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Is Obama Dukakis Ii?

The Boston Globe Magazine's Charlie Pierce does a so-so job on what could have been a fun piece--a counterfactual on what would have happened had Mike Dukakis beat George H.W. Bush in 1988--but there was one part of the story that made me gulp a bit:

In the spring of 1988, Dukakis had a lead over the nominee of the incumbent Republican Party, just as Barack Obama does at this moment. Yet he lost, 53.4 percent to 45.6 percent, and by a whopping 426-111 in the Electoral College. To be fair, he did come closer than either of the previous two Democratic nominees, Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale, and Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress were narrowly increased. But he lost, and he has no illusions about why.

"I made a huge mistake in 1988, and we all know what it was," he says. "I decided that I was not going to respond to the Bush attack stuff , and the lesson to be learned is that you just can't do that. That reminds me of Steve Symms. Remember him? He was the senator from Idaho who accused Kitty of burning an American flag during a Vietnam War demonstration. Now where in the hell did that come from?"

He was pilloried over the Pledge of Allegiance in schools and over a prisoner furlough program that had begun under his Republican predecessor. America got to know who Willie Horton was because the Republicans introduced them to each other, and the Dukakis campaign seemed incapable of fighting back. When unfounded rumors arose concerning Dukakis's mental health, then-president Ronald Reagan chimed in that he "wasn't going to pick on an invalid." Much of the campaign was so feverish that Lee Atwater, the Republican consultant who was its principal architect, apologized for it on his deathbed. After winning the Democratic nomination, Dukakis never found his feet again.

Does that sound familiar? Now, granted, Obama has already done a better job of counterpunching than Dukakis ever did, but,as Mike noted over at The Stump, there's still plenty of room for improvement. And don't forget: Dukakis frittered away a 17 point lead; Obama's only up by single digits!

P.S. I realize fact-checking a counterfactual can be difficult, but it's one thing to pretend that Dukakis beat Bush and went on to serve two terms in the White House; it's another to pretend, as Pierce does, that when the Duke finally left Washington in January 1996, he did so by "taking the Metro to Union Station and catching the 2:15 Acela Express to Boston"--since Acela service didn't start until 2000. I don't care how much Dukakis loves trains, not even he, after eight years of riding on Air Force One, would tolerate the nine-plus hours it takes on the Northeast Regional from D.C. to Boston.

--Jason Zengerle