Tuesday, November 13, 2007

An Interesting Evaluation of Dennis Kucinich

John Nichols wrote about Kucinich's Challenge over at The Progressive's web site. What has puzzled me for some time is why Dennis's populist talk and straight-shooting hasn't translated into actual support. I mean, yeah, the corporate media marginalizes any candidate who dares speak truth to power. And yes, the money system goes out of its way to exclude those without large sums of it. But is there something more to this? Let's take a look at what Nichols writes about the Democratic debate in Chicago this Summer.

"I want to see America take a new direction in trade . . . and that means it’s time to get out of NAFTA and the WTO," shouted the Congressman above the thunderous applause that greeted his promise of "trade that’s based on workers’ rights: the right to organize, the right to collective bargaining, the right to strike."

So powerful was Kucinich’s presentation that even the moderator, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, shifted his line of questioning from the usual soft media inquiries about "reforming trade policies" toward a blunt demand that the candidates say whether they would "scrap NAFTA or fix it?" After Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, and the others struggled to answer the question without offending either the labor crowd or their corporate donors, Kucinich won the moment by declaring, "No one else on this stage could give a direct answer because they don’t intend to scrap NAFTA. We’re going to be stuck with it. And I’m your candidate if you want to get out of NAFTA. Let’s hear it. Do you want out of NAFTA? Do you want out of the WTO?"

The steel, auto, machine, and construction workers were on their feet, cheering wildly. Again and again, on industrial policy, on health care, on each issue that arose, Kucinich owned the argument. And when the Congressman turned to the signature issue of his insurgent Presidential bid, ending the war in Iraq, he distinguished himself from the cautious contenders to his right by speaking the truth that has been on the mind of everyone who has watched the sorry degeneration of this nation’s system of checks and balances. Instead of promising to end the war as President, Kucinich declared, "We shouldn’t have to wait for a Democratic President to do it. The Democratic Congress needs to act now."

It was a virtuoso performance. Mark Lash, a steelworker from Crown Point, Indiana, summed it all up when he said that of the seven candidates who were trying so hard to woo the workers, it was Kucinich who gave "the answers everyone wants to hear." In one of those old Jimmy Stewart movies or maybe in a new John Cusack movie, something big would happen. Unions would have started going against expectations to endorse the underdog. The media would have started taking him seriously. A long-overdue political awakening would have begun—for the Democratic Party and for the nation.

I watched that debate, and I can tell you right now that with a truly fair moderator who gave all the candidates as close to equal time as possible, Dennis was able to make a significant impact. Before and since that debate, it has been business as usual, ignoring and marginalizing Dennis. Nichols agrees.

Within weeks of that August AFL-CIO forum, unions began to make their endorsements.

The Machinists went for Clinton, arguably the steadiest proponent in the field of the job-killing "free trade" schemes that have decimated the union’s membership.

The Carpenters and the Steelworkers broke for Edwards, a newly minted populist who sounds good but still struggles to get the specifics right.

The Firefighters backed Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, an old-school liberal with a weaker record than Kucinich and no better prospects.

And what was the Congressman from Cleveland left with when the applause died down?


No endorsements from labor.

No backing from prominent Democrats.

No poll numbers of consequence nationally or in the essential early primary and caucus states.

There is something that is surely heartbreaking about the hand that is regularly dealt to Kucinich and his idealistic second bid for the Presidency. But the Congressman has chosen to play at the table of contemporary American politics, where not only the rules but the very premises of the process are stacked against him.

And, he goes on to write...

It is not merely the dominance of the monied elites and the party bosses, nor even the emphasis on image and style, that undermines a candidate who is actually referred to by supposedly serious reporters as "too short to be President." It is the desperation of Democratic voters denied, voters who, after so many stolen elections and failed campaigns, have convinced themselves that the only thing that matters in 2008 is winning—and that the only way to win is by nominating not the candidate who is right on the issues but the candidate who seems, a la John Kerry in 2004, to have the right strategy or at least the right stature.

That, too, is what's happening. Just as in 2004, voters appear so desperate to get a Democrat in office that they don't seem to realize or care that the Democrat they throw their support behind may not actually be the winner they're looking for. But Nichols then takes on a more sour note, writing:

The 2004 race yielded Kucinich no primary or caucus wins and just 1 percent of the delegates at the Democratic National Convention. Yet, the Congressman is running once more, mounting essentially the same campaign that he did four years ago. Kucinich is again bouncing around the country, creating the facade of a national campaign but never sticking around long enough to convert the enthusiasm of the crowds he draws into votes. And, as in the later stages of the 2004 race, when he stubbornly refused to acknowledge that he could not win a fight that everyone knew was finished, he refuses to entertain the notion that he might not be swearing an oath of office on January 20, 2009.

There is much to be said for the power of positive thinking, but in Presidential politics the practice can be futile—especially when more prominent and monied candidates are stealing your themes: economic populist (Edwards), anti-war (New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson), and time-for-a-transformation (Obama). In Kucinich’s case, his optimism borders on off-putting and out of touch. Indeed, if he continues on his current course, he runs the risk of falling short of the 643,067 (3.9 percent of the total) votes he scraped together by the end of his never-say-die 2004 run.

This would probably be a legitimate evaluation, if Kucinich were actually running to win. But he isn't. Dennis is running to make sure that the eventual nominee -- and let's pray to God it isn't Billary Dubya Clinton -- does run for president in the general election next year on the very platforms the other candidates are now "stealing".

Kucinich may be more necessary to the process of choosing a 2008 Democratic President than even he may understand. The front-loaded race for the nomination will be a blur for most Democrats, who will likely be told who the party’s candidate is going to be long before they actually have a chance to weigh in. At that point, the trailing candidates will be told by the money men who define American politics that it is time to start suspending campaigns.

Hell, the money men are already doing that; look at how they've eliminated Mike Gravel from the race. But lest you think Nichols has turned on Dennis, and chosen to attack him, he does offer some advice that might actually work for the Cleveland, Ohio Democrat should he heed it:

More than two dozen states will select delegates after February 5. Many of them—Wisconsin, Washington, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Oregon—have Democratic voter bases that are ardently anti-war. If Kucinich were to commit now to mount a campaign that made no pretense of personal electability but rather promised to force the party to debate its direction—not just on the war but on the whole question of what a post-Bush America might look like—he could yet turn himself into the most effective protest candidate this country has seen in years.

What might the Congressman propose to the voters of later primary and caucus states, where the choice could well come down to Kucinich versus Clinton? By telling voters "this is your chance to vote for a peace plank," Kucinich could—and should—promise to use whatever bloc of delegates he is given to fight for a clearly anti-war platform, to provoke floor fights over foreign policy and the domestic agenda, and to have his name placed in nomination in order to take his message to prime time.

In a one-on-one race, where the Kucinich campaign is about an idea rather than a man, he could turn the tables on the elites. By ditching talk about actually being nominated—which only strains his own credibility—and instead making himself the tribune of the peace and justice movement that is alive and powerful at the grassroots of the Democratic party, Dennis Kucinich could win hundreds of delegates to the 2008 convention. He could renew and redefine the debate in the later primaries and at the convention. He could force the eventual Democratic nominee to listen to the party’s neglected base—which polling suggests is now very close in its thinking to the self-identified independent voters who decide close contests in November—rather than to the Wall Street donors and Washington think tanks that invariably muddle the message once the pundits declare the nomination fight to have been settled. And, maybe, just maybe, Dennis Kucinich could make the Democratic nominee more appealing than a broken political process is supposed to allow.

I think that's very good advice, and worth taking if there is to be any hope of mounting a real challenge to the conservative wing of the Democratic Party that has already all but chosen the nominee of the party in general for us.


Looks like this story isn't going away, according to The Nation. John Edwards came right out and stated what a lot of people are thinking, saying Billary is channeling the shrub with her planted questions. The Des Moine Register reports. Not to be outdone, according to CNN.com, the Clinton campaign then turned around and accused Edwards of acting like the dictator by way of attacking Democrats and being divisive.

So let's recap: Hillary Clinton gets caught fielding planted softball questions, a practice used quite often by George W. Bush. When this is pointed out, she accuses her critics of acting like George W. Bush. The defense is obvious; she's trying to deflect criticism by accusing her opponents of doing what she did -- acting like the shrub.


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