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Much Ado About Just What?

October 04, 1987

Wait a minute now. Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts did not have a tryst with another woman. He did not filch other peoples' material to use as his own in campaign speeches. He did not authorize campaign dirty tricks against his opponents in the contest for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. Still, the Dukakis-Biden event has been treated with almost the same magnitude as actions that earlier forced Gary Hart and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. to withdraw.

In fact, it can be argued that the Dukakis campaign's distribution of a videotape illustrating Biden's lifting of speech material from others without attribution did not represent a political dirty trick in any sense of the word. That sort of thing has been accepted practice in political campaigns throughout the history of the Republic.

There is fault here, certainly, and blame to be assessed. Dukakis overreacted when he first rejected out of hand the idea that the video could have been leaked by his staff. And then he should have required aide John Sasso to resign as soon as he found out that Sasso had indeed leaked the tape and failed to tell Dukakis about it. Sasso did quit one day later.

Character and integrity have become supercharged campaign issues this year. So be it. But the political world should not get carried away with an overzealous clean-as-a-hound's-tooth crusade. The Biden videotape incident should be allowed to fade away without any lasting damage to Gov. Dukakis himself.

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