BOSTON -- A year ago this week Michael Dukakis grabbed the Democratic presidential nomination and had his party virtually giddy with the thought he would win the White House. His fall from grace in the past 12 months has been dizzying.
Today, Dukakis is an extraordinarily unpopular lame-duck governor whose 1988 boasts to the nation of a 'Massachusetts Miracle' economic recovery in his state now ring hollow.
Faced with a troubled state economy that caused the Massachusetts bond rating to fall, Dukakis -- who ran his presidential campaign on a theme of efficiency in government -- recently slashed the state budget while also accepting taxes to pay off old bills.
He also lost a decade-long battle with his archrival, former New Hampshire governor and now White House chief of staff John Sununu, to block licensing for the Seabrook nuclear plant in the neighboring Granite State.
Very few times in recent political history have politicians untouched by personal scandal plummeted as quickly as Dukakis has in the past year.
Even old allies admit privately that the governor, who decided to not seek re-election next year, looks terrible and glum. Long-time foes are relishing his humiliating flameout.
'If Michael Dukakis were any lamer a duck, they'd be hanging 'Kick Me' signs on him as he walks down the hallways,' a local sports columnist wrote.
Nor has Dukakis, whose popularity shrank to a record low 19 percent earlier this spring, been able to find peace in the cherished hours he sets aside for family.
In January, the glare of unwanted attention focused squarely on his wife, Kitty, when the icy governor's emotional opposite was treated for alcoholism apparently triggered by the grueling campaign and the harsh criticism heaped on her mate.
'Believe me, this hasn't been the best seven months of my life,' Dukakis recently told local officials who were irate over a budget-cutting decision they fear will bring massive teacher, police and fire layoffs.
Along with the troubles in his home state, Dukakis is virtually a non-person at the national level, where very few Democrats want to remember how he held a 17-point lead over Republican George Bush last July, but ran a disasterous campaign and wound up on the short end of an electoral blowout.
Perhaps the roots of Dukakis' descent can be found in the emotional speech he gave in Atlanta on July 21, 1988, when he accepted the presidential nomination -- an address that convinced many Democrats they had finally picked a winner. Drawing rare emotional fire from the pulsating beat of his campaign anthem 'Coming to America,' Dukakis proudly declared that competence, not ideology, was the key to beating Bush.
But he quickly showed that competence was exactly what his campaign lacked.
Dukakis passively absorbed one body blow after another from a Bush campaign that focused on the Pledge of Allegiance, furloughed murderer Willie Horton and Boston Harbor pollution. After he lost, the governor returned to his statehouse desk as if nothing had happened.
That denial proved too much even for Massachusetts voters accustomed to his reserved demeanor. Long-time state foes of both parties who had gagged over Dukakis' political good fortune seized their chance and moved in for the kill.
'He's made all of us look like fools and he couldn't care less,' snarled Sen. Arthur Lewis, a conservative Democrat.
Dukakis helped fuel the smoldering resentment against him with two crucial decisions -- playing down the extent of Massachusetts' fiscal problems while touting his own abilities and opting in early January to bow out of the 1990 gubernatorial race.
The initial cracks in the 'Massachusetts Miracle' appeared during the presidential campaign as state tax collections failed to keep pace with projections. Even as he prepared to accept the nomination, Dukakis squeezed out enough savings to bring the budget into line and deflect national criticism.
But his stop-gap effort proved fruitless. The state eventually ran a $375 million operating deficit and admitted not paying Medicaid bills of $488 million stretching back to 1985.
Within days of the New Year, Dukakis faced another problem. Having spent the entire presidential campaign trying to avoid the issue of taxes, he proposed a $604 million tax hike for the Bay State.
Racked by staff defections, he exhibited the same paralysis in the face of criticism that marked the presidential campaign, becoming a personal target of talk show hosts and anti-tax advocates who went so far as to call for his impeachment.
Forced to accept a $739 million tax hike and slash $491 million in programs, Dukakis eventuallybecame a rallying cry for Republicans long in the minority in Massachusetts.
'Because Dukakis wanted to turn the 1988 election into a referendum on competence, serious financial difficulties in this state had to be ignored or swept under the rug,' said state Republican Party director Alexander Tennant.
But Democratic consultant Michael Goldman believes the issues are more personal than political.
'We are incredibly tough on those people who lose,' said Goldman. 'People make fun of (Thomas) Dewey and he's been dead for 20 years.'
Goldman adds that Dukakis hurt his own cause with his famous stubborn streak and passionless personality.
'People voted for Mike Dukakis because he was competent and brought them good government,' Goldman said. 'People were never with Mike Dukakis because they liked Mike Dukakis. If you don't like the government anymore, there's no reason to like him.'