When it comes to the issue of defense policy and United States-Soviet relations, even by the special standards of campaigning Gov. Michael S. Dukakis has been giving disingenuousness a whole new dimension.
He is trying simultaneously to soar with the hawks and feed with the doves. The irony is that he must endorse the results obtained by Ronald Reagan while disavowing the means that were necessary to achieve them.It is no secret that Dukakis long numbered himself among the ardent opponents of nuclear weapons. If that in any way qualifies as an actual position rather than a mere posture, he has indeed a position.
Currently, it is not unfair to say, he teeters back and forth very close to the edge of outright unilateralism, offering an occasional gracious nod to the Stealth bomber, say, but steadily opposed to all or any of the weapons systems that have been declared necessary to a modernized nuclear deterrent: that is, the MX, the Midgetman, and last but far from least in the litany of what he is against, the Strategic Defense Initiative.
SDI, he insists, will, among other disasters, sink our already overburdened economy. His own defense policy is to strengthen what he deems to be our shamefully neglected conventional forces.
But the members of the peace movement who have all these years been advocating such a policy, and most especially Michael Dukakis, are now in something of a pickle.
Having declared that the arms race would inevitably end in nuclear war, they are now confronted with the achievement of "warmonger" Ronald Reagan, who has succeeded in getting Mikhail S. Gorbachev to agree to a mutual reduction of nuclear arsenals.
There is no way Dukakis cannot know that it was the upgrading of our nuclear weaponry, the deployment of intermediate-range missiles, and the decision to launch the SDI that brought the Soviets to the point of serious negotiation.
Dukakis would clearly prefer that his audiences quickly skip over the question of just how the country happened to get where it presently is vis-a-vis the Soviets and move on to other things.
Given the chance to think it over, people might remember that had his own views on defense policy prevailed, the Soviets, far from finding it advisable to reach agreements with us, would have had a hard time deciding whether to laugh with relief at their luck or with contempt for America's incapacity to grasp the real properties and uses of power.
Of course, Dukakis could do what some people do when they have learned better about some formerly cherished opinion: say so and move on. But for some reason, candidates for high office do not seem to find this a possible option.
So it appears that Michael Dukakis will go on until Nov. 8, unable, lest it cost him the election, to be the full-throated disarmer his true constituents want him to be, and on the other hand hemmed in by the need to pretend that he means to beat Ronald Reagan and George Bush at their own game.
The truth is that this is a game his ideas would disqualify him from playing, let alone winning.