WHEN Gov. Michael S. Dukakis chose Lloyd M. Bentsen of Texas as his running mate last week, he harkened back to the presidential campaign of 1960 and proclaimed that the "Boston Austin" connection was back in the running. Dukakis, like every smart politician, is seeking to capitalize on the mythic stature that Americans accord President John F. Kennedy '40 by reminding voters of the successful Massachusetts-Texas combination that won the White House for the Democrats in 1960.
But by resurrecting the memories of JFK and LBJ, Dukakis is living in the past while ignoring history in the making. The Rev. Jesse Jackson will not be ignored--as is becoming more and more evident with the malestrom of media coverage and the general furor surrounding his role at the convention. Dukakis, with his penchant for reclaiming the spirit of Camelot for his presidential campaign, is overlooking the historical significance of this year's Democratic race for the White House.
This presidential campaign, unlike the one in 1960 or any other, has been marked by the exceptional showing and powerful populist appeal of Jackson, the first Black politician ever to do so well in the primaries. Jackson won over 7 million votes in the extended primary season that culminates this week at the Democratic convention in Atlanta--that showing, while not quite enough to outrun Dukakis for the nomination, is a historic one nonetheless.
And the message that Jackson's campaign sent to millions of first-time voters and traditionally undervalued minority groups was that they, too, are entitled to a voice in the political process. It was a classic lesson in the politics of empowerment--though the main player, a preacher and civil rights activist from Chicago, was hardly your standard political figure.
But as Jesse Jackson gained stature and popularity during the course of his campaign, Dukakis gained votes-and the money necessary to run his effort. Jackson ignited the crowds, his speeches were television magic, he kissed babies and hugged supporters. Meanwhile, Dukakis talked about economic opportunity and the Massachusetts Miracle, columnists wrote admiring pieces about his campaign money machine, and voters pulled enough levers in voting machines to put the Massachusetts governor firmly in the winner's seat.
JACKSON has been the spark that ignited the Democratic race for the presidential nomination; Dukakis has been the cautious, solid candidate. And by choosing Bentsen, Dukakis once again emphasized the calculated rationality that is the hallmark of his personal style.
The facts are that a Democratic candidate has not won the presidency without Texas in 100 years, that the party's liberal wing had their day in San Francisco in 1984 and proceeded to lose 49 states, and that as Arkansas Sen. Dale Bumpers said, "I'd rather run against motherhood than Lloyd Bentsen in Texas."
Dukakis must cement his place as the nominee, the great hope of his party. And as he told reporters before he left for Atlanta, "there's no room for two quarterbacks." Dukakis has made his decision for the second spot, and now he must unite his party and attack the main prey--Vice President George Bush.
But this unification should not come at the expense of Jackson, whose energetic awakening of the liberal wing of the Democrats could prove to be a huge asset for the party in November.
To Dukakis, though, the winner wins and the loser keeps quiet. Dukakis has been treating Jackson as a typical vanquished rival for the nomination, as his failure to notify Jackson before the news of Bentsen's selection makes clear. In his mind, there is no reason to make an exception.
Jackson, vowing to "never surrender," is intent on changing the governor's mind. Jackson is asking for unprecendented presence in the campaign, for a liberalized campaign platform and for an almost complete integration of his campaign staff with Dukakis'. And how Dukakis decides to act on Jackson's requests will say a lot about how Jackson is perceived by the soon-to-be Democratic nominee.
IF Jackson is to be just another beaten primary opponent, then Dukakis will likely downplay the requests, throwing the obligatory crumbs of respect to Jackson. But if Jackson is considered in light of the important role he has played--and the historic impact his campaign has had in Democratic politics--then Dukakis may take his opponent's demands more seriously.
Dukakis has many practical considerations to face as he prepares to accept the Democratic nomination, but he and his aides must tread a delicate line as they balance strategic concerns with historic ones. Icons like Kennedy don't need to be resurrected from the glory days of the Democratic past while modern-day political giants like Jackson stand ready in Atlanta to do battle for the ticket.
There is some truth to the hackneyed wisdom that says "in remembering our past, we neglect our future." Jackson has lent personal magnetism and liberal compassion to an otherwise dry Democratic race; he has the faithful following of an important political constituency and some strongly-held policy positions that would only enhance Dukakis' chances in November. Dukakis should forget about the 1960 election returns and concentrate on the ones that count four months from now.