Dukakis Finding a Ready Audience for His Born-Again Populist Pitch

Times Staff Writers

Michael S. Dukakis, who began his presidential campaign last year by promising high-tech competence, launched his final 10-day campaign blitz Saturday by preaching that old-time Democratic religion--populism.

“We’re on your side,” Dukakis insisted again and again on an 18-hour day that took him from his home in Boston, to a rally of some 10,000 people in South Dakota, to a meeting with inner-city blacks and campaign workers in Watts, and finally to Bakersfield.

Arriving in Watts, where he spoke to a crowd of several hundred in the labor community Action Center, Dukakis reemphasized his standard message about health insurance, full employment and educational opportunity.

Vows Action on Apartheid


He also added to his stump speech several elements of particular interest to the mostly black audience, pledging that as President he would “do everything I can to make the United States an international leader in the fight to break the back of apartheid.”

He also reminded the crowd that “the next President of the United States will appoint two, three, maybe four new members of the Supreme Court of the United States.”

“George Bush the other day said he thought Robert Bork was an outstanding appointment,” he said in referring to President Reagan’s controversial conservative nominee who was rejected last fall by the Senate.

“We don’t need a court full of Borks,” Dukakis said. The country needs justices “who understand the meaning of equality.”


Introducing Dukakis, Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Los Angeles) reminded the crowd that Reagan and GOP presidential nominee Bush both have declined meetings of the Congressional Black Caucus. “We are not welcome in the White House,” he said. “They have written us off. It is time we reciprocate and write them off.”

A Matter of Hogs

In his rally earlier at a dusty indoor rodeo arena in Sioux Falls, S.D., Dukakis said: “They want to help the people who live high off the hog. We want to help the people who raise the hogs.”

The northern plains is the birthplace of American populism, the hot-blooded, class-conscious message arguing that Democrats fight for the average guy while Republicans fight for the rich.

After weeks of searching for an appealing message, Dukakis has pushed his born-again populism for 10 days. From Hayward, Calif., to Independence, Mo., he has argued to growing crowds that he is on the side of the elderly, college students, auto workers, the infirm and the homeless.

Asked about the theme on his campaign plane, Dukakis told reporters that while the American people “don’t want government to do everything, they want a government that’s supportive, that’s helpful, that’s helping them to achieve what they want to achieve, that’s protecting them.”

The Reagan Administration, he said, had pushed deregulation to the point that it was failing to protect workplace safety and the environment.

Us Against Them


And, with the farm crisis and drought that have ravaged much of rural America, Dukakis aides hope the us-against-them theme will make the Dakotas’ rich Red River Valley and surrounding areas especially fertile ground for the Massachusetts governor.

The campaign bused in supporters from both Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota. Dukakis’ regional director, Ted Mondale, son of Walter F. Mondale, the party’s 1984 presidential nominee, predicted to reporters that all but Nebraska would go for Dukakis this year.

And Dukakis drew a roar of approval from the crowd, which he said was the largest political gathering in state history, when he slammed Bush’s proposed cut in the capital gains tax.

“Remember the old saying, ‘the rich get richer?’ ” Dukakis told the crowd. “Well, Mr. Bush wants to make that the law.”

Dukakis drew laughs when he chided Bush for going back on the attack Friday, hours after promising in Los Angeles to end his often-negative campaign with “a kinder, gentler finish.”

“I wish his handlers would make up his mind,” Dukakis said.

Dukakis blamed the Reagan Administration for a 50% reduction in the price of corn for farmers, for sharp cuts in farm exports and foreclosures on thousands of family farms. Government loan agencies are planning thousands more foreclosures, he said, but are holding off until after the election to do so.

Sets Standards for Judging


“The Republican philosophy is the fewer farmers, the better,” Dukakis said. A Democratic Administration, he said, should be judged on “the number of family farms and ranches we save.”

Seizing a local issue, Dukakis also blasted the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration for a delay in imposing fines on a local meatpacking plant.

On Friday, OSHA slapped a $4.3 million fine against John Morrell & Co. after finding that 880 workers had suffered injuries because of safety violations at the company’s Sioux Falls plant.

“Believe me, we’re not going to wait until 10 days before the election to do something” about workers’ safety, Dukakis said.

His listeners, many of whom had ridden four or five hours to reach the rally, clearly enjoyed the fiery new rhetoric.

“He should have started out this way,” said Donna Johnson of Minneapolis.

Diane Keller added: “I’m getting to like him, it takes a while. I hope it’s not too late.”

New Uniform of the Day

As a newly crafted man of the people, Dukakis plans to speak from note cards, not TelePrompTers, at nearly all of his rallies for the last 10 days of the campaign, aides said. And, in South Dakota, at least, he donned his now-standard uniform for rural events: work boots, chinos, an open-necked checkered wool shirt and an aide’s suede jacket.