One of the more outspoken and progressive voices in the US House of Representatives, Dennis Kucinich, representing a heavily industrial district comprised of Cleveland and its western suburbs, is a maverick who does not shy away from controversy. In addition to being a leader on the 'bread and butter' issue of opposing presidential trade promotion authority, he has introduced bills to outlaw the militarization of space, and to establish a cabinet level "Department of Peace" in order to 'work toward peaceful solutions of conflict at home and abroad.' He often resembles a liberal elected from a 'safe' seat on the west coast or in a heavily minority district, not someone from the rust belt. He is also one of the most vocal proponents of increased funding for NASA, and just to keep people on their toes, is a supporter of restrictions on access to abortions. He is most likely the first and only vegan member of congress.

Kucinich, whose father was a truck driver, was the oldest child in a family of seven. He attended Catholic school and Case Western Reserve University. His blue collar Eastern European pedigree is typical of the city he represents in congress. In 1977, at the age of 31, he was elected mayor of Cleveland, making him the youngest person ever elected mayor of a major American city. As mayor he fought extremely corrupt corporate interests and their slick media blitz to keep the city owned electric utility from going private, and actually prevailed. Those same interets conspired to deny him a second term, and upon his defeat he headed to the west where he rambled across many states working odd jobs. He returned to Cleveland, and after a stint in the Ohio state Senate, in 1996 he was elected to congress and was re-elected in 1998 and 2000. Currently, he chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The seemingly fearless proletarian politics of Kucinich are very illustrative of the north-south split personality of the state of Ohio - when compared to those of the authoritarian fascists Steve Chabot and Rob Portman that represent the southern end of the state in congress.

The following is an excerpt from a speech given by Kucinich that I think encapsulates the major challenge facing America and illustrates why he is such an amazing leader:

"When I was mayor, I was asked to make a conscious choice between competing visions, between whether corporations existed for the city or the city existed for the corporations, between the claims of the community and the claims of commerce, between the requirement for economic justice and the imperative for profit, between the public interest and private interest. These are choices that we all make every day in the accommodations we make with our purchases, where we work, where we live, how we travel, what we eat.

Everyday, as each one of us chooses, so chooses the world.

A few years ago, I could smell the dynamic tension between the claims of the community and the claims of the free market in the tear gas that invaded the locked-down lobby of this very hotel (Westin, Seattle) during the challenge to the practices of the World Trade Organization. I could feel that tension coursing through the streets of this city when I marched with machinists and moms, with Teamsters and turtles in a call for human rights, workers' rights and environmental quality principles to become integral to our commerce. The challenge before us today, the challenge before our nation and the world is whether we accept the beneficence of Lincoln's prayer to create "...a government of the people, by the people and for the people," or whether we timidly accept the economic, social and political consequences of a government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations.

In the same speech, he delivered this 'haiku' about the corrupt deregulation bought with corporate dollars:

Plotting gains.
False promise low rates,
Political contributions place.
Regulatory controls erase.
Energy supplies manipulate.
Shortages create.
Blackouts.
Taxpayers bled.
Ratepayers dead.
Windfall profitgate.
Earnings misstate.
Stock inflate.
Enron investigate.
Bailouts by state.
System remains.

The fact that there is a well-informed progressive who speaks in haiku representing a blue collar district in congress is what makes America great. The fact that this is a unique situation is what makes America in need of improvement.

with help from http://www.house.gov/kucinich/

Mr. Kucinich is now running for president. He announced his longshot candidacy in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio where he was once mayor.

"I am running for president of the United States to enable the goddess of peace to encircle within her arms all the children of this country and all the children of the world," Mr. Kucinich said. "As president I will work with leaders of the world to make war a thing of the past, to abolish nuclear weapons."

He says he revoke the United States participation in Nafta and the World Trade Organization, repeal the USA Patriot Act, create a universal health care system, establish universal prekindergarten schooling and create a cabinet-level Department of Peace that would bring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s principles of nonviolence into government.

Not a bad platform if you're a liberal or a progressive. I think it's great he's in the race, but he has a snowball's chance in hell of winning.

Then again, the Chicago Cubs did finally win a playoff series... so, go longshot candidacy!!!

Do the En-ron, the En-ron-ron: Notes from the suicide mission that is the Kucinich campaign

[Editor's Note: We found this piece in an archive of previously unpublished material and felt that it provided an interesting, naïve political perspective on the 2004 scene. Maybe it doesn't. Judge for yourself. -- DL]
Kucinich is the only presidential candidate in my life that I've been within about ten feet of and I still wouldn't vote for him. For some reason, though, I felt compelled to drive up the river to the hippie village of Northampton, Massachusetts to see the man speak.

Why?

There's always a certain Mumia-obsessed, Seattle-protesting, acoustic-guitar-playing side to the American left, and it was out in force at Smith College for Dennis Kucinich's rally, bringing enough followers to make the gathering standing room only. Assuming that the majority of Smith students are 18- to 22-year old girls, there certainly didn't seem to be a lot of actual Smith students there -- mostly the aging hippies living in 2nd-story Northampton and Amherst apartments.

Kucinich brings a certain populist power to his campaign, something none of the other candidates, except possibly front-runner Howard Dean, seem to have. [Ed.: If you're an easily depressed liberal, don't read the next sentence and cry.] The difference between the two is that Kucinich doesn't have a chance.

Nonetheless, I can't help but respect the grassroots element here; the protest songs and "Bush lied" sandwich boards make that contingent pretty obvious. Petitions were circulating through the crowd, there was lots of flannel. Little kids waved campaign signs and organizers carried peace sign-bearing American flags to endless cheers.

Sample protest song:
(To the tune of "Tiny Houses")
Tiny voices
On the hillside
And they all want an Iraq attack
Note from author, in November: Later on, I would see a group of Lyndon LaRouche supporters on the subway singing freaky, three-part harmonic songs about LaRouche's eerie, TVA-reminiscent plan for America. And again, later, hearing Kerry's abortive Copley Square rally on the radio. It really gave the whole thing some eerie context, driving around at six A.M. on November third.

In the opening remarks, Kucinich's effects on the city of Cleveland were turned into a rallying point, although the city was reduced into a flaming, impoverished ruin on his watch -- but one hates to spoil the party. The man with the two-foot beard started running out of angry songs set to Joni Mitchell lyrics. The crowd was growing restless.

There was a shower of applause and cheers, a few balloons moving around the barely-decorated auditorium. Then The Man came on, such as he was. The spitting image of Bryan (politically (and height-wise), at least) rallying the agrarian crowds. He asks questions of the audience and gets enthusiastic responses.

He scores a point for quoting Heisenberg without misinterpretation, and turns it around nicely to prove what he's saying. He quotes Emerson too. He loses a point for dropping his train of thought mid-sentence and falling silent, even though the crowd applauds right through it. The word to look up from his speeches is "supernumerary."

He refers to the terror alert, with great bravado and an affectation of voice, as a series of "Orwellian weather reports." He doesn't notice that one of the bureaucracies that he is pressing for is called the Department of Peace.

An important thing to note, apparently, when one runs for president, is to use the future ("I will be a president that ...") rather than subjunctives. [Ed.: It worked for John Kerry.] It's a smooth maneuver coming from a man on a stage where a woman with hair down to her ankles is quietly packing up the microphones.

He's intensely in favor of political globalization while being strongly against trade globalization, which is funny when you think about it. I almost get a question in. People file out before it's over.

What have I learned, seeing Dennis Kucinich in the second-most liberal city in left-leaning New England? It's a good question. He's polling between 1% and 2%, making him a joke as far as the Democratic Party is concerned -- less relevant than Ralph Nader, who may pose a real threat again this year. [Ed.: Oops.] He's a voice for a dying breed of American liberal, one that won't make allowances for even the slightest concept of conservatism.

It's sad that even Northampton doesn't really like him -- a few gay couples come to the mike to ask him questions about why, exactly, there are no Democratic candidates in favor of gay marriage. Of course, he's ready, he makes up some gibberish but looks briefly uncomfortable. The city of Northampton has nobody to represent it on the national stage.

I drive home on the slow backroads along the Connecticut River, through the bastion of liberalism in Western New England, and I worry about the Democrats.


Addendum, November 2004: Kucinich, predictably, lost, polling only six percent in Massachusetts, a state where the primary was essentially a moot point. Considering how low turnout was, it could essentially have been everyone at the rally except for me showing up at the polls to make their voices ignored. Bush won the election, and the next blue candidate is going to have to be further right-of-center than any before. Unless it's Barack Obama.

Godspeed, you bat-faced little man.

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