Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Hey look, it's a post about What's His Name!

Have you seen this man?

A scant 19 years and two weeks ago, Michael Dukakis received a major party nomination for the presidency of the United States. Today, he's got the Q-rating of a low-level Estonian clerk. Naturally, landslide presidential election losers don't exactly get to linger in the forefront of the national consciousness. They're expected to sort of slink away, like a sheepish kid who's just embarrassed himself by screwing up his lines in the school play, and reappear in some other role later on. Al Gore emerged as an environmental advocate. Bob Dole as a Viagra pitchman. George McGovern as a Hunter S. Thompson confidant and Saturday Night Live host. But, aside from a few op-ed pieces, Dukakis has stayed hidden behind the curtains.

A precise measure of one's recognizability is hard to come by, but an accepted unscientific method is entering a person's name inside quotation marks on Google. My name, for instance, produces 1,130 hits, while Paris Hilton's nets approximately 32,900,000. So if her show is getting canceled, I've got as much chance of getting a half an hour on TV this fall as Dukakis does of winning in '08. Dukakis produces 354,000 hits, fewer than the 2,030,000 for John Kerry, 8,240,000 for Al Gore and 1,330,000 for Bob Dole, the three men who have failed to get to the White House after receiving major-party nominations since 1988. An even greater indictment of Dukakis' staying power is that Walter Mondale produces 622,000 hits, McGovern 569,000, Hubert Humphrey 439,000, Barry Goldwater 852,000 and Adlai Stevenson 483,000. And Humphrey, Goldwater and Stevenson are all dead. Needless to say, every man who lost an election as a sitting president or later became president (Nixon) produces more hits than Dukakis, which makes him the most anonymous presidential candidate since 1948. Thomas Dewey, most commonly remembered now as the guy the Chicago Daily Tribune mistakenly declared in a banner headline as triumphant over Harry Truman, gets only 83,000 hits.

So what happened? Well, unlike most politicians, it wasn't really like Dukakis to draw attention to himself. Especially if it involved a tank. So these days, he seems content with life as a full-time poli-sci professor at Northeastern University, an occasional author and as vice-chair of the Amtrak Reform Board, a position he held from 1998 to 2003. Compelling and important work to be sure. But wouldn't you think a living, cognizant former presidential candidate would pop up a little more often, given the prolonged '08 buildup we're in, and all the 24-hour cable networks, and a resurgence of the classic liberalism the Democratic Party has run pell-mell away from ever since his own nomination 19 years ago?

Yeah, but hey, if Paris can't get on TV, who can?

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