06/01/2012I heard the name of Michael Dukakis, the three-time governor of Massachusetts and 1988 Democratic candidate for president, only once during the endless debates for this year's Republican nomination. Mitt Romney, another former Massachusetts governor, was bragging about how many jobs he had brought to the state. Texas Gov. Rick Perry ran out of patience and said, "Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt."
At 78, Dukakis is a college professor, dividing his time between Northeastern University and UCLA, where for the last 17 years he has been a professor at the Luskin School of Public Affairs. He is a great teacher, my students at the University of Southern California tell me. He still has plenty to say, and now he is an ex-politician free to say whatever he really thinks.
He appears regularly on the "Patt Morrison Show," a public radio talk show hosted by a Los Angeles Times columnist on KPCC that may be the best in the country.
His latest appearance was last Tuesday. He was smart -- there was never any doubt about that -- well-informed, provocative. He was even funny, never his strong point.
Here is a sampling:
Patt asked: "How has presidential campaigning changed since you ran?"
Dukakis: "I don't think it's changed that much. It's obviously combative, but as any student of American history knows, we've had hand-to-hand combat in American politics since the beginning of the republic; in fact, it was a lot tougher back then, in some ways ... (C)ampaigning day after day is not new. What is different is spending a lot of time on airplanes. But if you don't like campaigning, you shouldn't be running for office. And you cannot be in lousy shape and run for the presidency.
"The Secret Service ... I found that rather difficult. I held off as long as I could because I didn't want to be walled off, but their job is to make sure nobody does any harm to you. They're very professional. Yes, you could (still work) the rope line, but the easy spontaneity I could enjoy as governor just went out the window."
"So you were relieved when they departed?" asked Patt.
"Well, no, I would have preferred to have been elected!"
"Has the electorate changed much?"
"I don't think so. I think a lot of Americans are better informed, yet there's more required than just having information. It's trying to make judgments about where we want this country to go. And there's no question that moderation is not exactly the name of the game. In fact, the one moderate politician these days is Obama. It seems to me that Richard Lugar's defeat in Indiana, Mike Castle's defeat in the primary in Delaware, Olympia Snowe's retirement now makes it official: Moderate and thoughtful Republicanism in the U.S. is dead....
"More engagement with people face to face; you really appreciate the positive reaction you get. You contact people, they ask you a few questions, they may be interested, and by the time the conversation is over, another block captain. You don't get that unless you knock on somebody's door. The Internet won't do that for you; Twitter won't do that for you; Facebook won't do that for you."
The big question: "What's the impact of the Citizens United decision?" asked Morrison.
"Terrible. It has to be one of the five worst decisions by the Supreme Court. (They) call themselves strict constructionists, right? Tell me where it says in the Constitution that money is speech. Tell me where it says Congress cannot reasonably regulate campaign contributions. It's been doing so for 120 years. All of a sudden these guys decide, not only is money speech but corporate money is speech. Outrageous, in my opinion. It's polluting the political process.
"And there is no constitutional issue about this health-care bill. Scalia a few years ago wrote an opinion saying the federal government could regulate somebody's backyard marijuana patch under the commerce clause, because that patch had an indirect effect on interstate commerce. You're talking about 20 percent of the GNP with health care, and the federal government can't regulate it? Don't employers have to pay a minimum wage under the commerce clause? If they turn this down, those guys ought to be impeached, honest to God. There's no constitutional issue here."
So, unfortunately, it's only a retired politician who has the guts to say that conservatives are writing a new Constitution in the courts. They sanctify the old and then set it on fire.