At the end, Michael Dukakis said he'd learned something in his failure: "One of the lessons of the campaign is you have to respond and you have to respond quickly."
Some who had campaigned for him groaned when they heard it. If this was the lesson, it was one they had learned long before and had tried repeatedly to tell Dukakis and his high command."That's the first lesson of ward politics," said Michael Goldman, a Boston political consultant brought in late in the campaign as an adviser.
Dukakis was faulted all fall for his failure to respond to attacks on his record. In the last weeks of his campaign, he acknowledged that he had dallied too long.
His failure to respond was, most observers believe, a large reason he was unsuccessful. But it was not the full story of why the governor of Massachusetts failed as Democratic presidential nominee. Rather, it reflected a larger problem: a candidate and campaign that were aloof and parochial - and, many felt, arrogant.
Dukakis and his campaign badly underestimated their opponent. They resisted outside advice until it was too late. They failed to find a message and voice until the race had been lost, and in fact had no effective strategy after winning the nomination.
They squandered months delivering little more than bland bromides. And they failed utterly to recognize the devastating impact the other side's attacks were having, even as Dukakis' image was being undermined.
"They didn't know people," said Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young.
Young was referring to Dukakis' advisers and consultants. But interviews with those inside the campaign suggest the same might well be said of the candidate himself.
A number of top campaign staffers - including manager Susan Estrich, top strategist John Sasso, political aides Kirk O'Donnell and Jack Corrigan - are all named as finger-pointing goes on in a Democratic Party distraught at its latest failure. Estrich in particular is blamed by some in the party for allowing the campaign's summer aimlessness, and for her Harvard Law School approach to hot-button issues.
What stands out in memory from the long campaign are missed opportunities by a team unprepared for the rough and tumble of a general election campaign:
-Before the convention, beginning to feel the Republicans' needles, Dukakis responded with breathtaking naivete that Bush should "stop criticizing others."
-Dukakis let pass the opportunity to address defense and foreign policy matters in a substantive way early on, when he could have inoculated himself against attacks.
-Day after day through the summer and much of the fall, Dukakis virtually conceded the evening television news stories and the next day's newspaper stories to the other side.
Dukakis never seemed to adjust to his role as a national figure on a national stage. He and his campaign were consumed by what was in the Boston press, even in the campaign's final days - a reflection, it seemed, of his insulated and confined view.
Dukakis once remarked that no ads went out of his campaign without his personal approval. But his campaign was effectively paralyzed, unable to mount a cogent television campaign.
Republican strategists made no secret of their plans to try to damage Dukakis' record. In the spring and summer they even pointed to the prison furlough and Pledge of Allegiance issues they would exploit. Yet when it came, the Dukakis campaign seemed ill prepared.
As Bush hammered Dukakis, some within the campaign grew angry at their own inability to respond.
Dukakis and his top campaign officials in Boston didn't seem to understand the values and symbolism behind those issues Bush had chosen. Dukakis seemed to assume that the nation knew him as Massachusetts voters did.
"He could not believe that the son of immigrants could ever be spun around on the Pledge of Allegiance," said Goldman. "Because Mike Dukakis didn't see himself as a liberal, he couldn't say what he wasn't."
He never looked like a fighter until the last couple weeks, when he finally found a populist theme that connected with voters and the ability to say it convincingly. But by then it was too late, and he was just fighting to avoid embarrassment.