One question. One response. Posed to Michael Dukakis during the 2nd presidential debate on the heels of of the “revolving door” TV advertisement that begot a fear of the nation. Opposing the death penalty and granting people like Willie Horton and many other convict’s weekend passes was a blow dealt, and the ‘cold’ answer Dukakis gave was the final blow.
The tact that what we are so accustomed to seeing today, the Bush campaign used brutal television advertising throughout the race today, to portray Dukakis as an ineffective liberal who would gut the country’s defense system and let convicted murderers out of prison.
The inevitable defining question of the election came at the second presidential debate, posed to him in the harshest way by CNN Moderator Bernard Shaw. Dukakis’s advisers counseled him to respond in a way that would reasonably neutralize the torpedo which threatened to blow up his candidacy. His answer had to effectively express personal loss through crime; such as when brother died in a hit and run & when his 75-year-old father was tied up and robbed in his medical office. Instead he opted to respond with emotionally void statistical data and record. The rest is history.
Political pundits almost unanimously agree that Dukakis lost by such a landslide because virtually throughout the entire race he failed to fight fire with fire. Holding the moral high ground Dukakis refused to counterattack cheaply, hoping voters would dismiss the attacks as an unfair picture depicting gross biased inaccuracy.
Every election since the presidential race of 1988 smear ads have become a requisite to ensure political survival. They grossly skew the true motive and facts to fit the schema of its character assassination attempt. Evidenced by the landslide victory, the Bush camp knew all too well that it did not matter who the opposing candidate was. Once a negative picture is painted in the minds of the voter it will stick forever.
Post-election the office of the presidency demands a moral representative to defend and uphold the democratic ideals both here and abroad. Through beneficial policy, courage, and action the president reshapes his image to the electorate. The president has four years to repaint the legacy of his self-portrait that will hang on the White House hallway along with the past presidents before him.
Who was the better choice? We will never know. All we have left to judge is our own personal opinion on the character and leadership of the men who were elected to office.
I reference this election as I believe that was the last day a candidate chose the moral high ground from the moment he announced his candidacy. Dukakis chose to exhibit his own qualifications for the job, rather than discredit his opponent to the American people as guy grossly unfit to lead a nation safely.
In today’s day and age is it fathomable to imagine a candidate today call out an accepted political tact as ‘unethical’? Instantly fire his top campaign staffer for the incident? Publicly apologize to his rival candidate who had to drop out in disgrace? Michael Dukakis did just that when tapes were leaked to the press from his own staffer that then presidential hopeful Joe Biden plagiarized most of his speeches.
I wonder if the Bush camp knew they were opening Pandora’s box when they began playing dirty politics. This past presidential race was arguably the dirtiest and most shameful race we have ever seen. Disgracefully, we not see our President remotely try and shed that image. Quite contrary he has dialed up the tone of decadent rhetoric and odious action that has bestowed the ugliest semblance of the Office of the Presidency.
Often many past presidents have gone down in the history books as legendary regardless of their seedy private lives, because the important consequences of their policies that effect our everyday lives only depends on the rhetoric and achievements of their public persona. Donald Trump’s morally deficient and indignant consequential public tone and behavior has caused considerable turmoil and uncertainty to the world. A mere eight months in office it has led to botched diplomacy and legislation, mass firings and resignations, a special prosecutor, historic low approval ratings among a myriad of other things. We now wade through turbulent waters whose direction constantly shifts violently by the whims of a Tweet.
Fear is a powerful method in changing our ethical principles. There is no question that 9/11, global terrorism, and this Vietnamese like war in Afghanistan is the perpetuating cause that drives our foreign policies. These phobia driven dogmas continuously target racial and ethnic groups for the sake of national security. Donald Trump proactively perpetuates this fear through discriminatory libels and a distasteful immigration agenda.
The President’s moral abhorrence was on full display to the world when he opted to sympathize with the Neo-Nazis at the Charlottesville rally. How can anyone, let alone the most powerful man in the world ever give legitimization to hate groups? It is not only Un-American it is unhuman.
True to his public character, Trump unabashedly told the press how much of a “big place he has in in heart for the “Dreamers” under the DACA program, then goes ahead and terminates the program. Eight hundred thousand innocent children who are only in this country because their parents dreamed to provide a better life for their children are now eligible for deportation. In an attempt to exonerate himself, Trump placed the task of fixing a program that never needed fixing in the first place in the hands of a disenchanted Republican Congress that is in total disarray.
Morality and ethicality is what was at stake in the 1988 race to the White House. Twenty years ago, was the last time we saw a candidate that exhibited true standards by opting to run on his own merits rather delegitimize the merits of his opponent. I believe moral principles will be at stake once again in the regional congressional races next year, and certainly in the presidential midterm election. I feel those races will be a litmus test as to where we stand as a country divided in the wake of the current Donald Trump administration. I have a feeling it will be a Bush vs Dukakis type race with a very different result.
Editor of BJR
Open Dialogue does not seek to be right, rather to understand. There is never a right or wrong answer. Please feel free to leave comments & share your opinions and views.
The opinions expressed herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Buffalo Jewish Review.