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    Political Intelligence

    After defeat, Dukakis, Kerry found other ways to serve

    Mitt Romney is facing a back-to-earth moment that Michael Dukakis and John Kerry have both navigated.
    Mitt Romney is facing a back-to-earth moment that Michael Dukakis and John Kerry have both navigated.

    In the spring of 1992, ­Michael S. Dukakis greeted a reporter at a windowless office built of cinderblocks on the campus of Florida Atlantic University. When their chat was over, the reporter walked Dukakis to the parking lot and said goodbye to the former Massachusetts governor.

    Dukakis then started up his Honda Accord and drove off into the night.

    It was a remarkably pedestrian moment, considering that less than four years earlier, the Democrat was one of two people in the entire world with a shot at being president of the United States.


    Now, he was a visiting professor keeping evening office hours.

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    A similar back-to-Earth now confronts another former Massachusetts governor and presidential nominee, after Republican Mitt Romney lost the election on Tuesday to President Obama.

    In the afterlifes of two Massachusetts politicians — Dukakis and Senator John Kerry, the Democrats’ unsuccessful presidential nominee in 2004 — Romney can find both some empathy and different paths to alternate forms of fulfillment.

    Following his 1988 loss, ­Dukakis returned to the State House to continue his day job. He remained governor until January 1991, when a tall, red-headed Republican named William F. Weld assumed the corner office.

    After his loss eight years ago, Kerry accepted that his presidential aspirations were dashed, so he threw himself into his Senate life, just as the late Edward M. Kennedy did after losing his own campaign for the presidency in 198o.


    Kerry doesn’t relish discussing his loss, though he did so with the Globe, but Dukakis has no such reticence with anyone who asks.

    During a recent conversation with The Daily Beast, he said: “I never needed to go on a vacation or anything like that. Just getting home and resuming a kind of basic routine and spending time with friends and family was, for me, always enough. You think about it for a while, but after a while, you get tired of it. And I didn’t have a lot of time to sit around and think about it.”

    That’s because Dukakis, as well as Kerry, had official positions to which they could return.

    Dukakis threw himself back into his gubernatorial responsibilities, while Kerry plunged into his work in the Senate.

    That included ascending to the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2009. And, after Kennedy died later that year, Kerry also assumed the mantle of the state’s senior senator, with added responsibilities for handling constituent services and overseeing recommendations to the president for judicial appointments.


    Romney served just one term as governor, deciding against seeking reelection in 2006 so he could make the first of his two unsuccessful runs for the White House. By 1991, Dukakis was in the same position as Romney now finds himself, and he threw himself into education.

    Dukakis began teaching at Northeastern University and, in a nod to his wife’s seasonal affective disorder, winter locales such as Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton. He later settled into his current routine: Northeastern in the fall and spring and UCLA in the winter.

    Romney was educated at Harvard Business School, and his family name adorns a public management institute at Brigham Young University, the former governor’s undergraduate alma mater. He would have instant cachet at either institution.

    Kerry, meanwhile, didn’t just keep his public office but found new venues for public service.

    They have included work on climate change and as an unofficial administration envoy to foreign policy hot spots such as Afghanistan and the Middle East. He now is being considered as secretary of state for Obama’s second term.

    “It’s fairly straightforward: Life goes on, life is bigger than running for president,” Kerry told the Globe. “And if you care about things, and you’re motivated by concern for real issues, and you’re passionate about it, you just pick up and find a way to do the things that you love and that matter.”

    Obama said in his victory speech that he looked forward to meeting with Romney, “to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.”

    During the campaign, Romney claimed Obama didn’t need to consolidate Cabinet positions into a secretary of business, because he would be a president with a business background.

    The results on Tuesday didn’t diminish his qualifications for that possible new post, even if they dashed Romney’s dream of being president himself.

    Glen Johnson is lead blogger for Political Intelligence, available online at www.boston.com/politics. He can be reached at johnson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.