By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Michael Dukakis on Ted Kennedy

Dukakis_20090902The public-relations office at Northeastern just sent out a Q&A it conducted with Michael Dukakis on the life and legacy of Ted Kennedy. Dukakis, a Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Northeastern, is a former governor of Massachusetts and a former presidential candidate, and has been mentioned as a possible interim senator. It’s a pretty interesting interview, and I’m presenting it here in full.

Q: How would you sum up Ted Kennedy as a politician?

A: He was the whole package for me, a remarkable combination of personal commitment and passion for the job, and skills, legislative ability. He never would start a policy initiative without getting a Republican cosponsor.

You know, after Bill Clinton went down to defeat on his 1993 health care plan, he and Ted got together to see what could be done, and decided, OK we’ll start with the kids, so they came up with this children’s health plan. And Kennedy, as you might guess, was the principal cosponsor in the Senate.

[Republican Senate Majority Leader] Trent Lott knew that Kennedy was looking for a Republican cosponsor. Kennedy had this long-standing personal friendship with [Utah Republican] Orrin Hatch, and when Lott found out that Hatch had agreed to cosponsor the bill, he was just furious. But they put it through-raised the federal cigarette tax from 24 cents to 67 cents and put it through. That was Kennedy.

Q: Do you remember the first time you worked with him politically?

A: I’m sure we probably did some things together in the Sixties. But people ask me, “What are your favorite Kennedy stories?” and I’ve got two.

I was first elected governor in ’74, I was defeated by Ed King in ’78, so there was the great rematch in 1982, in the Democratic primary. King was the incumbent Democratic governor, albeit a conservative one; he later switched parties. Still, there was no reason for Teddy to come out 10 days before that election and endorse my candidacy, but he did.

Q: Did you ever ask him about it?

A: He just thought it was the right thing to do, very similar to when he endorsed Obama in 2008. He was close to the Clintons, and I know they were very hurt and disappointed, but he did it anyway. And I know his endorsement was just as crucial for Obama then as it was for me in 1982.

My other favorite memory came about when I signed the universal health care bill in 1988. I’ll never forget when Teddy called me, he was just so proud-of me, of Secretary of Health and Human Services Phil Johnston, of the state.  He was incredibly proud that his state was the first in the nation to enact universal health care.

Q: You served as governor for 12 years while Ted was in the Senate, so the two of you must have worked together a lot. Does anything in particular come to mind?

A: On public transportation, which I’m slightly obsessive about, he was absolutely terrific. This was in my first term, and at the time, you could not bust the highway trust fund, the gasoline tax, you could not use it for public transportation.

I was one of the leaders to fight the so-called Master Highway Plan, which would have … created a California-style freeway system, eight lanes of elevated highway going right through Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace, down Ruggles Street and three feet from the Museum of Fine Arts.

And meanwhile, the “T” was just a basket case, it was awful, it would break down three days out of five when I took it to work.

So after a 10-year debate, we had killed the Master Highway Plan, and we had given up hundreds of million of dollars in federal highway money, but we thought, why can’t we use that for public transportation?

And Ted and [former House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr.] were largely responsible for making it possible for Massachusetts to become the first state in the nation to be able to use federal highway money for public transportation.

We ended up with $3 billion to invest in the “T.” We acquired the entire commuter rail system in eastern Massachusetts for $35 million, stations, parking lots, tracks, … and we could not have done it without Kennedy and Tip’s leadership.

Q: What will Ted Kennedy’s legacy be — what do you think he’ll stand out for above all?

A: In a general way, that he was somebody who knew where he stood, and he lived it, practiced it, did it. He had a very strong philosophy, which at times was not in vogue. And yet he never wavered at all. I think subsequent events demonstrated clearly that his values and his approach to public service made a lot more sense than some of the folks who were critical of him.

The one piece he wasn’t able to achieve was his goal of health care for everyone, and I hope we’re going to do that.

Q: You see people at [health care] rallies holding signs, saying “Do It 4 Teddy.” How do you think his passing will change the health care debate?

A: No question we’d be on our way to a health care bill if Ted Kennedy had been healthy, engaged, and involved. If, for example, there had to be some compromising on a pure public option, because it was Kennedy, the liberal community would accept it because his credentials there were so strong.
I’m not saying we can’t get a health care bill, but there is no one with the unique set of skills and the respect that he had.

My own view is that the Democrats will have 60 votes for cloture, assuming Massachusetts changes the law and gets someone down there to vote. So what the Democrats have to do-not that you don’t keep reaching out to Republicans-is to put together a bill that has solid Democratic support, and then you use the 60 votes to close out debate.

But there is going to be some very hard work to do among Senate Democrats. Kennedy certainly would have been the glue to hold them together and get this thing passed. Now, other people will have to step up to try to do it.

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  1. Neil

    Thanks for publishing this.

  2. Amused

    Very worthwhile use of space.

    I’m glad to see Dukakis reminding people about what the MBTA was when he took over; it was an absolute disaster with cobbled-together Green Lne PCC cars that not only constantly broke down, but which mastered the art of filling over-packed cars with cold air in winter, hot air in summer. The system is infinitely better than it was and while some of it was on the way before Dukakis (such as the re-routing of the Orange line to Melrose) just about all of it was because of his advocacy. Most T riders today don’t know that before Frank Sergeant killed the inner belt and Dukakis took the public transit mantle to the corner office, the highway builders had complete control of Massachusetts govenment — the state highway commissioner was as powerful a post as existed and the state also had a roadbuilder as governor in John Volpe.

  3. So many “red state Americans” who regarded him with suspicion if not outright hatred, will probably never even realize how much they owe Senator Kennedy. It’s kind of sad that a lot of the people Kennedy worked the hardest for despised him with a passion born of decades of anti-Kennedy propaganda. Nothing was handier for a Republican running in a conservative district than the image of Bogeyman Ted in a campaign ad. It usually worked.


    I wonder how these people would react if tomorrow – just for a day, mind you – every law Teddy Kennedy is responsible for were made null and void. Call it a hunch but I have a strong feeling that more people than you might suspect are going to miss him now that he’s gone.

    Teddy, they hardly knew ye!

    I’ll miss Teddy. His impact on the country he loved so much will be felt for generations. The loss his passing means to progressive politics in the United States is incalculable. We need him at this moment in history more than we ever needed him before. It’s so unspeakably sad. He’s gone and he’s not coming back. Now he belongs to the ages.

    In the good old Irish Catholic tradition, tonight I’ll be drinking a toast or two (or twelve) to you, Ted. Sleep well and thanks.

    Tom Degan
    Goshen, NY

  4. Amused

    I am an unabashed fan of Dime Time, even 30 years later. The closest we ever came to the glories of free public transit

    My best memory of dime time is that it let me get from suburbia to fenway park for one of those April school vacation week games, usually a fog-shrouded affair against the horrid cleveland indians, with enough coin in my pocket for a hot dog.

    Here is how it worked
    Without dime time:
    B & M from Suburbia 1.00
    T fare .25
    Ticket: Rt field grandstand 1.50, bleachers (better view, less money) 1.00
    return trip: 1.00 for the B&M, .25 for the T.
    Total, assuming bleacher seats: 3.50

    With Dime Time (and its companion off-peak commuter rail pricing)
    B&M to Boston: .50
    T to Kenmore .10
    Ticket: 1.00 to 1.50

    Return trip:
    T to North Station: .25
    B&M 1.00

    So… without dime time, I got to the ball park and home for $3.50. With dime time it cost $2.85. Hot dogs were $.50, and you could buy a can of tonic for .15 at the drug store in Kenmore Square. So dime time put a half-a-buck in the pocket of Harry M Stevens and 15 cents in the pocket of that drug store that was where CVS ended up in Kenmore Square. Being a baseball geek, I bought a program for a quarter (yeah, I kept score) and a popcorn for the same and carried in my 15 cent can of coke ( this obviously was before the current practice of searching ticket holders as a “security measure” which is no more than an excuse for the Bozo’s who own the team to make sure we do’t smugglein a half-eaten sub sandwich or, horrors, a bottle of water, when they have conveyed upon us the privilege of walking on a public way to which the ballclub had won rights to close off such public way to ticket holders in order to sell us Tiant or Remy sandwiches for absurd prices)

    . Great deals came to those who planned ahead, so if the Record-American had its Red Sox game edition on sale (usually reserved for night games) , I could buy that for a dime and use its score card, thus saving 15 cents over the 25 cent official scorecard. With this precious dime and nickel, I could chip in with my friend to split a Hood’s ice cream bar for a quarter and we’d have five cents between us, which could be converted to pennies to be thrown in the Red Sox bullpen (a common practice at the time) where an actual major league baseball player would actually pick up the coinage flung to the bullpen. Nothing like having Cal Koonce be the first person to touch a coin that you had last touched!!

    And then, when the fog-shrouded affair became a rain-out, I had $1.65 to spent at the Triangle Cafeteria, which seemed to be the adult version of high school lunch! And on the return trip home, one could hang around North Station and wait for the7:30 train, when it was off-peak again, and save 50 cents that could be used for a slice of pizza at Valenti’s or a Big Mac at Mickey D’s.

    The best part of it all, though, was that Sonny Siebert or Ray Culp, with relief help from Bob Bolin or Vicente Romo would keep the pathetic opposition at bay, and the likes of Dick Schofield would have a career day on a cold, grey New England April afternoon and we could march aboard the green line confident that we had special knowledge unknown to the poor souls aboard who didn’t go to the game, that the Sox were a team of destiny that year. Nothing likee being one of 7,600 at a game in April to acquire Special Knowledge that this was THE year. (Ironically, I skipped a few classes at a Boston college to attend one of those April week games in 1975, where Rice and Lynn were rookies in the outfield and Tony C. seemedto be making a comeback, and Henry Aaron hit one out for the Brewers, in the early stages of which, for a Bill Lee eephus pitch, it was almost THE year.)

    Sorry for droning, but Dan you mentioned Dime Time!!!

  5. bostonmediawatch

    Why does Dukakis think that Dems who would vote against a bill would vote for cloture?

  6. Fanofduke

    I’d love to see Duke fill out Teddy’s term until the special election. He’s a policy wonk who can hit the ground running and would support the issues that were dear to Kennedy’s heart.

  7. LFNeilson

    In the present political climate, it’s popular to shred TK, but bear in mind, he was re-elected 9 times, many times with more than a 2/3 maj. He stuck to his political beliefs, even in times when they were not popular. He knew how to work the avenues of the Senate. He and Prof. M.D. are prime examples of what happens to good men who become political targets.

  8. O-FISH-L

    As a Republican, I’d love to see Dukakis temporarily fill the seat, but for different reasons.

    The Duke couldn’t do much damage (hopefully) in the limited time available, but he’d be a powerful GOP fundraising tool long after his brief term ends.

    Potential GOP TV ad: Scroll through long list of Democrat missteps since Obama’s election, then announcer says, “And Barack Obama and Harry Reid even supported tampering with a Mass. law so that their liberal friend Michael Dukakis could join the US Senate for just three months. Now Dukakis, rejected by 40 of our 50 states in 1988, enjoys Senate perks for a lifetime, on us.”…cut to video of helmeted Dukakis driving tank, with thumps-up, circa ’88.


  9. Fanofduke

    Man, O-Fish-L, nothing like a little blackmail action, huh? “We’ll use Dukakis to prompt Republicans to donate heavily to a GOP candidate. Hahahaha! Diabolical!”

    Haven’t you guys got anything you can run FOR?

    I’m a registered independent voter who has cast ballots for Republicans and Democrats. But I haven’t seen anything on the Republican side for quite some time now that would attract my vote.

    Maybe you guys should concentrate on that. Having Republican numbers tank to the point of no return isn’t good for America. We always need a loyal opposition party, to keep tabs on the party in power.

    And by the way — in 1974, I remember all those bumper stickers that showed up on cars, saying, “Don’t blame me. I’m from Massachusetts.” Going against the national grain is a point of pride in Massachusetts, not something to be ashamed about.

    Did Duke look dumb in a tank? Sure. But we liked him then and we like him now.

    By all means, put up a good, viable GOP candidate. That would be good for everybody.

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