Where is Mike Dukakis When You Need Him?

In 1988 I remember a good friend from Boston telling me a story he heard from one of his father’s friends about the Democratic nominee for President, Massachusetts governor, Michael Dukakis. According to the story, there was a blizzard and only essential state personnel were supposed to be using the roads. The governor was deemed “non-essential”, so he did not qualify to be using a car on the state roads.

But Dukakis wanted to go to the state capital to do some work, so he put on his winter jacket and started walking to the capital. A doctor who was deemed an essential state personnel and was on his way to work saw the governor walking along the side of the road. Being a good friend of the governor, the doctor pulled over and said. “Get in the car, Mike! I’ll take you to the capital.”

Dukakis got in the car, but after driving a short distance the governor became concerned. “I really shouldn’t be doing this,” he said. Dukakis had the doctor pull over to the side of the road and got out, resuming his long trek to work through the blizzard.

I still think of that story twenty-eight years later, especially as we are now in the midst of the most bitter Presidential campaign in my lifetime. I find it difficult to muster much enthusiasm for any of the candidates. Both of the slogans sound fine to me. I do believe we are “STRONGER TOGETHER” but I also don’t have any trouble with wanting to “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.”

Is it too much to ask for our leaders to be good people? I know the arguments. Sometimes it’s the most flawed people who make the best leaders. Churchill could be very rude to the people who worked for him. Harry Truman is reputed to have said that FDR had dead, lifeless eyes, in addition to being a ruthless SOB. In the election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson called John Adams a hermaphrodite, and the allies of Adams spread rumors about Jefferson’s illegitimate children with his slave, Sally Hemmings (who was also the half-sister of Jefferson’s deceased wife). Perhaps I long for a time that never truly existed.

But I have known some genuinely decent people, and as far as I can tell, a few of them have even run for President. Maybe the problem is with me. Even though I heard the Dukakis story in 1988, I still voted for the other guy. Then in 1992 I voted for Bill Clinton.

I often find myself torn between the policies I want to be pursued, and the politician who claims to believe those things I want. In 2008, Barack Obama promised to appoint an “Autism Czar” who would deal with the growing epidemic. In 2016, as his time in office comes to an end, that promise is still unfulfilled. My non-verbal daughter who suffers from autism and seizures has gone from being a ten-year-old to an eighteen-year-old and nobody has done anything meaningful to address her situation in those years.

I’m sure that many of you have your own disappointments in the people you once supported. And if you decide you might be one of those voters who switch your allegiance this political cycle, you wonder if there will be any difference. Four or eight years from now, will you feel disappointed again?

But I continue to hope that one day we will see a truly good person in the Presidency. A person who might accept a ride in a snowstorm that he shouldn’t, but looks out the window and realizes he has made a mistake. A person who asks for the car to stop, exits the vehicle, and continues his cold and lonely trek to work.

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