yet there is little indication of how Dukakis would respond to terrorism and hostage-taking. As with Harry Truman, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson, there would be pressure on him to prove his ``toughness'' in national security matters.
Although he would presumably try to rejuvenate the State Department's policy role and internal morale, he could be expected to fashion a strong, working National Security Council - under close presidential oversight.
While not well acquainted with many foreign leaders, he benefits from the legacy of glasnost and improved relations with the Soviet Union.
Problem areas for him: Nicaragua, the Palestinian homeland issue, South African sanctions, debt relief for third-world nations, bases in the Philippines, defense costs in NATO and Japan, and the protectionist impulse of US unions and industries.
Domestic and economic policy: In this campaign, Dukakis has stressed the need for change in the direction he wants to take the country. But as Stuart E. Eisenstat, a former Carter domestic policy aide and a Dukakis adviser, commented: ``Candidates who urge change have the burden of proof to show why change is necessary. It is particularly important now when we have peace, better relations with the Soviet Union, and generally good economic conditions.''
While there is no single burning issue, several quality-of-life issues must be tackled: drug abuse, crime, health care, AIDS, abortion, and pornography. Dukakis must appeal to ethnic, religious, and working-class Americans for support on these issues and find the revenue to deal with them. He has avoided committing himself to higher taxes, but neither has he ruled them out.
As governor, he has been widely praised for initiating job training and regional economic-development programs. But the so-called ``Massachusetts miracle'' was largely due to Reagan's Keynesian deficit-spending program, which brought millions to the state's defense and space technology industries. The question confronting a Dukakis administration is: Can regional economic planning that worked in Massachusetts work in West Virginia, South Dakota, and Oklahoma?
Dukakis would also have to wrestle with the tax structure, revise trade policies, and determine what to do about child care and medical care for the aged.
Eventually, Dukakis might find himself in a situation similar to that of Abraham Lincoln, who, in the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, ``was a sad man because he couldn't get it all at once. And nobody can.''
Overview: The issues before Dukakis represent long-term challenges rather than short-term crises requiring immediate solution. Needed is what James MacGregor Burns has defined as ``transforming leadership,'' the ability to motivate people to subordinate short-term interests to longer-term goals.
Thomas Cronin teaches political science at the Colorado College and is the author of several books on American politics. Dom Bonafede is senior contributing editor at the National Journal and teaches at American University.