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Dukakis's Act II

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THE behavior of the public opinion polls since the Republican convention bears out one fact of central importance in the 1988 American political campaign. George Bush has one tremendous advantage over his Democratic rival. This one great advantage is that he is the heir of the Reagan record and the Reagan record has given the American people an economic boom.

The fact that the economic boom is founded on the biggest debt ever accumulated in history, and that the boom is probably just at crest now, and that there may well be an unpleasant slide sometime in the future is beside the point. In politics, it is the perception of today that counts.

As of today, the boom exists. Never have so many Americans had so many jobs. And seldom has peace seemed so widespread and substantial, particularly after the long chill of ``cold war.''

If the American people were told that they had a choice between keeping things exactly as they are and trying for change, they would undoubtedly vote for keeping things as they are. The idea of trying to change today's condition has little appeal, and will continue to have little appeal until the boom bursts - if it does.

Add to the above one central fact about politics in the United States, as in most other democratic countries. Voters usually tend to vote against rather than for. For Michael Dukakis to win this election, the majority of voters must think they want, or be persuaded to think that they want, to get the Republicans out of Washington.

Right now there is little basis for a Dukakis campaign built on the old American slogan ``turn the rascals out.'' There have been rascals in the Reagan administration, but most of them have left. To most people the administration appears now to be both reasonably clean and economically successful.

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