I’ve been finishing up the latest draft of my forthcoming book on political campaigning, co-written with Ed Maxfield. In it we talk about Michael Dukakis’s 1988 blunder:
When he was nominated Dukakis enjoyed a big lead in the polls yet he ending up losing badly. The campaign struggled on a number of fronts but one of the most telling moments was when he was challenged in a TV debate over his opposition to the death penalty: ‘If Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?’. He gave an emotionless response on an emotion-filled issue. The lack of passion in his answer was deeply damaging, and that mattered far more than that the answer was one of opposition rather than support for the death penalty. It reinforced the impression that he would make decisions about issues affecting millions of people’s lives without understanding how those decisions would affect people’s lives.
He came over as a dessicated calculating machine, even. It’s well worth watching because note how at a technical level Dukakis gets many things right in the answer – speaks clearly and firmly, switches to looking into the camera in the way that so wowed British audiences in our 2010 debates, gets over his point and his reasoning and doesn’t fluff his words. But the politics and emotion of the answer are all wrong.