A week ago today, I drove through a downpour to hear former Congressman Dennis Kucinich speak to about 40 rain-soaked people and to chat with him afterward. I’d never met him. It was an encounter with one of the last honest men in American politics.
I know that many people see the former Cleveland mayor and two-time candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination as a far-out leftie, but I don’t think that’s quite right. I see him as an individualist with profound doubts about two things that don’t get questioned a lot in our politics: foreign military entanglements and the national security apparatus, or what has lately been called the “Deep State.”
Kucinich is 71 now, his national candidacies behind him, and gerrymandered out of the congressional seat he held for 16 years. He was at a pipefitters union hall in Northwood to campaign for Issue 2, which went down in flames. But Kucinich is what the poet Robert Lowell called “a lost cause man.” He speaks up for what he thinks is right and damn the consequences. He’s operated this way for 40 years.
Agree or disagree, and I disagree with a good deal of what he says and thinks, Dennis Kucinich has always had guts. No less a light from the libertarian side of the fence than Ron Paul has praised him for his consistency and courage.
Kucinich, alone on the left as far as I can see, said on national TV a few week back that the real Trump scandal is not Russians running fake ads on Facebook but the fact that candidate Trump was spied upon (as Kucinich once was) and the Deep State wants to bring a duly elected president down. That, he said, is the real political and constitutional crisis. It sounds like a spy novel, he said, but it is all too real — a politicized intelligence community. We even have a politicized FBI. And, he added, people need to put party and ideology aside and see this plainly.
That didn’t get a lot of press.
Mind you, Kucinich is no born again Trumpite. He deplored the President’s United Nations’ speech as reckless. Keep in mind, he told the President, words have power, and presidential words quickly become policy.
But, Kucinich told me, “I do understand why Donald Trump was elected. I really do.” He said that Americans want their politics “to actually mean something,” and for politicians to represent the practical interests of ordinary citizens. He called Cleveland, his hometown, “the epicenter of the sub-prime,” meltdown. He said his own house in Cleveland is worth less than the money he’s put into it. He said the Democratic Party has minimal understanding, and precious little sympathy, for the working class homeowner in Cleveland. “Remember,” he said, “Trump beat both parties.” Neither party had any handle on the disappearance of good jobs or housing values in urban or rural Ohio, or on what NAFTA has done to this state. Without really engaging with the Trump voter on lunch-bucket issues, he said, the Democratic Party cannot regain the presidency.
Kucinich would close American military bases throughout the world and assert civilian control not only over the military, but intelligence. He has long opposed military adventurism, and understood its human costs. Read the Wall Street Journal’s recent series on small town America or see the film, Thank You for Your Service. From Vietnam to the war in Afghanistan, the sons and daughters of the disenfranchised working class, in Middle America, have been the people who fought and died in our wars.
Kucinich would put America first by investing in single-payer health insurance and affordable housing. He introduced the first single-payer bill in Congress almost 20 years ago. And he says the nation still has a jobs crisis. He would also end corporate welfare. He says drug companies don’t put their monumental profits into research but, mostly, executive bonuses and stock options. Kucinich was Bernie Sanders long before Bernie. But, in a way, he was also Trump. I get it, he says. Working class Ohioans were forgotten by both parties, for three generations.
It is rumored that Kucinich might run for governor in 2018. And though it might seem unlikely, when I asked him if he was “done” with politics, he replied: “Do I sound like a guy who’s done?”
What would be his slogan, his theme, his mantra, in such a campaign? It might be a line he started his Sunday presentation with: “What is the purpose of our country?”
I’m not a vegan, or a socialist, and I have my doubts about single payer (and most of the alternatives), but I find that question refreshing.
Kucinich told me that, in the House, he often looked up at the tally board and realized he was part of the tiniest of small minorities. “I’d see the wave, but just say to myself, well I disagree.” Standing alone doesn’t bother him. That’s not a bad slogan either.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
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