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[Editor's Note: We found this piece in an archive of previously unpublished material and felt that it provided an interesting, naïve political perspective on the 2004 scene.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.
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")
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.