Friday, December 8, 2000
Dukakis speaks about election, public service at CCHS. Encourages students to enter politics
Former Massachusetts Governor and presidential candidate Michael Dukakis spoke to students and faculty at Concord-Carlisle High School leading a lively discussion about the current election. At a packed all-school assembly in the high school gym on Wednesday, November 29, he encouraged students to think about public service as a career. "If you care about the homeless, that's a political issue. If you care about the future and world peace, go into politics," he said.
Social Studies Chair Denis Cleary recapped Dukakis' career for students. Dukakis was governor from 1974 to 1978, lost the Democratic primary to Edward King in 1978, and regained the governorship again from 1982 to 1990. In 1988 he ran for president as the Democratic candidate and was defeated by George Bush.
In an informal speech to students, Dukakis warmed up the crowd by noting that the high schoolers were only two to five years old when he ran for president twelve years ago."If I had defeated George Bush, you would never have heard from the Bushes again," he joked.
Turning to the current election he said, "We are living through history here." Dukakis said he believes presidential candidate Al Gore got the majority of votes in Florida, but whether or not all the votes will be counted is another issue. "Clearly we need new election procedures and better standards about where, when and how we vote," he said. He believes the electoral college should be abolished in favor of a candidate winning by popular vote, or counting the total number of votes.
Students press many questions
"Do your agree or disagree with the way the Gore campaign is handling the election in Florida?" a student asked. Dukakis said he too would pursue a recount if he believed he had won the popular vote in Florida. Another student asked why there are political parties. He answered by explaining that parties bring people of similar interest together. Third party candidate Ross Perot should be given credit, Dukakis said, for forcing the huge federal budget deficit as an issue in the presidential race with Clinton. Perot focused so much attention on solving the problem, that currently there is a budget surplus, he noted.
"Why did the country react the way it did in 1988 to a Massachusetts' Democrat running for president?" another student asked.
Dukakis answered with a wry smile, "You mean why did I lose in 1988?" In hindsight he said, "I made a serious mistake by blowing off the Bush campaign's negative attacks. I should have responded strongly to the attacks."
On campaign finance reform, Dukakis said he ran an honest, above-board campaign for president, taking no money from political action committees or lobbyist groups. With over 400,000 individual contributors, his average campaign contribution was $75, a relatively modest amount. Without campaign finance reform, he said, it makes it much more difficult to run for office.
About the controversial MCAS tests that will soon require a passing grade to receive a high school diploma, the former governor said he believed in testing in the right way, but was concerned about applying the standards to vocational school students. "Many vocational school students won't do well on MCAS," he said, but are prepared for technically trained jobs, and they are in great demand. Despite the current attention to public education's deficits, Dukakis pointed out that in the 1950s, around 50% of white students and 70% of minorities never graduated from high school.
Getting students interested in politics
Dukakis said it's his mission to encourage students to get involved in politics. In ten years since leaving office, he has taught at the JFK School of Government at Harvard, Northeastern, University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Hawaii among other colleges and high schools. Pointing out the growing gap between the rich and the poor in the country and the estimated 43 million Americans with no health insurance, he said "Politics is about caring more than just about yourself. You can't divorce community service from political service."
Lecture funded by Carlisle family
The speech is part of the ongoing Lecture Enrichment Series started by Social Studies Department Chair Denis Cleary several years ago. Teachers and outside business, academic and political leaders are invited to speak to students. Past teacher lecture topics have included a discussion of World War I, the history of the American musical, a lecture on physics, and panels on the election and the impeachment process.
The lectures are open to students, faculty, staff and the community and are sponsored by a grant from the Ruettgers family of Carlisle, who had three children graduate from CCHS. Dukakis was offered a fee for the speech but refused it, asking that the high school donate his fee to the Boston Historical Coalition, an organization which maintains the Freedom Trail in Boston.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito