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Duking It Out

The Dukakis administration that never was.

Aug 30, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 47 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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Obama comes from the same cultural niche as Dukakis and operates from the same point of view: that the death penalty is wrong and the benefit of the doubt goes to the accused in most situations; that in a confrontation with a black man, a white cop will act “stupidly”; that patriotic displays are déclassé; that Muslims are an imperiled minority and must be indulged at all costs. To the Bush campaign in 1988, the furlough was about terrible crimes, and Dukakis’s judgment about a convicted murderer serving a life term who was let out on unsupervised furloughs. To liberals, of course, it was about race, as Horton was black and his victims white. Taylor wrote that the Bush campaign came “out of George Wallace’s and Richard Nixon’s playbooks. .  .  . They ‘waved the bloody shirt’ just as nineteenth-century politicians had waved it for a generation after the Civil War.” 

Hendrik Hertzberg (who promoted the mosque in 2010 in the New Yorker) wrote in 1988 in the New Republic that

Bush ran the most vicious campaign of the second half of the 20th century. It was a campaign that quite openly exploited primitive racial-sexual fears. More subtly .  .  . the Bush campaign exploited nativist prejudice. .  .  . Dukakis is not an American, Dukakis is different, this was the unwholesome subtheme that tied together the pledgehammer assault. .  .  . It is hard to resist the supposition that some among the Bush people calculated that these particular attacks would be particularly effective against a big-nosed beetle-browed Mediterranean type with a Jewish wife.

It’s hard to resist only if you think Dukakis’s judgment was flawless, and that sympathy for the feelings of survivors of those killed on September 11 is in reality nothing but hate. The GOP is “seething with hatred toward vulnerable religious and ethnic groups,” says Peter Beinart, though the party is running a large number of Hispanics, blacks, and children of Indian immigrants for high state and federal office. To Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic, Obama’s coalition of “young Americans, modernists, seculars, [and] suburban couples who believe in the virtues of tolerance” is battling “a resurgence of anti-cosmopolitanism [and] the constructed identity of America as a collection of white ethnic immigrants”—on the part of 68 percent of the American people, 54 percent of all Democrats, and such notable racists as Harry Reid, majority leader of the United States Senate, and ex-Democratic party chair Howard Dean. 

Like the furlough, the mosque issue is a bad one for Democrats, and one their defenders get wrong. “The first America tends to make the finer sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes,” says the New York Times’s Ross Douthat. This is a nice point, and leads one to further comparisons: The first America is full of itself and the second one isn’t; the first America is filled with Ambinder’s “modernists, seculars, [and] suburban couples who believe in the virtues of tolerance,” while the second is filled with “f—ing NASCAR retards” (as Eric Alterman of the Nation puts it). The first thinks Newsweek helps keep the culture from darkness and the second knows why it had to be sold for one dollar; the first thinks imams need their sensibilities coddled and those of Catholics, Jews, veterans, and evangelicals can be trashed with impunity; while the second believes this is mad. The second America thinks assault, rape, and murder are serious crimes that merit harsh punishment; the first America thinks these things disturb white Americans only if and when the assailants in question are black. The second America was ready in the summer of 1988 to elect Michael Dukakis (Greek name, Jewish wife, and the rest of it), and backed off when it came to know more about him. It did, however, elect Barack Obama (middle name of “Hussein” and the rest of it), and is right now repenting as it wakes up to reality: He is not FDR, JFK, or the liberal Reagan, but Michael Dukakis. Which is not what was wanted at all.

Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.

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