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Post-California: What the Candidates Must Do Next : Dukakis, Jackson Have to Cut a Deal Before Convention

The Running Arguments: A Continuing Series Surveying The Presidential Campaign And Candidates.

June 05, 1988|Robert G. Beckel | Robert G. Beckel, a political analyst, was Walter F. Mondale's campaign manger in 1984.

WASHINGTON — It's time for Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and Jesse Jackson to cut a deal. On Tuesday, the last primaries will be over and on Wednesday, Dukakis will go over the 2,081 delegates needed for the nomination. These two men are the Democratic survivors. Both have grown immensely in stature and now dominate the Democratic political landscape. Dwarfs they are not. Consummating their relationship is the last piece of business the Democrats must deal with before facing George Bush in the fall.

It's now time to show the party and the country that the respect clearly there between these two can result in a unified party in Atlanta. But the deal must be done now. To wait until Atlanta is to court disaster. Conventions are no place to do real politics. Unresolved issues taken to a convention invariably grow more contentious then they deserve to.

It's been a long time since Republicans gave Democrats a better shot at the White House than now. Bush is the GOP version of a "Kick Me" sign put on the party's posterior. This is a guy waiting to get mugged. A bad candidate with a bad message at a bad time for Republicans.

For Democrats, never in recent history has a nominee been in as good shape on the eve of the California primary as Dukakis. He is stronger today than two months ago. This is a break from the past when nominees got bloodied in the final rounds. They usually lost a few states at the end and had a challenger beating them up as the primaries' final bell sounds. Not Dukakis. He hasn't suffered a loss in a major primary since Michigan, and Jackson has treated him with kid gloves since then--a testament to Jackson's remarkable self-control over the course of the primary season.

The deal should center on the platform. Here are five areas that Jackson and Dukakis can focus on. These are both essential to the hopes of Jackson's constituency and boiling in Middle America among voters that have fled the Democratic Party in the last two elections.

-- Affordable Housing: Massachusetts' subsidized housing program, using money from private pension funds, fits nicely into Jackson's pension-fund recycling plan.

-- Health care: The Bay State's universal health insurance bill could provide an umbrella for Jackson's ideas.

-- Drugs: Jackson's proposals for a drug czar, using the armed forces for interdiction and more funds for education, should be acceptable planks for the platform.

-- Higher Education: Providing tax-break vehicles for middle-class parents to pay for college, scholarships for poor students and greater funds for teacher-training could be a basis for compromise.

-- Child care: Allowing poor mothers to work through free child care and low-income families to gain a subsidy could garner Jackson's agreement.

Put these together and you have a Jackson imprint on a Dukakis message that can again join the middle class with the poor around a set of issues critical to both. The Reagan realignment, which grafted the middle class on to the rich around issues like inflation and taxes, can be severed. This new coalition can forge a victory for Democrats in 1988. The irony is that it has taken a liberal like Jackson to come up with an issue agenda that for once will not drive the conservative middle class away from the Democrats.

Beyond the platform, there are other areas that need to be addressed between Jackson and Dukakis:

-- Rules: Jackson's complaints about allocation of super-delegates doesn't work because he agreed to the rules last year. But for 1992, taking half the super-delegates slots and assigning them back to the states to be allocated proportionally at the district level would work.

-- Vice president selection: Jackson should be consulted--but not have a veto--before Dukakis makes a selection.

-- Jackson's role at the convention: He should give a major prime-time speech, but also second Dukakis' nomination.

-- Jackson beyond the convention: Guarantees should be made that the party will retire any campaign debt he might have from the primaries. He should then be given all the resources necessary to campaign full-time in the fall.

-- Jackson staff: Discussions should begin immediately on merging Jackson's people into the Dukakis operation.

-- Voter registration and get-out-the-vote: Jackson should have major input into the allocation of all party resources directed at voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts.

-- The national chairmanship: No deal. Paul G. Kirk Jr. has done a superb job. Anyway, Jesse shouldn't want the job.

Dukakis and Jackson should meet within 10 days to discuss the outlines of a deal. They should then turn the details over to a couple of pros--like Susan Estrich, Dukakis' campaign manager, and Burt Lance--to work out the fine print. The time has come. Start dealing.

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