Wednesday, July 28, 2004


Mike & Kitty at Friends of Dukakis gathering.
photo © 2004 Adele M. Stan

Snoopy-in-a-Tank on the Big, Blue Teletubbie

BOSTON--So I’m walking by this Greek restaurant near the dock where the water taxi dumps you off, and I hear, amplified, a familiar voice, but one I can’t immediately place. Then it all comes into focus.

“I’m happy to see that the Democrats have learned some lessons from 1988,” he says.

It’s a good voice, with a bit of a sardonic edge, and that swell Massachusetts accent. “I know you’ve all seen that boy-in-the-bubble picture,” he goes on, referring to Kerry’s fabulous photo flub.

Why, it’s former Massachusetts Governor Mike Dukakis, whose failed presidential bid in 1988 is often summed up visually in a goofy-looking picture of him sitting in a tank wearing a too-big helmet with built-in-ear muffs. Given the candidate’s small build and not-so-small nose, the effect was said to resemble Snoopy in Red Baron-chasing mode.

This time, he explains, no sooner did that silly picture of Kerry appear than a bit of tape showing the president engaging in undignified behavior finds its way onto television. “Did you guys see this? [A video has turned up] in which George Bush picks his nose for at least 60 seconds. That’s the honest-to-God truth, which suggests to me that we’ve all learned lessons...And, incidentally, it’s true that I got in that tank; on the other hand, folks, I have never, ever performed that [nasal] act in front of the cameras."

The event at which Dukakis was speaking today, it turned out, was sponsored by a group called Friends of Dukakis, a group of people who supported many of his political campaigns.

I get in the receiving line, where he stands with his wife Kitty, who took quite a beating on the campaign trail for her struggle with substance abuse. They still seem like two people in love.

When my turns come for the handshake, he nearly crushes my hand. I tell him I was here as a blogger.

“I won’t hold that against you, “ he replies.

I remind him of a photo I have of him from the 2000 convention, in which he sits at a laptop in the CNN skybox, taking questions from e-mailers in an interactive interview.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” he says. “I’m not great with the techonology.”

Pretty ironic, considering all the references to him as a technocrat in ‘88. His claim to fame was the “Massachusetts miracle,” whereby an ailing, industrial state found prosperity in the tech sector--if only for a moment.

I move onto Kitty. It being the day after Teresa Heinz Kerry’s big convention speech, it’s only natural to ask her how it feels to watch another candidate for First Lady endure such scrutiny. After all, I say, you endured that scrutiny; you weren’t exactly conventional. Her back stiffens, and she guides my away from her by a touch on my arm.

“I think she’s terrific,” says Mrs. Dukakis.

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