Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, who lost to George H.W. Bush in the 1988 presidential election, said Saturday that his former political foe’s legacy was his effort to help end the Cold War.
“Obviously we disagreed pretty strongly on domestic policy and I wasn’t thrilled with the kind of campaign he ran, but I think his greatest contribution was in negotiating the end of the Cold War with (Soviet leader) Mikhail Gorbachev,” Dukakis told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
“What’s ironic and so troubling, just as he’s passing on, we’re heading into another stupid Cold War again,” Dukakis noted.
He also credited Bush, who died Friday night at age 94, with working with other countries and the United Nations in the first Gulf War.
“When it came to the international side of things, he was a very wise and thoughtful man,” said Dukakis, adding that he’s read Bush’s memoir, which addresses why his administration didn’t ultimately try to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Dukakis, 85, blames himself for his election loss as the Democratic nominee, saying he didn’t respond aggressively to a Bush campaign ad featuring a convicted murderer named Willie Horton who raped a woman and stabbed her partner while out of prison on a Massachusetts furlough program.
In hindsight, Dukakis said he failed during the campaign to draw attention to the leniency of the federal furlough program that was in place while Bush was vice president.
“Look, it was my fault for not mounting a very strong defense to that and I don’t blame anybody but myself for that,” he said. “I should have done a much, much better job with dealing with that.”
Dukakis said he and Bush never became friends, but met a handful of times after the election, including in the December of 1988 at the vice president’s residence. Dukakis said he never raised the issue of the Willie Horton ad with Bush.
Dukakis praised Bush for being willing to work with Democrats — unlike, he said, fellow Republican President Donald Trump. He recalled how Bush called governors from both parties to the University of Virginia for three days to try to craft a consensus public education program. The chairman of the National Governor’s Association at the time was then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who later defeated Bush in the 1992 presidential election.
“The interplay between Clinton and Bush was really kind of interesting,” Dukakis said. “I think probably most of us knew we were looking at the two candidates in the next presidential election.”