ON the door it says, "Prof. Dukakis," but Michael Dukakis still sounds more like the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee than a professor of political science.
"The country is in lousy shape economically," Mr. Dukakis complains, the worst "since the Great Depression." Yet even with millions of Americans unemployed, there is no sense that "[George] Bush has any real idea of how to come to grips with it."
Clearly relishing the Democrats' commanding lead over President Bush, Dukakis says the president's own lack of personal convictions, and his exaggerated promises in the 1988 campaign have finally caught up with him.
"Unlike Ronald Reagan, who at least seemed to have a core of belief,... there's no sense that there's any core to Bush," Dukakis charges. "He floats around. He wavers. I don't think there's anybody that ever believed he'd keep that no-tax pledge in '88."
During a free-wheeling, one-hour interview at his Northeastern University office, Dukakis also discussed the economy, Vice President Dan Quayle, Japan, and President Harry S. Truman. The telephone on his desk rang every few minutes as friends and political colleagues asked advice or shared the latest political news.
Like Mr. Bush, Dukakis has recently read David McCullough's widely hailed biography of President Truman.
Bush, who rode on a campaign train through the Midwest over the weekend, is modeling his come-from-behind tactics on Truman's whistle-stop strategy in 1948. But Dukakis doubts it will work.
"In addition to Truman's own guts, persistence, and tenacity, the country was in good shape economically in 1948," Dukakis observes. With layoffs spreading daily from General Motors to IBM, Bush can't make that claim.
Dukakis says current economic problems should be no surprise to Americans. "Signs of impending collapse were there in 1988," he says. "There was no way we could keep living on this gigantic credit card."
What amazes Dukakis is that Bush has done so little to rescue the economy. Even conservative governments in Japan and Europe have acted much more resolutely.
"The Japanese, a conservative, business-oriented government, didn't fool around. When unemployment went from 2.1 percent to 2.2, they passed an $87 billion stimulus package which is largely public infrastructure. That's plain, old-fashioned Keynesian stimulus, and it isn't tax cuts for the wealthy.... It's direct public investment."
The United States could do the same, Dukakis says. "Bush signed a major transportation bill, but you'd never know it.... The money's there. It's pouring in from the gasoline tax.... You don't get any sense that these [Republicans] understand."
Dukakis speaks with admiration of Governor Bill Clinton's campaign, which has fended off repeated attacks from Bush on taxes, spending, the draft, and womanizing. A similar Republican strategy attacking Dukakis's patriotism, his policies on crime, and even his mental health cut deeply into Democratic support four years ago.
"Our great mistake in '88 was letting that stuff roll up until it was impossible to repair the damage," Dukakis says. "We've all learned from '88. I think it is very clear in this day and age, where electronic media dominates, you cannot let a single charge go unanswered."
Taking his own cue, Dukakis scoffs at Bush's charges that Clinton is unfit to be commander-in-chief because he failed to serve in the Vietnam War. "The president's got a running mate who was as big a draft-dodger as anybody in the world. I think it's perfectly fair game to turn [Sen. Albert] Gore [the Democratic vice presidential nominee, who served in the US Army in Vietnam] loose on Quayle and say, `Hey, who's kidding whom?"
Dukakis says the autumn campaign to election day is the toughest part of the race. Clinton has been on the stump for a solid year, living out of suitcases, eating fast food, facing endless questions from the press. Dukakis credits Clinton's bus trips with keeping his campaign vigorous. He explains: "The bus trips pep you up. There's nothing that dulls you more than that plane routine. Being out there in small-town America with folks and real people [on a bus] is better.
"In a plane, you're down and you're up, you're up and you're down, you look out a window, you're not seeing townspeople, you're looking at air. And let me tell you, it's boring and it's dulling. I think Clinton's done a remarkably good job." -PATHNAME- /usr/local/etc/httpd/plweb/DBGROUPS/paper/database/tape/92/sep/day30/30091.