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November 18, 2016

Surprise -This is a Great Time for Public Service!

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Written by: Politis

dc-medallion (1)By Michael S. Dukakis

September 13, 1999

Editor’s note. We present here Michael Dukakis’ inaugural address at the Michael S. Dukakis Chair for Public Policy and Service to close out this phase in the life of Politis. We will be back soon with a new look, a new name, and new material, all in the name of the same core mission, namely to inspire young people on both sides of the Atlantic to get involved in public affairs. See you soon!

I am by nature an inveterate optimist. In fact, you can’t be in politics and be a pessimist. If one doesn’t believe that good people, working together, can make a difference in the lives of their fellow citizens, then politics is not the business for you.

On the other hand, I am not a cockeyed optimist. I’ve been in and around politics for over four decades, and I know that effective political leadership is not for the fainthearted. It requires commitment, tenacity, and the ability to savor victory and sustain, and recover from defeat.

Nevertheless, I believe that we have a right to be genuinely optimistic about the future of our countries and the world as we prepare to enter a new millennium.

The Cold War is over, and for those of us whose entire adult lifetime has been spent in a world obsessed with the seemingly endless struggle between East and West, communism and capitalism, Moscow and Washington, it is hard to exaggerate just how dramatic that change has been. We lived for nearly forty years in a world where nearly everything was interpreted through the prism of the Cold War. The Soviet Union went broke in the process. The U.S. almost did. Trillions were spent by both sides on weapons of mass destruction. Virtually every regional conflict, rightly or wrongly, was viewed as being part of the ideological struggle.

Today, regional conflict has diminished dramatically. Admittedly, regional tensions will continue to be a part of the world we live in. But if anyone had suggested ten years ago that Nelson Mandela would be president of South Africa; or that Israel and the Palestinians would be seriously engaged in negotiations, for a peaceful solution in the Middle East; or that Gerry Adams and Tony Blair would have met at 10 Downing Street, we would have been incredulous. In fact, this is the most peaceful world I have ever lived in.

All of these things and more are taking place in a world where the international community is attempting for the first in the history of mankind to set standards for the conduct of nations and enforce them. That won’t be easy. We have just seen how difficult it is in places like Yugoslavia and Kosovo where there was serious disagreement between the U.S. and Greece over how to proceed. But no one who lived through a time when the U.S. and the Soviet Union each had approximately fifteen thousand nuclear missiles pointed at each other could possibly argue that the prospects for world peace and stability are not infinitely better than they were just a few years ago.

On the home front, we haven’t solved all of our problems by a long shot. In the U.S., for example, it would be foolish to suggest that we no longer have a race problem. We do, and there is much to be done before we can say that America is a genuinely color-blind society. But I remember growing up in the 1950s when the barbershops of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, where I went to college, were racially segregated; when an African-American required a pass from his or her employer to be on the streets of Miami Beach after sundown; and when Washington, D.C., the capital of the free world, was as segregated as Johannesburg. South Africa.

Furthernore, don’t let anyone tell you that the public schools in America back in the 1940s and 50s were wonderful. The high school drop out rate in the 1950s in my country was over fifty percent and over seventy percent for minority youngsters. It is true that a high school drop out forty or fifty years ago might still be able to get a factory job and make a reasonable decent wage. But public schools in the U.S. have improved dramatically over the past half century, and test scores for black and Latino kids are rising steadily, something we tend to forget in our concern for those youngsters of whatever background who are struggling to make it in a modem economy where a high school diploma and at least two years of post secondary education are almost a prerequisite for a decent job.

Those of us who believe strongly that all Americans. and especially working Americans and their families, should be guaranteed basic health security were deeply disappointed at the failure of the President’s efforts to ensure that the U.S. would finally join all of the other advanced industrialized nations in insuring all of its citizens. On the other hand, the fact that a conservative Republican Congress has approved legislation during the past four years sharply limiting the right of health insurers to deny coverage and dramatically expanding health insurance for America’s children is a clear sign that we are making progress on the health front even though it may have to be accomplished in chunks rather than in one coherent and comprehensive effort.

Thanks to social security and Medicare, poverty among the elderly in America has been virtually eliminated. Our commitment to environmental quality is far stronger than it was just a few decades ago. Infant mortality is one-fifth of what it was when Kitty and I were in high school. The status of women, the disabled, the other disadvantaged groups has improved dramatically. All of this is very good news for the millions of Americans and others across the globe whose quality of life has improved so substantially over my lifetime. But these things did not happen by accident. None of these advances would have been possible without the dedicated, tenacious and often in inspired leadership of politicians and public servants.

Think about It. Take Social Security and Medicare, for example. Most Americans now assume that they will be guaranteed a decent minimum income and comprehensive health care when they reach retirement age. But neither Social Security or Medicare came easy They were bitterly fought be entrenched special interests– the insurance industry in the case of Social Security and the American Medical Association, which spent millions to try to defeat Medicare.

Had it not been for Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson and dozens of determined member of Congress and hundreds of dedicated Federal civil servants who provided the analytical tools that made it possible for us to develop these programs, neither one could possibly have become reality. And the same is true of nearly all of the great advances in the quality of life that now enjoy.

Greece in its own way has also made dramatic progress in the past half century. This country was battered and bleeding after World War II. In fact, I remember, as if it was yesterday, standing in Kenmore Square in Boston as Sylianos Kyriakides passed Johnny Kelly on his way to victory in the famous Boston Marathon of 1946. Kyriakides had come to Boston to run the marathon in the hope that could dramatize the plight of the Greek people a year after the end of World War II when Greece was still desperate for help. He won the race, and the American people responded with great generosity to the plight of the Greek people. But what few people remember is that Kyriakides himself weighed only 125 pounds when he came to Boston because he himself hadn’t had enough to eat, and the Marathon doctors tried to stop him from competing. He brushed them off, won one of the most dramatic finishes in Boston Marathon history, and returned to Greece a hero and with tons of clothing and food for his people.

Hard on the heels of VE Day, Greece was then forced to confront a civil war that divided its people and caused enormous political and social upheaval. Caught up in the crossfire of is own internal divisions and the U.S. -Soviet Cold War rivalry, it was only beginning to build the foundations of a genuine democracy when the colonels took over and subjected this country to seven years of brutal military dictatorship.

Under the circumstances, the progress that Greece has made, particularly since the end of the junta, and its rapid march toward full partnership in the European Union and a growing leadership role in the Balkans are all the more remarkable. In fact, the creation of the European Union and the progress it has made is itself a political miracle. It, too, is the product of inspired solitical leadership both here and across the Continent.

For young people particularly, all of this should be wonderful news. Never in my lifetime has the opportunity for them to do good things, build a more peaceful world and come to grips with the real challenges that face us through public service been better.

What we must now do is determine what those challenges are and how we go about solving them.

In the U.S. I believe we face four fundamental issues:

  1. The issue of race which continues to bedevil American life and which, while we have made huge gains since the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, continues to confront people of color with obstacles that are almost never placed in the way of their white brethren.
  2. The quality and integrity or our political system which, despite the well intended reforms of the post-Watergate era, is once again awash in special interest money and an increasingly cynical public.
  3. The large and growing disparity between rich and poor and the fact that, until the past few years, virtually all of the nation’s income gains since 1975 have gone to the wealthiest twenty percent of the population. Today, the U.S. has the dubious distinction of having the largest gap between rich and poor of any of the advanced industrialized nations. Our minimum wage continues to fall short of the poverty line, and forty-four million Americans don’t have a dime of health insurance, twenty million more than when Jimmy Carter was president.
  4. The steady decline in citizen involvement and voter participation; huge amounts of special interest money that are pouring into the system through the soft money loophole; new technologies like polling, television and direct mail that have spawned a whole new generation of political consultants; politicians spending too much time with the fat cats and not enough time in backyards and living rooms meeting and recruiting supporters from the people who ought to count; and, as an inevitable consequence of this, the growing unwillingness of ordinary citizens to get deeply involved in public life.

I am not an expert on domestic Greek politics. But I would be surprised if your priorities are much different from ours; building a strong and sustainable economy; ensuring that all of your citizens, and not just those at the top, are sharing equitably in the fruits of a growing economic base; investing in the training and education of your children and workers for a future that will require higher and higher levels of educational achievement; treasuring and protecting your environment; and using your great intelligence and skills to make Greece, if I may be so bold as to suggest it, the Massachusetts of the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean and the acknowledged regional leader in the new information and biomedical technologies.

What may be an even greater challenge for the next generation of American and Greek public servants, many of whom, I hope will be Anatolia graduates, is the opportunity we now have, working together, to build a world in which the use of armed force as a means for settling difference between and among nations will be a thing of the past.

Am I an idealist when I say that? Of course, I am. But you can’t be an effective public servant without high ideals. And given the progress that I have seen in my life time, I’m even more idealistic and optimistic today than I was when I began my political career.

Creating the kind of world that I am talking about will not be easy. I won’t see it in my lifetime, and those attmding Anatolia this coming academic year may not see it in theirs. But there was a time in Greece when the notion of a united nation-state was inconceivable and when city states were constantly engaged in war and bloodshed. My country fought the bloodiest war in its history not against a foreign power but over the questions of whether it would remain united and whether it would continue to tolerate the enslavement of human beings.

Today, both of our countries have a degree of civil order and national unity which was inconceivable a century ago. And if we have been able to dot it in our respective countries, why can’t we and the international community do it for the world?

Of course, we will be challenged, and challenged repeatedly, to create this new world, especially in five major policy areas.

  1. Nuclear Proliferation: Dealing with the threat of nuclear proliferation must be high on our international agenda. Like so much of our new technology, nuclear energy can be used for good and noble ends, and it can also destroy our planet.
  2. International terrorism: International terrorism is another major challenge that will require an effective long term international response. Combating it will not be easy, but, then, establishing and maintaining civil order on the domestic front is not easy. Greece has been forced to confront domestic terrorism repeatedly. The United States, until recently, had been experiencing a crime wave in many of its major cities that threatened to make a mockery of our commitment to domestic peace and tranquility and, at least for a time, seemed to baffle us and our law enforcement experts. But we are making a lot of progress in the fight against urban crime, largely because we are doing a far better job of policing our communities and because we’ve had a President for the past six and half years that seems to understand how to do this better than most.

International terrorism obviously will require different and often times more sophisticated approaches but a fundamental commitment to the same things: tough, persistent and collaborative policing, only this time on an international scale.

  1. Continuing Regional Conflict: We will continue to face regional conflict in many parts of the world that will require a continuing international effort to establish acceptable standards of behavior that govern the conduct of nations and their relations with their neighbors. But let’s give ourselves credit for the enormous progress that international diplomacy has been making over the past decade: in southern Africa; in the northern Ireland; in the Middle East; and in southern Asia. And one of the things that one discovers in public life is that success breeds success. No, the remarkable developments in South Africa, for example, have not automatically brought peace and democracy to the rest of that troubled continent–far from it. But they certainly give us hope and, more than that, the prospect of a continent in which increasingly democratic regimes begin to exercise responsibility for what happens in their region.

And who could have predicted that Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat would be sitting down together to negotiate seriously and in good faith a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict while Israel engages in substantial negotiations with Syria for an end to fifty years of strife and military conflict along the Israeli-Syrian border?

How can one be anything other than optimistic as one observes these efforts and others to resolve regional differences and ethnic conflicts that have festered for centuries? And why shouldn’t all of this encourage and inspire young college and university students in both our countries to embrace the tasks and challenges of international politics with energy and excitement?

  1. International Environmental Issues: Working hard to reverse years of international environmental degradation and to strengthen and enhance the quality of our physical environment is another one of those great challenges that I hope will persuade young people in both the U.S. and Greece that public service is the place for them. We have already seen what tough and effective environmental standards can do for both of our countries. I remember traveling with my friend Paul Brountas to Los Angeles after we had finished law school in 1960 to watch John Kennedy win the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States. One could not walk down the streets of Los Angeles in those days without experiencing the terrible discomfort of burning and watering eyes as smog covered and smothered the Californian basin. In fact, children in Southern California used to be kept indoors repeatedly during school recess hours because of “smog alerts”.

Today, the air of Los Angeles still needs work. But its improvement over those days in the 1960’s is one of the great environmental success stories. Athens, like Los Angeles, still has a long way to go. But is a far more pleasant place than the Athens that Kitty and I first visited in 1976.

Unfortunately environmental pollution, as we all know, does not respect national boundaries. Global warming; the ozone layer; transborder pollution; and a throwaway society are all issues on which good people and good public servants everywhere must work. But don’t let anybody tell you that the international community cannot make a real difference in the quality of our environment. It already has, and it can do much more.

  1. International Human Rights: Finally, and perhaps the biggest challenge of all, is the question of human rights and values and what the international community can and must do to prevent governments themselves from committing acts of aggression against their own citizens. That, I believe was at the heart of the recent NATO action in Kosovo, and it is at the heart of our disagreement over the kind of action that should have been taken there.

Personally, I am not at all troubled by the fact that Greeks and Americans may have differed on the issue. We will have disagreements from time to time. Friends do. In fact, believe it or not, husbands and wives disagree occasionally. But the reason we have this disagreement is because we both care deeply about human rights, and we are involved in a way that has never happened before.

All of us, I assume, believe that is fundamentally wrong for one nation to commit unprovoked aggressions against another. That is why the international community went to war with Iraq. What is far more difficult, however, is trying to determine under what circumstances the international community will intervene to stop governments from committing morally unacceptable acts against their own citizens.

Can it only be when a government is violating the basic rights of its own citizens because of their race or ethnic background? Or is the violation of human rights generally that we are determined to prevent? And if so, what do we mean by human rights?

Furthermore, assuming we can agree on the standards of conduct that we expect of governments, how do we enforce them? Economic sanctions? Economic sanctions enforced, if necessary, by military means? Full scale military action? Something less?

We aren’t going to solve these issues overnight, and in the meantime good friends like Greece and the U. S. are occasionally going to disagree. So be it. What is important is that we and like minded people all over the world are working on these problems and trying to come up with both the standards and solutions that we believe are right and just and enforceable.

What I find remarkable about all if this is not that Greece and the U.S. will have an occasional disagreement. It is that we are even discussing these issues, let alone working together and with others to resolve them. For somebody who has lived through he Great Depression, World War II and the Holocaust, the Cold War, the civil rights revolution in America, Vietnam, and Watergate and who, at least at a distance, did his best to oppose the colonel’s takeover in Greece and reverse my country’s feeble response to it, the fact that so many good people in and out of government service are working so hard on these issues and that we tried, however imperfectly, to respond to Milosevic’s absolutely unacceptable violation of basic human and economic rights in Kosovo is itself a tremendous forward.

What a time to be deeply and actively involved in the great public issues of the day! And a what a promising time it is! In fact, I wish I were starting all over again. And that is why this chair and other chairs in public policy and public service at colleges and universities all over the world are so important. Not because it is named for Mike Dukakis, although to the extent that my work and my career can serve to encourage young Greeks and Greek-Americans to pursue careers in public service, I am delighted.

What’s important about it is the role it can play in encouraging student here in Greece and those who will be coming to Anatolia from other parts of the Balkans that the fight for a better world through politics and public service is not only worth it- it can provide one with a degree of personal fulfillment and satisfaction unlike anyone can experience in any walk of life. Furthermore, there are fringe benefits as well. George Bush may have beat me in 1988, but we have had more marriages coming out of that campaign of mine than I can count.

In fact, Kitty’s interest in politics in addition to her beauty had a lot to do with why I was attracted to her. We had been dating about six months when I decided to make my first serious run for public office as a candidate for the Massachusetts legislature. Kitty had not held public office, but she has been a student leader in high school and college and an elected member of the student senate at Pennsylvania State University. I asked her to campaign for me in front of one of the toughest polling places in my district during the September 1962 Democratic primary. She did so for thirteen consecutive hours, and when I won that precinct by a decisive margin, I knew she was the girl for me.

Let me conclude by dealing with one final issue that always comes up in my discussions with young people about politics and public service.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you must sacrifice your integrity or your values if you enter public life. It just isn’t true. That doesn’t mean that there are no temptations, but in what profession are there not temptations? And I believe, and have always believed, that those of us of Greek descent have a special responsibility to demonstrate that good politics and the highest standards of integrity and honesty go hand in hand.

After all, both of our countries believe deeply in democratic values. The men who drafted the U.S. constitution had studied ancient Greek history; read and understood the language; and at one point contemplated writing the new constitution in ancient Greek. We also know that democratic values aren’t worth a hill of beans if those in positions of responsibility do not exercise their responsibilities with absolute integrity.

Perhaps I am unduly sensitive about this because the first Greek-American to become the governor of one our American states didn’t understand this basic principle and disgraced us all in the course of his tenure in public service. But there is no inconsistency between being an effective public servant and doing your job in a way that meets the kinds of standards that we have a right to expect of you.

The question of integrity in public life is not a new one. In fact, the ancient Greeks discussed and debated it in great detail. Aristides, was banished from ancient Athens because he was too honest. Unfortunately for the Athenians, his absence produced such an epidemic of corruption in Athenian politics that they were forced to call him back and ask him to clean up the mess.

And it was in ancient Athens that young men were expected to take a solemn oath of citizenship that combined a commitment to public service with the highest standards of integrity. Like so much that is Greek, it is as meaningful today as it was more than twenty centuries ago, and I quoted it proudly in accepting the Democratic Presidential nomination in Atlanta in 1988.

“We will never bring disgrace to this, our country, by any act of dishonesty or cowardice. We will fight for the ideals of your country, both alone and with many. We will revere and obey its laws and do our best to incite a like respect and reverence in those who are prone to annul them or set them at naught. We will strive unceasingly to quicken the sense of civic duty. Thus, in all these ways, we will transmit this country not only not less, but greater, better, and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.”

Anatolia has been a part of my consciousness and the life of my family ever since I can remember. It is a very special place. For it to name a chair in my honor is a rare privilege, and I am grateful to all of you for it. What is even more important, however, is the impact that I hope it will have on the lives and futures of the students who study here. For, in the last analysis, they are greatest resource and the next generation of public servants and political leaders.

I only regret that my mother and father are not here with us. He, as you know, died in 1979, a wonderful example of what a caring physician can mean to the lives of his patients and his families. My mother would have loved to be here, but she celebrated her ninety-sixth birthday last week, and she isn’t doing the kind of traveling she used to do. She sends you her love and admiration for all you do, with a special thank you for the honor you have bestowed on a son to whom she has given so much over the past sixty-five years.

Thank you very much.

 






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