BOSTON -- Michael S. Dukakis, preparing to leave the governorship of Massachusetts for a sojourn in Hawaii and Australia, says he remains concerned about the shortcomings of the presidential election process and hopes future candidates find a better way to address voters than the 9.8-second quip.

Approaching the midpoint of a presidential term that eluded his grasp and nearing the end of his third four-year term as governor, Dukakis said in a recent interview that he wants to advance the cause of national health care but otherwise has few long-range plans.

As soon as he leaves the statehouse in January, the governor and his wife, Kitty, will begin a four-month working vacation in Hawaii and Australia, combining lectures and teaching with touring and relaxing.

Asked about possible future campaigns for public office, Dukakis, 57, would say only that running for office is "not the first thing on my mind these days."

After holding the governor's office longer than anyone in state history, Dukakis has fallen in the past two years from a commanding presence to an extremely unpopular lame duck, beset by fiscal problems and lingering public resentment over his losing performance in the 1988 presidential election.

"I like this business, even when it's very difficult," Dukakis said in the interview at his office, adding that he hopes to encourage more young people to enter politics and government. "This ought to be a time when young people in this country feel good about public service. The Cold War's over. There's a whole new world out there."

Dukakis said he is concerned about the role of nightly television newscasts in presidential elections and the trend toward ever-briefer "sound bites."

He cited a recent finding by Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government that 1968 presidential candidates each appeared on the evening news broadcasts an average of 45 seconds nightly, while by the 1988 campaign, that average had dropped to 9.8 seconds.

"If this thing is reduced to which one of the two candidates, in the course of a 14- or a 16-hour campaign day, can say something that is the cleverest for 9.8 seconds, then we've got a problem," Dukakis said. One answer, he said, could require television networks to provide blocks of time for each candidate to speak directly to voters.

A veteran of five statewide campaigns, Dukakis said he also objected to the "cocoon" of staff, security and reporters that surrounds the presidential candidates from the moment they win the nomination. But he said the "glass bubble" effect was probably inevitable.

"The other thing is the negative stuff," Dukakis offered, referring to personal attacks. "I don't have an easy answer to this. I hate to say it, but I think clearly our response was totally inadequate and obviously totally ineffective."

Dukakis said he was heartened by the victories earlier this month of Lawton Chiles in the Florida gubernatorial race and Sen. John F. Kerry in Massachusetts, both Democrats, who responded deftly to negative campaigns.

"Until that happens at the national level, I'm not sure that the {Republican media consultant} Roger Aileses of this world -- and others who peddle this kind of stuff -- are going to be convinced to back off," Dukakis said.

Dukakis and his wife, who campaigned extensively for him in 1988, agreed that presidential campaigns have grown too long. One ill effect, Dukakis said, is that reporters grow bored with the candidates and fall into "a game of 'gotcha,' " focusing on gaffes and novelties rather than a candidate's basic message.

Kitty Dukakis, just off a nationwide tour promoting her best-selling book, "Now You Know," about her fight against alcohol and prescription drug addiction, offered a personal plea.

"Somehow, all the candidates {should} agree on a truce with the press . . . so the scrutiny is not so intense that you can't breathe. It is suffocating," she said. She said she was not complaining about the fairness of the coverage, only the extent of it.

For most of the past two years, Dukakis said, he has been reluctant to criticize President Bush on grounds he deserved a chance to prove himself. Now, however, he is openly critical.

"What is the Bush domestic agenda?" Dukakis asked. "Okay, clean air. But what else?" The governor also faulted Bush for doing too little, too late to address the federal deficit.

Dukakis said Bush was "exactly right" in his initial response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, sending troops to defend Saudi Arabia while working through the United Nations to establish economic sanctions.

But he questioned the wisdom of putting U.S. troops on an offensive footing. Quoting Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), Dukakis said that in the Persian Gulf crisis, "the mission changed . . . and nobody was consulted about it."

Dukakis also said he was puzzled by the "kind of collective nervous breakdown which we've been going through in this country" in the past two years.

"The Cold War is over. We won. The Soviet system is in ruins. Even with the Middle Eastern thing, you'd think that this country would be on top of the world, and it's not," he said.