Dukakis '88 DNC Nomination Acceptance Speech Reaction

It may be nitpicking, but Dukakis has the most bland and uninterested expression up there at the podium. Maybe he just has the male equivalent of resting bitch face, but it looks like he considers this whole speech an annoyance he just wants to get over with as opposed to the proudest moment of his professional life, as you’d expect it to be. While it may be silly to harp on it, appearances matter. And if you’re not excited for your own nomination, why should I be?

I’m not a fan of family shout-outs and pandering in general, but especially so at the beginning of a speech. It just feels so corny and it stalls the momentum. The virtue-signalling about the American Dream is not my style either. It just feels phony—anybody can spin a sob story about their ancestors working hard. What takes intelligence, conviction and confidence is putting together a great platform and selling it. I feel like the family stuff should be kept to earlier in the convention, via films about the candidate or speeches by surrogates, and the election night speech, win or lose. When it comes to the nominee’s acceptance speech I want to hear something more substantive and it feels like the candidates who don’t supply that fall back on cliches only because they have nothing better to focus on. I think the best speeches are those that transcend the time or the person giving it and become a universal call to arms; 50 years from now, nobody’s gonna care that Dukakis loves his wife but “Come Home, America” still resonates spectacularly.

Dukakis follows the examples of McGovern and Mondale by listing off some key people in the party. But he doesn’t mention as many of his primary opponents, nor does he say anything specific about each name and what they stood for in the primary. It’s just where they’re from. It feels slightly less sincere than when his predecessors did the same in previous conventions as a result, like he’s just ticking a checkbox off a list of formalities.

There’s some aping of JFK rhetoric here, like use of the phrase “Next American Frontier” and I know Dukakis chose Bentsen (who was from Texas) specifically to try to repeat the success of the JFK-LBJ ticket. It was a misconceived effort in my opinion. LBJ was chosen because he was great at shaking down Congress to vote the way he needed, not just because he was from the south. It’s just another example of Dukakis’ shallowness in my opinion, the same way he thought driving a tank around in an empty field would somehow make him look tough. He’s a surface level thinker without a mind for deeper nuance.

It’s ironic Dukakis mentions the problem of college being inaccessible to people, when the problem now is they let anyone go and rope them into debt they can never pay back. Similarly, I’m a bit put-off by the line “this election is not about ideology, it’s about competence.” That, to me, seems like more of the Mondale-esque cessation from traditional left-wing principles in favor of winning over the right. It’s like the modern neoliberal talking point about “electability” and using it as a bludgeon to silence any passionate ideologues or progressives. He’s not laying down a bold alternate path to Reaganism, he’s just going to carry it out “more competently.”

Twenty minutes into the video and Dukakis has not said a single thing of substance. Just platitudes about his family and the American Dream, and now a lot of token placating soundbites with no actual plan put forth. What bothers me in terms of his rhetoric is that it’s a lot of “it-statements.” So many of his sentences begin with “it is not about____”/”it’s about___” (with “it” being the election.) This makes his speech sound like a grade schooler wrote it. I mean, you have to diversify your word choice, you know? Otherwise it just feels so grating to listen to and the speech really drags. Just as that starts to get insufferable he sort of switches it up and starts beginning every sentence with “we’re gonna.” Literally like ten, fifteen sentences in a row he does this. Did nobody give him any constructive feedback on this speech?

I know it’s a political speech, but he really says the word “America” a lot too. You may think I’m looking for things to complain about now. But this didn’t drag on me in any of the other speeches, yet as I was watching this one I just couldn’t help but think “damn, you could make a drinking game of this.” Basically, what I’m getting at here is the guy needed to rewrite his script a bit. The sentiments aren’t bad but he needed to diversify the word choice and sentence structure a little. Such a minor revision would have made all the difference in the world for the listener.

I actually like the John Winthrop anecdotes in this speech. It fits because Dukakis is governor of Massachusetts so it’s a relevant historical figure to him and his place in politics. That doesn’t stop Dukakis from resorting to a typical Revolutionary War spiel later on though. And holy cow, his chorus is really terrible: “we are all enriched and ennobled.” I mean, that’s quite a mouthful, and a bit of a tongue-twister at that. Can’t exactly imagine that ringing in my head the rest of the day like “Come Home, America” did.

I could go on but you get the idea. My problems with this speech are many. In the first place, it’s just plain badly written. So many sections of it are the same sentence structure (“I want _____. I want _____, I want _______”). Then once one phrase gets so insufferable you want to scream, he’ll finally switch to a new one and beat it to death as well. But it’s also badly delivered—Dukakis lacks the fiery passion or the personal charm of better candidates past and present. His face is locked in a permanent smirk that doesn’t inspire much confidence or feelings of sincerity, and his voice is mostly a flat monotone with the bare minimum of inflection. Even after the speech is over and he hugs his wife he looks so bored and uninterested. He can’t resist the urge to suck up to Reagan a bit about 40 minutes in and actually loses the crowd in doing so. It’s an uninspired speech for an uninspired candidacy.

1 Comment

  1. Hi Cassie, back in the 80s I was in my Ragan Republican conservative phase so I never seriously considered DuKakas. Now looking back I feel anyone could have been a better choice than Bush senior. Was not able to view the video of the speech. This must be the one you posted about on Facebook. I believe your analysis must be correct. You are so right on in your other speech analysis I sure you are correct on this one too.


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