DUKAKIS AND THE REFORM IMPULSE

By Richard Gaines and Michael Segal

Quinlan Press (131 Beverly St.

Boston, MA 02114). 247 pp. $17.95

DUKAKIS: An American Odyssey

By Charles Kenney and Robert L. Turner

Houghton Mifflin. 260 pp. $16.95

GOVERNOR Michael Dukakis has been the leader of what amounts to a suburban revolution in Massachusetts Democratic politics, as his rise to power has coincided with a demographic upheaval in the partisan voting patterns of the Bay State.

Brookline, the affluent Boston suburb where Dukakis grew up, was a Republican bastion for most of this century, casting a decisive 19,000 to 13,000 majority for Eisenhower over Stevenson in 1952. Now, Brookline is one of most loyal Democratic communities in the state -- as long as the party's candidate fits the reform mold. Dukakis has been on center stage as political leverage has shifted from ward bosses in South Boston, Lowell and Lawrence to the local Common Cause chairmen in Newton, Weston and Cambridge.

In many other states, the shift of power to the suburbs has produced a strengthened Republican Party; in Massachusetts, something very different has taken place: a once-powerful GOP has all but faded away, as much of the state's upper-middle class has become Democratic, turning out in far higher percentages than the working- and lower-middle class voters who had formed the core of the Massachusetts Democratic Party.

As a presidential candidate, Dukakis has already demonstrated the same kind of appeal: his support in Iowa was far more upscale, better educated and white-collar than that of U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), the winner in Iowa. These two books, both written by Boston-based reporters, provide exceptional insight into the roots and politics of Michael Dukakis. Although largely anecdotal and written about a man determined to reveal as little as possible about himself, Dukakis and the Reform Impulse and Dukakis: An American Odyssey trace with illuminating detail the journey of a politician seeking to become the nation's next president.

Although both books are generally laudatory of Dukakis, particularly of the Dukakis who apparently learned from defeat in 1978, the authors of each book cite incident after incident suggesting that two of Dukakis' weaknesses as a prospective president are a degree of narcissism strong even for a politician and a sense of unbending, rigid morality.

When Dukakis first won the governorship in 1974, for example, he faced a deficit that steadily grew to more than $1 billion, an amount on the state level roughly paralleling the red ink now building annually at the federal level. For month after month, Dukakis refused to raise taxes, sticking to his campaign claim that he could achieve massive savings through improved management techniques, a claim that now seems very similar to his proposal to sharply reduce the federal deficit through improved tax collection.

When, however, it became clear that management techniques would be futile in the battle against red ink, Dukakis not only abandoned his promise not to raise taxes, but, as both books carefully reconstruct, called for a $311 million cut in the state's welfare program, eliminating from state law a provision declaring that Massachsetts is committed to assist "all poor and indigent persons residing therein, whenever they stand in need of such assistance."

While the merits of placing much of the burden of deficit reduction on welfare recipients can be debated, there is little doubt that the poor are an overwhelmingly Democratic constituency. One of the hallmarks of Dukakis' first term was an almost purposeful, and often self-righteous, refusal to use the power of government to reward those who had helped him win election, from the poor to campaign aides. "I don't understand him," then-Massachusetts House Speaker Thomas W. McGee said. "If you came to me for a job and it was between just you and some guy I'd known for 20 years, I'd probably give the job to the guy I knew, that's human nature, right? Not Dukakis. If you went to him for a job and one of his friends wanted it, I'd bet you got the job."

In one of the more revealing incidents, Dukakis called in just over a dozen of his closest allies for a working lunch at his office shortly after he took over the governorship. They get steadily hungrier as they listened to him talk about his plans for half an hour. Soon an aide came in, handed Dukakis (and no one else) a sandwich and soft drink, and he proceeded to eat as his supporters watched somewhat incredulously.

BOTH BOOKS are laced with these kinds of stories about Dukakis, stories that raise a basic question: Is Dukakis equipped with the magnanimity essential for an effective presidency, not to be blinded by self-preoccupation to legitimate needs and concerns of other participants in the political process?

The authors of these two books separately contend that Dukakis' defeat in 1978 taught him a lesson he is unlikely to forget. Under the tutelage of John Sasso, a brilliant strategist who guided Dukakis back to victory and the Statehouse in 1982, Dukakis became "a man who would operate with a far more accommodating, practical style. He had learned that politics truly was the art of the possible and that was how he would practice it," Kenney and Turner write. The politician who had sliced welfare in his first term, established an innovative workfare program (called "ET" for employment and training) in his second term and "added monthly clothing allowances and rent supplements for those {welfare} recipients not living in subsidized housing . . . Dukakis restored medical coverage to the general relief population, a benefit he and the legislature terminated in 1975," write Gaines and Segal.

"What is at work now in Dukakis is a battle between the self-contained, independent core that spills over too easily into arrogant pride -- hubris as the Greeks called it -- and the broadening lessons of the 1978 defeat and the presidential quest -- lessons that could save Dukakis from a flaw that has already been nearly fatal to his career once," Kenney and Turner conclude. The key question, they contend, is "whether his eyes have truly been opened, whether he can avoid the blindness that pride once brought." It is a question that Kenney and Turner decline to answer at the end of their book, and a quesion that is not directly addressed by Gaines and Segal, left instead to the voters over the coming months. :: Thomas B. Edsall, author of "The New Politics of Equality," reports for the national news section of The Washington Post.