Thank you, President George H.W. Bush, for everything you did, but most of all for your greatest accomplishment: Keeping Michael S. Dukakis out of the White House in 1988.
Getting dead, someone once observed, always does a lot for a person’s social standing. So maybe that’s one reason for all the bouquets Poppy was getting yesterday in the media as an “underrated” president, even by some of the Green Room grifters who think the only good Republican is a dead Republican.
But 41 does deserve our maximum gratitude for stopping the Massachusetts governor from becoming president. People have forgotten just how close Dukakis seemed in the summer of 1988 to succeeding Ronald Reagan.
It was of course the Willie Horton election, although the alt-left media always neglect to mention that it was not Bush, but Sen. Al Gore, in the New York primary, who first raised the issue of the Duke’s insane policy of granting weekend furloughs to first-degree murderers.
It’s always tough for a two-term veep to succeed his boss. Bush was the first to pull it off since Martin Van Buren in 1836. Perhaps that was why the Duke underestimated him so badly.
But there was something else. In 1987, when Bush called in to Billy Bulger’s St. Patrick’s Day time at Halitosis Hall, Dukakis didn’t even try to conceal his contempt for his fellow Norfolk County native. (Bush was born in Milton, the Duke in Brookline.)
“He sounds like Frank Hatch,” mumbled Dukakis, referring to the affable but hapless onetime House GOP floor leader, a prototypical trust-funded Yankee from the North Shore.
In Duke-world, once a Democrat drew a Frank Hatch-type one-on-one in the general election, he was home free. After the Democrat convention in Atlanta that summer, Dukakis was sporting a 17-point lead over Bush. So he took a three-week vacation to the Berkshires, apparently unaware that Massachusetts was not America and that George H.W. Bush was most assuredly not Frank Hatch.
Of course, the Duke’s pathetic record made him easy prey for the Bush family’s first Karl Rove, the late Lee Atwater.
Even back then, there was a lot of fake news, but slowly Poppy was able to make the case that the Duke was an empty suit. Once, during the primaries, Dukakis was asked about some state issue and he replied, “If I were a sitting governor …”
If not for Bush, the Cold War could have ended very differently a few months later. Dukakis might have gone down in history the second president nicknamed “US” — as in Unconditional Surrender. The difference between Dukakis and Grant is that the Duke would have been the one surrendering, to the Soviet Union.
Another question during the Bush-Dukakis fight was, how can a man aspire to be the boss of the Free World when he’s not even master of his own home?
As the Duke once described his marriage to Kitty: “I don’t know about the pillow talk at your house, but I go to sleep at night with Kitty’s advice, counsels and urgings ringing in my ears.”
That one was never turned into an ad, but the Bush people had the videotape, and made sure it got around. I know because I handed it to them.
In the end, the Duke never knew what, or who, had hit him. There are few greater advantages in life than being underestimated, or at least mistaken for Frank Hatch. On Saturday Night Live just before the election, the actor playing Dukakis looked at “Bush,” then turned to the camera, shook his head and said sadly, “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.”
There’s an old saying: I’d rather be lucky than good. And George H.W. Bush was a very lucky candidate in 1988.
But I prefer another old saw: Good things happen to good people. And to peoples — like the American people. A good thing happened to all of us in 1988 — we dodged a bullet.
Pre-order Howie’s new book, “Kennedy Babylon Vol. 2,” at howiecarrshow.com.
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