WASHINGTON — The signals on the Michael S. Dukakis-Jesse Jackson road this week were flashing a cautious "go." The most encouragement came from the good will both Democrats have shown each other and their wish to work out differences. The concern lies in the varying agendas they bring to discussions.
The vice presidency remains the most visible roadblock to full reconciliation. In a sense it's a curious obstacle. It's probably in neither candidate's interests to have Jackson selected as the vice presidential nominee.
Dukakis simply can't put another liberal on the ticket, black or white. The direction of Republican attacks painting the Massachusetts governor as a "McGovern" liberal are already clear. Jackson on the ticket will hardly deflect them. But Dukakis also needs Jackson's support and supporters to win in the fall. To gain them he needs to appreciate the pressure Jackson is under from his own constituency.
Jackson's current position in the Democratic party is perhaps the most remarkable part of his remarkable year. Jackson is now in the inner circle of party leaders, the representative of the Democrats' most loyal constituency. It is now an acceptable notion that Jackson will run again for the presidency, either four or eight years from now. This leadership position was not bestowed by the party. On the contrary, Jackson has empowered himself.
But the constituency that brought him this far is now pressing him to go further. The vice presidency is the obvious next step. Seeking the second highest office may indeed bring short-term solace but it is not necessarily part of any long-term Jackson plans. What Jackson needs is to gather control over the party machinery, to enfranchise and mobilize his constituency for future elections. An acrimonious fight over a vice presidential nomination that he won't get could set back long-term plans.
Whatever the long-term prospects, last week's news was mostly good for the prospects of a united party this fall. To wit:
1) At the Chicago meeting of key supporters on June 11, Jackson had nothing but good things to say about Dukakis. Those in attendance included Ronald H. Brown, Jackson's convention manager; former New Mexico Gov. Toney Anaya; Walter E. Fauntroy, congressional delegate from the District of Columbia; Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Jim Hightower, Percy Sutton and Bert Lance. All those who spoke expressed strong sentiment that Jackson should seek the vice presidency. Yet on "Meet The Press" the next day, Jackson himself drew back a bit by insisting that he wasn't going to "push" Dukakis to offer him the position, and he was not necessarily going to accept it.
2) Jackson put negotiations in the able hands of Brown, a respected Washington attorney, who then met with Nicholas Mitropolous, Dukakis' closest traveling assistant and an old chum of Brown's from their days at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
3) From all reports, the past week's meeting between Jackson and Paul P. Brountas, Dukakis' close friend and veep-finder, went very well.
4) Lance is back after his mother's death. His daily conversations with Jackson may finally put to rest erroneous stories of his falling out of favor. Jackson's regard for Lance's sage advice increases the likelihood that the next Democrat to capture the White House may owe almost as much to Lance as the last one did.
5) A meeting between Jackson and Dukakis is imminent. There is a sense in both camps that they can cement their relationship--the sooner done, the better.
The signs of reconciliation are everywhere. The obstacles lie in Jackson's constituency and Dukakis' sensitivity. Can the Jackson constituency put aside its historical interest in winning the vice presidency? Can Dukakis understand the needs of Jackson's supporters and help reconcile them? Stay tuned.