Today’s “Lunchtime Lecture” at UMass Lowell’s Inn & Conference Center featured a lively discussion about this year’s presidential race. The speakers were Mike Dukakis, the former Massachusetts governor and 1988 Democratic nominee for president; Dan Winslow, a Republican state representative from Norfolk who was also chief legal counsel for Governor Mitt Romney; Hillary Chabot, the Boston Herald’s chief political reporter and Paul Jorgenson, an expert on campaign finance from the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard.
Professor Jorgenson led off with a presentation on the ever increasing role of money in the operation of our government, especially after the Citizens United case.
Governor Dukakis followed, saying he always enjoyed coming to Lowell which he considered to be his “second city” since this is where his father first settled after arriving from Greece. Dukakis dove right into the political analysis, saying “Mitt Romney is a fraud” and said “the number 47 follows Romney around like a puppy”, reminding us that while Romney was governor, Massachusetts ranked 47th in job creation and that during this campaign, Mitt Romney was recorded saying that 47% of the American people were moochers. Reforming health insurance was the “one thing Romney did right” but now he’s “running away from it.”
Beyond the particulars of this year’s presidential race, Dukakis said there were two issues in great need of reform. The first is campaign finance. Citizens United, according to Dukakis, was one of the 3 or 4 worst decisions in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, with “five men reversed 120 years of precedent.” He quoted John McCain who said “if money is speech, then 99% of us are disenfranchised.” The second issue in need of reform is the electoral college. With that system, just a few states get all the attention and the rest of the country is left as spectators.
The next speaker was Dan Winslow who made the case for Mitt Romney. Winslow opened by praising Dukakis for being a “problem solver” as governor which is exactly what the country needs now. In Winslow’s view, Mitt Romney is a problem solver and then he dredged up the old Dukakis line from 1988 that “this election is not about ideology, it’s about competence.” Winslow characterized differences between Romney’s stands in the primary and the positions he takes now not as flip-flops but as “a change in emphasis.” Winslow also suggested that while Romney was focused on states critical to the Republican nomination (which were not also swing states), Obama was advertising heavily in the swing states, trying to negatively define Romney. Since his nomination, however, Romney was finally able to compete in those swing states which is why he is now surging in the polls. Regarding the first debate, Winslow said that Obama did not perform poorly he just had a poor record to defend.
The final speaker was Hillary Chabot of the Boston Herald. She said this election seems much more partisan than previous ones she’s covered. She attributes much of that to Twitter which wasn’t a factor in 2008. Regarding the coverage of the various debates, reporters are looking not for the candidate positions on the issues (which are already well-known) but for “flash points” which she defined as something unrehearsed, that is revealing of the candidate’s character. Focusing on these defining moments might help voters decide.
Congratulations to all those who sponsored today’s event – UMass Lowell’s Center for Arts and Ideas, the Moses Greeley Parker Lectures, and Prof. Bill Mass of the UMass Lowell Center for Industrial Competitiveness and Middlesex Community College.