The Kitty Dukakis Question

Mayor Quimby, you are well known, sir, for your lenient stance on crime…but suppose for a second that your house was ransacked by thugs, your family tied up in the basement with socks in their mouths, you try to open the door, but there’s too much blood on the knob… — Birch Barlow, “Sideshow Bob Roberts”

Poor Michael Dukakis. En route to getting his ass handed to him in the ’88 election (taking home 111 electoral votes compared to Bush Senior’s 426), the Massachusetts governor was lobbed this softball of a question right out of the gates at the second presidential debate:

If you don’t feel like watching the video, here’s the money quote:

Governor, if Kitty Dukakis [the candidate’s wife] were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer? — Bernard Shaw

Some context: at this point in the campaign season, Dukakis and H.W. were running a fairly tight race. One issue that had repeatedly been used against Dukakis was a controversial prison “furlough” program the governor had instituted in Massachusetts, which allowed certain inmates weekend breaks from prison.

One such furloughed prisoner, Willie Horton, incarcerated for stabbing to death a 17-year-old gas station attendant, took advantage of his furlough to commit further atrocities, eventually being returned to prison with assault, robbery, and rape convictions to go with his new life sentences. This was a huge black eye for Dukakis once the Republican opposition got their mitts on it:

Look familiar?

So…that debate. Dukakis gets a unique variation on the “soft on crime” question and flubs it, offering up the washiest of wishy-washy answers and failing to call out Shaw on the bullshit question. The nation’s voters blanch, Dukakis’s poll numbers drop, and the man’s campaign never recovers.

If this were a political blog, its author might endeavor to point out that the fallout from the Kitty Dukakis question, which arguably cost Duke the entire election, allowed H.W. to spend four years in office buffing up his political and industrial alliances. Which in turn allowed a certain heir apparent to take control in 2000. And I think we all remember how that turned out. I guess the lesson here is to stick up for yourself.

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5 Responses to The Kitty Dukakis Question

  1. Adz says:

    McGarnagle,I got one for you.I don’t know which episode it is but one of the classics,all the parents are collecting their children and Kirk Van Houten sweeps up Milhouse in a net while riding a horse, do you the source where that is taken from? Always assumed it was from a book/movie etc not a random thing.

  2. mcgarnagle says:

    Hmm, interesting. I’ll have to consult my sources on this, but perhaps the answer may be revealed on the site…stay tuned! (Alright, it’s “Planet of the Apes”, but please don’t leave.)

  3. Adz says:

    Thanks McGarnagle! I didn’t even know there was horse riding in Planet Of The Apes, really need to watch that movie.

  4. Pingback: Planet Of The Apes Cornfield Chase | Springfield Historical Society @

  5. Pingback: Dukakis And The Tank | Springfield Historical Society @

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