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Dukakis Takes a Back Seat in 1992 Convention

July 9, 1992

BOSTON (AP) _ Michael Dukakis spends more time these days praising his new bread-making machine than he does promising ″good jobs at good wages,″ but he says he hopes the lessons he learned the hard way will help the Democrats recapture the White House this year.

Four years ago, the former Massachusetts governor-turned-bread-baker was preparing to address the nation in his bid for the presidency. The speech he gave from the convention hall in Atlanta proved to be the high point of his losing campaign, a heady moment that boosted him 17 percentage points ahead of his Republican rival, George Bush.

This year as his party meets again to anoint a Democratic nominee, Dukakis will make a cameo appearance. He will take a bow from the platform along with other past nominees, but he is not listed as a speaker.

″Kitty and I will be down there Wednesday and Thursday,″ said Dukakis, who now teaches at Northeastern University. ″We will be doing what other former nominees do, which is lots of press and interviews.″

Although his role will be ceremonial, some of the themes he stressed in 1988 are in the forefront this year as the candidates focus on domestic issues - jobs and education and health care.

Dukakis’ response to the upcoming convention is typically upbeat, and unemotional. He wastes little time talking about the past.

″I hated losing the last one, but I think our chances are even better this time,″ he said in an interview.

In his convention speech, Dukakis spoke about his Greek immigrant roots, stirring delegates with an invocation of his father ″the young man who arrived at Ellis Island with only $25 in his pocket, but with a deep and abiding faith in the promise of America.″

But Dukakis now hesitates to waste much time praising himself for that moment, or indulging in nostalgia.

″You’ve got to remember that most of us who run for this office have given thousands of thousands of speeches,″ he said. Then he added: ″It’s not that the convention speech isn’t important. Of course it is.″

Dukakis still gets mad when he talks about Bush. He said Republicans haven’t changed their tactics when dealing with likely independent candidate Ross Perot.

″I don’t think Ross Perot ought to be the next president, but at a minimum he ought to be able to get out there and run his candidacy without this type of crap,″ Dukakis said.

″I think the lesson of ’88 is very clear,″ he said. ″You’ve got an opposition here that will do anything and everything to win.″

Dukakis said his mistake was in not fighting back, as Clinton is doing now.

″I think we did things very well up to and including the convention, but our great mistake was in not having a strategy which was ready to deal with the negative stuff that was coming at us,″ Dukakis said.

The years that followed the presidential campaign were hard on the Dukakis family. The governor returned from his national campaign to face staggering economic problems in Massachusetts, and the anger of state residents who felt their concerns had been ignored while Dukakis sought the presidency.

Kitty Dukakis was hospitalized for what was revealed to be a longtime drinking problem. She chronicled her behind-the-scenes battles with alcohol in a book that exposed the unhappiness she tried to hide during the campaign.

But now, two years out of public office, both Dukakises seem to have settled into their private routine. Dukakis has been teaching since he left office, and expounds to an interviewer the virtues of the Dakar Turbo Baker II breadmaker.

″You’ll never buy bread again,″ he predicted.

Mrs. Dukakis has been studying to become a substance abuse counselor, working with adult women.

″At this point that’s the direction she seems to be headed and she’s very good at it,″ her husband said.

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