Dukakis discusses importance of grassroots efforts in political campaigning
- March 3, 2009
- Talk was one of two CSD-sponsored Peltason Lectures for 2009
While technology - the Internet specifically - has been widely credited for transforming
the political landscape in the 2008 election, former Presidential candidate Michael
Dukakis explained in a public lecture Monday that new ways of campaigning are actually
a return to the grassroots efforts of old fashioned politicking.
"Technology is being used to restore democracy to the way it's supposed to be practiced - in the neighborhoods and on the doorsteps," he said.
Arriving to Orange County via Amtrak from his visiting professor post at UCLA, the1988 democratic Presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor known for his support of public transportation addressed a UC Irvine audience about campaign lessons he's learned from his life-long career in politics.
His key message, intermingled with comical advice including to "never let the TV folks 'mike' you for the day," - a lesson he learned the hard way on the '88 campaign trail when a "rather personal" conversation with his wife caught national attention due to a forgotten live microphone - was on the importance of grassroots campaigning.
Described as the roots of prior successful campaign efforts which led him to four terms in the Massachusetts state legislature and three terms as governor, he explained that the simple, yet effective tactic of knocking on doors and making personal contact with voters was absent - and much to blame, he added - in his unsuccessful run for the presidency.
"I was told by many in national politics that grassroots campaigning was only unnecessary money and meetings, but that was not the case, as I learned," he said, noting that such efforts have been absent from major party political campaigns for the past 50 years.
President Obama, he said, has been the first in as many years to put grassroots tactics into practice both in a traditional sense and through the use of technology, the results of which "speak for themselves."
"Personal contact on an on-going basis is key in any campaign and proved true for Obama," he said. "Interaction with real people can make a huge difference when they are local people who live, walk and talk like those in the precincts in which they're working," he said. In Obama's case, this involved both traditional, door to door canvassing and online person-to-person efforts to reach new voters.
Obama veered from the "media driven red-blue construct" that has historically led candidates to limit major campaigning to "battleground states" when they should instead focus on involving all Americans in the political process - a point he said we should take from Obama's 2008 victory and build upon in the future as we work toward "a true 50 state election."
Dukakis then offered advice to students interested in pursuing a career in public service including: "Set high standards, stick to them, and surround yourself with people who share your values. Raise money from a broad base of contributors so you are beholden to no one group. Get involved while you're in school and take advantage of internship programs to gain useful, practical, on-the-job experience."
He closed with a reflection on his own career rooted in public service, saying "there is nothing that could have been more personally satisfying and fulfilling."
Dukakis' talk was this year's Peltason Lecture. Established in 1999 by the Center for the Study of Democracy, the yearly lecture honors the contributions of former UC President and UCI Chancellor Jack Peltason and his wife Suzanne to higher education in America and the study of democracy.
-Heather Wuebker, Social Sciences Communications