Run­ning for public office is not for the faint of heart, according to Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Polit­ical Sci­ence Michael Dukakis, who dis­cussed pres­i­den­tial suc­ces­sion last Thursday at a con­fer­ence in the Cabral Center.

Dukakis advised the poten­tial future politi­cians in the room that their health—as well as the health of their family and poten­tial run­ning mates—would be part of the cam­paign process.

Make sure you are healthy to run for pres­i­dent,” said Dukakis, who served as Mass­a­chu­setts’ gov­ernor for 12 years and won the Demo­c­ratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in 1988. “Pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns are not for the faint of heart or mind. They are long and require a high degree of phys­ical and mental stamina.”

The day­long con­fer­ence, “Pres­i­den­tial Dis­ability and Suc­ces­sion: Prob­lems and Oppor­tu­ni­ties,” focused on health’s impact on polit­ical leaders’ abil­i­ties to do their jobs. The event was pre­sented by Northeastern’s Depart­ment of Polit­ical Sci­ence and the Edward W. Brooke professorship.

Ques­tions about Dukakis’ mental health were raised during his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, as some sug­gested he had under­gone psy­chi­atric treat­ment. When Pres­i­dent Ronald Reagan was asked about Dukakis during a press con­fer­ence in 1988, he responded, “Listen, I’m not going to pick on an invalid.” Reagan later apol­o­gized for his remarks, which Dukakis described on Thursday as a “non-​​story.”

For one week after this press con­fer­ence, vir­tu­ally every­thing in my cam­paign stopped as we tried to deal with this non-​​story,” Dukakis explained. “I dropped eight points in the national poll in a week and our momentum was slowed.”

Reagan was the focus of a pre­sen­ta­tion by Robert Gilbert, Northeastern’s Edward W. Brooke Pro­fessor of Polit­ical Sci­ence. In Gilbert’s remarks, he addressed how the health of the 40th pres­i­dent may have affected the Iran-​​Contra affair.

During his second term, Gilbert noted, Reagan under­went surgery to remove can­cerous polyps from his colon. Fol­lowing surgery, Reagan met with national secu­rity offi­cials about the pos­si­bility of selling weapons to Iran in exchange for freeing Amer­ican hostages in Lebanon.

While still in the hos­pital Reagan pur­port­edly sup­ported the plan, which flew in the face of an arms embargo imposed by the U.S. against Iran. In a sub­se­quent inves­ti­ga­tion, Reagan pleaded igno­rance to the affair.

But Gilbert noted that Reagan twice acknowl­edged the meeting at the hos­pital in sep­a­rate diary entries. He argues that the stress of surgery and a cancer diag­nosis caused the failure of the president’s memory and comprehension.

It is my own con­clu­sion based on my research that the pres­i­dent really did not lie when he said he couldn’t remember any­thing about the affair,” Gilbert said. “The major surgery and cancer diag­nosis led to Ronald Reagan’s pecu­liar behavior during this time.”

The conference’s other speakers included vice-​​presidential expert and St. Louis Uni­ver­sity law pro­fessor Joel Gold­stein; former White House physi­cian Dr. Lawrence Mohr; George Wash­ington Uni­ver­sity psy­chi­atry pro­fessor Dr. Jer­rold Post; Bipar­tisan Policy Center asso­ciate John Fortier; and Fordham law pro­fessor John Feerick.