ATLANTA -- One of a series of articles summarizing the basic policies and approaches of the major Democratic and Republican presidential candidates competing in the March 8 primaries in Maryland and Virginia.
Michael S. Dukakis (D) has built his domestic platform on the lessons learned as the governor of Massachusetts, where he has created and managed pattern-setting economic development programs and social service delivery systems.
Lacking similar experience in national security matters, he has derived his approach to foreign policy and defense from ideas popular in the liberal academic community, combining a post-World War II belief in America's role in international organizations with the post-Vietnam aversion to military interventions.
The resulting amalgam of intensely practical but innovative housing, transportation and human service initiatives and more formulistic foreign policy and defense views makes Dukakis hard to equate with any of the other recent Democratic presidents.
As the child of high-achieving ethnic immigrants, reared in John F. Kennedy's home town of Brookline, Mass., he echoes Kennedy's optimism about America's ability to conquer "New Frontiers." But he was repelled by the McCarthyism that attracted the Kennedys in the 1950s, and Dukakis is not a reflexively hard-line anti-Communist like the last Massachusetts president.
He shares Lyndon B. Johnson's belief in activist government and "consensus politics," based on personal brokering with business, labor and other interest group leaders. But he is far more frugal -- personally and in budgetary terms -- and less populist than the Texan. He is more apt to seek targeted programs, leveraging private funds for public purposes, than ambitiously conceived and lavishly financed federal initiatives.
His penchant for detail and for micro-managing projects reminds many of Jimmy Carter, and he shares Carter's strong moralistic tendencies, both on matters of government ethics and on international human rights. But he clearly has learned lessons in the art of compromise in his 10 years of dealing with the Democratic-controlled Massachusetts legislature that Carter did not acquire in his single term as governor of Georgia, and Dukakis has a far stronger reputation as a manager.
Asked in an interview on his campaign plane about his top priorities as president, Dukakis, unsurprisingly, listed "economic growth and jobs" as his main concern. The premise of his candidacy is his record of helping shepherd Massachusetts through the transition from a declining industrial state, with unemployment well above the national average in the mid-1970s, to its current status as the engine of a regional economic boom, keyed to high-tech manufacturing and other information-related service industries.
Opponents in the presidential race have scoffed at his talk of the "Massachusetts Miracle," saying it depended on the concentration of first-class universities and an infusion of defense dollars that could not be duplicated in most hard-pressed sections of the country. Those factors undoubtedly did underlie Massachusetts' recovery, but Dukakis can legitimately take credit for steering the development into declining industrial cities and for capturing some of the "growth dividends" for needed public investments in education, training and transportation programs which have sustained the boom.
He has not been precise on how he would repeat this technique at the national level but his general approach is clear. Dukakis has proposed a small "economic development" fund to help hard-hit regions, but mainly would use the federal government as a catalyst for getting local and state private-sector leaders to pool resources for targeted recovery efforts. He promised during the Iowa caucuses to hold the first such regional development conference in Davenport in February 1989 and use "the unique resource" of the Mississippi River as the focus for cooperative efforts to spur the whole mid-section of the country from the depressed Iron Range of Minnesota down to Louisiana, where low oil and natural gas prices have flattened the economy.
Unlike rivals Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Jesse L. Jackson, Dukakis has refused to blame the plight of those areas and their basic industries either on the greed of multinational corporations or the exclusionary trade practices of other nations. He rejects Gephardt's call for retaliatory trade legislation, saying the president "has all the authority he needs." Dukakis, who has good relations with the Massachusetts business community, says that business has to be part of "the consensus" that will spur economic growth.
Like the other Democrats, he says that greater spending and higher standards for education are fundamental to America's success in the international economy. As governor, Dukakis has not been in the forefront of the wave of state-led education reform, but in other areas of domestic policy he has set the pattern. They include subsidized housing, sometimes using money from private pension funds; child-care programs, again cooperatively financed; plant-closing and retraining programs; a widely publicized education training-child care program that has succeeded in moving some welfare mothers into productive jobs; and a pending "univeral health insurance" proposal that would, if passed, guarantee the medical benefits of all working families in Massachussetts.
Dukakis' initiatives would add to federal spending, and he has been criticized for vagueness on his budget policy. He notes that he is the only candidate who has balanced a budget nine times as governor and says "we may have to" raise taxes to do that at the federal level. But he insists that tougher tax collection policies, such as those he instituted in Massachusetts, could make a significant impact on deficits, and Dukakis says he would try that first.
Dukakis has pledged to curtail many of the strategic weapons programs started or accelerated in the Reagan years, including the B-1 bomber, the MX missile and the single-warhead Midgetman missile. Calling the Strategic Defense Initiative "the Star Wars fantasy," Dukakis proposes cutting research funds for it to less than $1 billion a year. He is optimistic about an early agreement with the Soviet Union on a large cutback in long-range missiles and a complete ban on nuclear testing.
But he has also said that until agreement is reached on reductions in conventional forces, any savings that can be made by reducing strategic weapons programs need to be invested in strengthening non-nuclear forces. He clearly has made overall reduction in defense spending contingent on the course of negotiations with the Soviet Union.
On other foreign policy issues, Dukakis has stuck to conventional liberal Democratic doctrine. He has criticized U.S. support for the contras in Nicaragua and supported the Arias "peace plan;" he supports Israel and has only mildly criticized its handling of protests by the West Bank Palestinians.
What is distinctive in his rhetoric on foreign policy is the emphasis he gives to the role of international organizations, such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS), that most recent presidents have found marginally useful in furthering America's goals. He often speaks of the United States' "legal obligations" under international law, for example saying (in a comment he later revised) that the Monroe Doctrine had been "superseded" by the Rio Treaty and the OAS Charter. He emphasizes human rights considerations.
In more recent campaigning, Dukakis has balanced these views by emphasizing his opposition to concessions to terrorists and his readiness to use military force against proven terrorist installations.
Beyond these positions, the governor, whose state administration and campaign have both been notably well-staffed and managed, has promised to restore respect for public service he says has been badly compromised in the Reagan years.
"The next president," he said in the interview, "has to challenge Americans. But challenges are not sacrifices. There's more involved than just deficit-cutting. We don't have to walk around in sackcloth and ashes for the next 10 years. The challenge is to come together and show our willingness to be part of something larger than ourselves."