WALTHAM, MASS. — Since 1983, Michael S. Dukakis has become a political manager. He is not a technocrat, as some suggest. He wants government to solve society's problems, but he has learned that politics and communications are the main tools for developing good policies.
His 1978 reelection defeat was not followed by a burst of revelation. Rather it was a long, but ultimately positive learning process stimulated by frank exchanges with sometimes critical yet supportive former aides. It led to a very different second term: different top managers producing more successful programs, like the Employment and Training Choices (ET) welfare reform and tougher tax enforcement, which then became the centerpiece of his presidential bid.
Dukakis is not a technocrat like Robert S. McNamara, the former defense secretary who was above politics and believed in technical solutions to complicated problems (Defense Department reorganization, the Vietnam War). Nor is he a pure manager, like former President Jimmy Carter, who believed that if your policy was "right" then everything else would take care of itself, good intentions were sufficient and politics a bit unseemly.
Instead, Dukakis became a political manager--a chief executive focusing scarce time and political capital on a modest number of problems, willing to compromise and using marketing to get results, and then to let citizens know what was done. He also learned that you first have to get elected and then reelected to get your policies enacted.
But he is not just a politician. The "manager" component means that he is interested in the implementation of his programs, not just symbolic gestures or laws passed. This also has political benefits: programs to run on.
Dukakis was much more of a pure manager and technocrat in the first term--called Duke I in Massachusetts. His focus on getting elected to get policies enacted, along with the characteristics noted above, represent changes in leadership style. He became a political manager in his second and third administrations--Duke II.
These major changes contradict F. Scott Fitzgerald's observation that there are no second acts in American lives. After one term, Dukakis was upset in the Democratic primary by a conservative Democrat, Edward J. King. But he regained the governor's office in a 1982 rematch with King. His first administration was not politically savvy. Dukakis and many of his top appointees were more interested in confrontation than consensus, were sometimes arrogant and often lacking in communication skills.
Both he and many of his aides were traumatized by that 1978 defeat. But instead of becoming embittered, the next four years became a learning and positive life-changing experience. Less dramatically, it was like Franklin D. Roosevelt's life-changing and character-building polio experience. Dukakis' own soul-searching was important, but my investigation indicates that it was greatly stimulated by frank exchanges with former aides who knew what went wrong. Many of those whom he saw the most from 1979 to 1982 were self-critical of their mistakes in Duke I. Perhaps these re-examinations took a positive tone because many, including Dukakis, were teaching practitioner-oriented public-policy courses at such campuses as Brandeis, MIT and Harvard.
Duke II, like Duke I, focused on hiring the best people and delegating authority. But after this learning process, "best people" had a new meaning. In Duke I, good-government reformers were in top positions. They felt, despite their frequent previous government service, that they should remain above politics. This was consonant with Dukakis himself who, for example, thought it was not ethical to appoint his original political mentor, a respected attorney, to a judgeship.
The 1982 comeback campaign showed his new appreciation of political prowess as the underpinning of good policies. Rejecting separation of politics and policy, Dukakis strongly encouraged former and prospective policy-makers to become involved in the campaign. For example, Charles Atkins (later welfare commissioner in Duke II) was never involved in a political campaign when he worked for McNamara or former New York Mayor John V. Lindsay. But in 1982 he became heavily involved, from heading an issues committee to running a phone bank. The most striking example was the highly political 1982 campaign manager, John Sasso, who became chief of staff. The 1974 campaign manager, Joe Grandmaison, was not offered a staff position and the first administration went on to be politically ineffective.
In Duke II the new political manager made exceptions to delegating authority. He focused on his short agenda of policy initiatives, selected on political and policy criteria. In Duke I he had tried to take on all the state's problems, with little sense of priority. Now the goal was to make good politics and good policies overlap.