1988 Bush VS. Dukakis

"On Your Side"


Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate
"On Your Side," Dukakis, 1988

[TEXT: A Message From Michael Dukakis]

DUKAKIS: My fellow Americans, a year and a half ago I entered this campaign as an underdog. Tonight I enter the final days of that long journey still an underdog. And some of you don't know much more about me than a name and a set of labels. Part of the fault may rest with our own effort. But I think it is also fair to say that the other side has pursued a campaign of distortion and distraction. Of fear and of smear. Are you satisfied with what you are hearing this year? Do you think this is the way to pick the president of the United States and the leader of the free world? Presidential campaigns should inform, not misinform. In their t.v. ads, the Republicans have criticized the pollution of Boston Harbor. We're already cleaning up Boston Harbor. But what they don't tell you us that it was their administration that cut off funds to clean it up, and that Mr. Bush supported the veto of the Clean Water Act, not once, but twice. In their t.v. ads, the Republicans accuse me of being soft on criminals. That's a lie. My family has been touched by violence. At the age of seventy-seven my father was gagged and beaten and robbed. My brother was killed by a hit and run driver. The pain that my family felt was indescribable. And it's not easy for me to talk about it. But I've led the fight against crime and drugs in my own state and I intend to do so as president so that other families will not have to live through that kind of pain. It isn't easy for the truth to catch up with the lies, and to clear up the fog of deception that has been spread across the campaign. But I'm determined to fight this fight. Because the question before us is the strength and the character of our country. I'm not content to see America stand still, because all around us the world is moving. And the years ahead will decide whether we as a people move ahead or fall behind. I see an America that once again exports its products and not its jobs. Mr. Bush has said our trade relationship with Japan is superb, and it is. For Japan. It's time for a president who will stand up and fight for American jobs and American workers. I see an America that is the master of its own house, not a country selling off its land and its assets piece by piece to foreign interests. Mr. Bush does not object to the wave of merger and of speculation that has put our companies and our country itself on the auction block. I see an America that is first in education, not one where our students rank fifteenth among industrial nations in science and math. And I see an America that truly does live up to the pledge of liberty and of justice for all. I believe this country has a conscience. I believe its a national disgrace that thirty seven million Americans, most of them in working families, have no health insurance, that when they hear a sick child cry in the night, they have to worry as much about the size of the bill as they do about the seriousness of the disease. All this and more is at stake in 1988. Beneath the rhetoric and the irrelevancy, there are fundamental differences and a single, central question. On the things that matter most to you. Who do you trust to be on your side? We know where Mr. Bush stands. He wants to cut taxes by thirty thousand dollars a year for the wealthiest one percent of this nation. He's on their side. I want to see us teach our children, and house our homeless, and care for our elderly and ask once again what we can do for our country, and not just ourselves. There's been a lot of talk in this campaign about how likable the candidates are. But I don't believe America is ready to settle for indifference and complacency with a shrug and a smile. I may not wear my heart on my sleeve, but I hope that tonight you have some sense of what is in my heart. And in the remaining days of this campaign, I intend to fight my heart out for the things that I believe in. Hear our case, and join our cause. Stand with me and the belief that the best America is not behind us. The best America is yet to come.

[TEXT: Dukakis/Bentsen]

[TEXT: On your side]


"On Your Side," Dukakis-Bentsen Comm, Inc., 1988

Video courtesy of Northeastern University Libraries, Michael Dukakis Presidential Campaign Records.

From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1988/on-your-side (accessed July 18, 2024).


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1988 Bush Dukakis Results

Ronald Reagan—the first president since Eisenhower to serve two full terms—had presided over a renewed national optimism, but there were dark clouds on the horizon as his presidency drew to a close. The federal deficit was soaring out of control. The revelation that profits from American sales of weapons to Iran were illegally routed to the Nicaraguan contras spawned a major scandal. Wall Street was in turmoil following several insider-trading scandals and the October 1987 stock market collapse. The stage was set for one of the most bitter presidential campaigns in recent history: Vice President George Bush, who portrayed himself as the rightful heir to the Reagan revolution, versus Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, who offered a traditionally Democratic vision of increased government spending on health care, child care, education, and housing. The Bush campaign used brutal television advertising to portray Dukakis as an ineffective liberal who would gut the country’s defense system and let convicted murderers out of prison. Hoping voters would dismiss the attacks as unfair, Dukakis refused to counterattack until late in the campaign. By then it was too late.

George Bush for president
Dan Quayle for vice president

"Experienced Leadership for America’s Future"

The case of Willie Horton--an African American convicted murderer who raped a white woman and tortured her fiancé while on a weekend furlough from a Massachusetts prison--was frequently mentioned by George Bush in campaign speeches. The case was directly referred to in a commercial produced by an independent political action committee. Although officially repudiated by the Bush campaign, the spot, which was broadcast only once, was widely reported in the news media and caused substantial damage to Dukakis. The Horton case was also implicitly referred to in Bush’s "Revolving Door" ad, which attacked the Massachusetts furlough program in general. Another negative commercial that has gained legendary status used news footage of Dukakis riding in a tank--grinning and looking diminutive in his oversized helmet--to ridicule the idea of him as commander in chief.

Though Bush’s negative commercials garnered most of the attention, his campaign also produced a series of strong positive ads, such as "The Future." Made in the lyrical montage style of Reagan’s 1984 spots, these ads sought to establish an identity for the two-term vice president. The main departure from the Reagan ads was that while Reagan hardly appeared in his own spots, Bush figured prominently in his. He was shown either in excerpts from his speech accepting the nomination or in family scenes that presented him as an all-American father figure.

Bush’s media campaign skillfully supplemented paid publicity (commercials) with free publicity in the form of staged photo opportunities sure to be reported as news--a technique originated by the 1984 Reagan campaign. For example, news footage of Bush receiving the endorsement of the Boston police union reinforced the law-and-order message of the furlough ads. The Bush media campaign was a model of control, supervised in all respects by veteran media consultant Roger Ailes, who also coached Bush for the debates.

Michael Dukakis for president
Lloyd Bentsen for vice president

"The Best America Is Yet to Come"

The disarray and confusion of the Dukakis campaign was exemplified by a series of commercials known as "The Handlers." In one of these commercials, "Crazy," a group of Bush media consultants worries that their selection of Dan Quayle for vice president may have been a mistake. The intention was to portray Bush as a superficial candidate whose campaign was based more on image than on substance, but the ads were confusing and seemed at first glance to be pro-Bush. They were pulled off the air, but only after the Dukakis campaign had spent $3 million to produce and air them.

Consultants from several ad agencies came and went throughout the run of the Dukakis campaign, and the chain of command was constantly in flux. The campaign considered more than 1,000 ad scripts during a three-month period, and the ads produced were inconsistent in style and devoted almost exclusively to defending against Bush’s attacks. There were no strong ads linking Bush to Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, even though Dukakis repeatedly brought up the connection in speeches and debates, or to the Iran-contra arms-for-hostages deal. Most critically, Dukakis failed to respond to the Willie Horton attack until late in the campaign, when he finally aired a counterassault called "Furlough from the Truth."

Like Mondale in 1984, Dukakis never forged a positive identity in his ads. In his speech accepting the nomination, he had movingly described himself as the embodiment of the American dream, a son of Greek immigrants who was more in touch with the people than George Bush. Inexplicably, this message was almost completely absent from his advertising.