Former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis last week called on members of the HBS community not to let the nation be so consumed with the war on terrorism that it ignores “fundamental domestic challenges”-like the need to extend health care coverage to 43 million Americans who are uninsured.
“If we’re serious about creating a society in this country in which there is genuine opportunity, then we can’t let this important, serious terrorist challenge distract us from the domestic challenges we face,” Dukakis said. “In fact, the two go hand-in-hand.”
The former Democratic Presidential candidate who lost to George H.W. Bush in 1988 spoke to roughly 100 students without notes, and constantly punctuated his remarks with “right?”-seeking to draw the group into his energetic presentation of a liberal agenda.
Mindful of his business-oriented audience, Dukakis noted that employers who already provide health insurance to their employees would be among the biggest beneficiaries of universal coverage, because their premiums are currently artificially inflated to subsidize hospitals’ costs of providing uncompensated service to the uninsured.
He also criticized current plans for an economic stimulus package that focuses on tax relief, arguing that that approach fails to address the people who need it most.
“There was a time when in times of recession, the first question we asked ourselves was, ‘who’s hurting?'” Dukakis said, arguing that a better use of the money would be for infrastructure investments and more worker training-programs he said would make the nation “ready for the next recovery.”
And while subscribing to an activist vision of government, Dukakis repeatedly noted the need for public-private partnerships to achieve most goals. He spoke proudly of the infrastructure investments he arranged to help revitalize the city of Lowell, Mass., but said the key moment in the transformation came when Wang Computers agreed to locate its corporate headquarters in the city.
“You can create the environment in which a company is willing to locate somewhere … but a state cannot create a high-tech company alone,” Dukakis said, pointing to low-income housing as another area where public-private partnerships have worked well.
“We need to create a society that creates lots of room for creative people to do their thing, while making sure we all share in their success,” he said.
Dukakis also issued a plea for more students to choose a life of public service. While he acknowledged that the presence of strong, conflicting interest groups-from the press and lobbyists to legislators themselves-means that managing in the public sector is “50 times more difficult” than running a private company, “good people can still get things done.”
Despite the intense spotlight his family faced during his presidential run, Dukakis said public figures at other levels do not have to throw their entire private lives open to public scrutiny, although he advised people considering his path to “live modestly and have a good, but conventional sex life.”
However, he cautioned students considering a life in politics and public service to be just as mindful of the need to maintain a good work-life balance as corporate executives.
“You have to make rules for yourself-it’s very important to make time for yourself and your family,” he said, noting that he worked hard to be home for dinner every night at 6 p.m. and took Sundays off. “These are issues we all have nowadays, no matter what we do.”