As the final speaker in the Hellenic Society’s Greek America Lecture Series, Michael Dukakis, former Democratic presidential candidate and the longest-serving governor in Massachusetts history, spoke to a crowded Devlin 008 on Wednesday night. Dukakis delved into the personal and political, discussing his Greek roots and his hopes for the Democratic Party.
Stavros Piperis, member of the Hellenic Society and MCAS ’19, introduced Dukakis and his wife, Kitty.
“The idea behind the series was to somehow connect our community here on the Heights to the home nation that we hold dear,” Piperis said.
The child of two Greek immigrants, Dukakis was born and raised in Brookline, Mass., where his political career began in town hall meetings. In 1960, he was elected chairman of Brookline’s Democratic organization, and steadily worked his way into the state legislature. By 1974, he was elected governor of Massachusetts.
In 1988, Dukakis won the Democratic nomination for the presidency, but was defeated by George H. W. Bush. He spoke about two faults he saw in his campaign—not responding to Bush’s attack campaign and not focusing on grassroots, precinct based politics.
“I am a huge believer in precinct-based, grassroots organizations because that’s how I was elected to the municipal office, that’s how I was elected to represent the town of Brookline in the state legislature, that’s how I was elected governor three times,” Dukakis said.
The former governor’s only campaigns not grounded in precinct-based, grassroots movements—his first gubernatorial reelection campaign and his presidential bid—were the two political races Dukakis lost.
A voting precinct is a district into which a city or town is divided for voting. Dukakis sees the precinct as the basic election unity of the United States. There are approximately 185,000 precincts in the United States, with 2,157 in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
“What’s serious about a precinct-based, grassroots organization is that it requires a precinct captain and six block or neighborhood captains,” Dukakis said. “Doing what? Making personal contact on an on-going basis with every single voting household.”
By personal contact, Dukakis was not referring to a casual hello or 10 second phone call. Rather, he emphasized the need to find out the questions and concerns of voters, and responding to voter needs in an effective, personal way.
“It’s important, lasting, and makes a huge difference, especially in a world where we’re so unconnected to people in many ways,” he said.
Dukakis went on to emphasize the need to de-polarize American politics. He urged Democrats to renounce the red state-blue state dichotomy, and instead invest time, energy, and money into precincts across all states.
“Once you buy into this [narrative], you essentially say to half the country, ‘we’re not going to spend any time on you,’” Dukakis said. “In fact, you end up, as we’ve seen repeatedly now, campaigning in the same six or seven states in the last few months of the campaign while the rest of the country is spectating.”
To illustrate his point, Dukakis explained a pitfall of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. With a month to go in the campaign, Clinton and Donald Trump were tied in the polls in Texas. Additionally, polls indicated that Clinton was slightly ahead in Georgia, and down a few points in South Carolina.
“All winnable states,” Dukakis said. “What happened? No field operation. They were written off as red states.”
Clinton went on to lose to Trump in all three states.
“The Democratic Party isn’t going to win by slicing and dicing the electorate,” he said.
Moreover, Dukakis explained that by writing off several states as “red” and therefore unwinnable, Democrats allow Republicans to funnel all resources into seven key states instead of all 50.
“Now, these guys can outspend us, but I don’t think they can outwork us,” Dukakis said. “But the question is, will we do the work?”
Throughout his career, Dukakis has been an advocate for education and adequate, affordable healthcare. His passion for health care is, in part, rooted in his wife’s battle with depression.
“I believe government needs to play a positive and constructive role in making this a better society,” Dukakis said.
Former governor Dukakis and his wife remain active within the Democratic Party. They work with current policymakers like Senator Elizabeth Warren to make sure party members are making personal connections with voters across the nation.
“In my view, the Democratic Party is committed to the kind of government and leadership that’s essential if we’re going to make this country and this world a better place,” he said.
Featured Image by Jake Evans / Heights Staff