We Were Just Talking:
(Yet ) Another Conversation About Dennis Kucinich
by Daniel Patrick Welsh
August 16, 2003
I was surprised by an email from an old friend, usually apolitical, who wanted to engage me about Dennis Kucinch. While I don't always put my heart into rising to such bait, I was invigorated enough by our exchange to share it with the world:
My friend began:
Danny, I have to ask...if you're intent on dispensing with Bush, why are you backing Kucinich instead of a Democratic candidate with a chance? I'm not settled on anyone as of yet--I can barely keep track of who's running--but after going with Nader in 2000, I can't stomach going with a beautiful loser Democrat on election day and then watching four more years of Bush. What are your thoughts?
Were you supporting Nader in July of 1999? I assume not. Besides, my dear friend -- Nader wasn't a "beautiful loser Democrat" -- he was running against the Democratic party nominee. Which brings me back to the date. I will (probably) dutifully vote for whatever drunken, craven, sold-out loser the Democrats nominate come November 2004 (remember, buddy -- I did and you didn't last time, so don't give me none of that ish). But why now? Why be involved at this stage at all, unless there is someone who really speaks to your soul and your instincts?
I can't see wasting any sweat over Kerry or Dean or Gephart until the Republican convention -- and neither will anyone else. They have no capacity to inspire the lost (and exploding) constituencies of the Democratic Party. Dean is a conservative, ex-darling of the DLC, a bit of a fraud, frankly -- Kerry a corporate liberal, and Gehpart ... well -- enough said. As far as Kucincih "not having a chance," I guess you don't read my stuff very closely (hmmmmph!). Quite to the contrary, I think that if a progressive candidate can't win on a progressive agenda -- that is, by saying without equivocation that we have to change direction in this country -- and do it, by the way, with the money and the media against him (or her) -- then we really are up a creek ... and there is no hope for any reasonable attempt to tackle the great plagues of war, poverty, health, education, etc.
The DLC types think they can do it their way -- it won't work. The Democrats have not won a majority of the white vote (except for LBJ's post-assassination landslide in 1964) since 1948. This is never going to happen again. Big deal! Now don't get me wrong -- some of my best friends are white people. It's just that, as demographic and political trends are zooming off in one direction, the Democrats, as has become usual, are running just as fast in the other.
The Republicans have it right: they know they are a dying breed; the people hate them and their policies. The only way they can win is by muscling through redistricting plans, funding recalls, suppressing the black vote by voter list purges and other planned and targeted schemes, terrorizing the electorate, lying and just plain stealing the vote when they have to...so they do it! They correctly read the last election as a center-left vote, a rejection of even the milder policies Bush espoused in the campaign. They may be pigs, but they're not stupid.
The Democrats, on the other hand, are indeed stupid. Instead of identifying and enhancing the trends the Republicans are already pointing out for them (and trying with all their money and power to squash), they play into the game and assure their own defeat. The plain fact is that the so-called "social issues": abolition of the racist death penalty, handgun control, community restraint on policing, restoration of felons' voting rights, addressing health care, education, employment and infrastructure needs, workers' rights, democratic safeguards to voting reform, DC statehood -- in short, almost the entire progressive agenda--are of enormous interest to the exploding constituencies where voter loyalty to their party approaches 90%!!! What kind of calculators do these white Democrats use?
Of course minorities don't vote in great numbers now -- why the hell would they? And you or I beating the drum about what scum Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Powell, Ashcroft and the rest are is not going to motivate that kind of turnout. Why would it? It doesn't make sense.
People want to vote for something, as you did when you voted for Nader, I suppose. The Democrats couldn't even get you to vote with them, and your brother/uncle/cousin is not in jail/out of a job/in the army for the sucker's price of a free "education" etc. No, I stick with my original conclusion: a candidate like Kucinich, or Sharpton, or Braun, has the best chance of turning this country around -- insofar as that chance exists.
When President Dean commits his first increase in troops to Iraq, "compromises" on his plan to let all left-handed orphan deaf-mute children born on Tuesday to get catastrophe insurance, adds "terrorism" (state definition) to the list of offenses punishable by death -- I will take no pleasure in saying I told you so. The truth is that Bush has screwed this country so badly that only a 180 can effectively repudiate the terrorist, anti-humanist policies that have caused so much damage. The repercussion won't just go away because he is defeated. But like I said, I'll probably wind up voting for Tweedle Dick, Tweedle John or Tweedle Dean when the time comes. As you know, I'm a loyal Democrat, unlike some people.....hmmmm?
My friend continued:
Just to be clear, I agree about the untapped potential of stitching together the Black, Latin, and women's voting blocs with white progressives to win nationally. It just doesn't follow for me that Kucinich is the guy who can do it. I like him, and I think on the force of ideas alone, he can win in states like Massachusetts. But that doesn't make him into a compelling speaker or a telegenic campaigner who who can draw those constituencies together on a national level. And it doesn't make him a guy who can overcome his most prevalent political association, as the mayor who presided over the bankruptcy of a major metropolitan area. The Republicans will kill him on that one alone.
Interestingly, I said much the same in a prior piece I wrote [The Fire This Time]. I'm not sure he is that guy, either. But I disagree with the reason -- I just think it may not be possible for a white candidate to do it. Minority populations have been talked at for decades by professional white politicians, and are beyond fed up. The only reason left for their choosing Democrats is that they're not Republicans.
But this trick won't work forever. And Kucinich would have to really make room in his campaign to give minority voters a stake -- even Jackson struggled with this in his campaigns. In the messed up historical jumble of America after slavery, no project is a simple as it looks, and no position, promotion or alliance is as simple as it sounds. One of the strange things about having married into the Black community: you can never quite join up, like a religious conversion. But it does help you clear your head a bit.
As far as charisma, I have to disagree -- I think he does have it. Even detractors have been surprised and impressed that he has drawn the largest and most boisterous crowds, and has something of a magnetic presence. As far as Cleveland goes, the Republicans will use anything they can try to stuff into a bumper sticker one-liner. That's not news, and KeanDerryHartbermanwards are silly to think that they can buy off that inevitable attack by being more Republican. The whole reason Kucinich defaulted was that he refused the bank's demand to sell off the public utility. The demand was unusual, and perhaps not entirely kosher given the banks' entanglement with CEI, the private utility that could have made almost $200 million more off of ratepayers in the following decade had Kucinich not kept his campaign promise not to sell Muny Light. The City Council commended him in 1998 for having the "courage and foresight" to honor his pledge and, what seemed at the time, ruin his political career in the process. The city "punished" him by returning him thrice to a Congressional seat he stole from an incumbent Republican in "Reagan Democrat" land.
Many on the East Side still love him to death, even by admission of some of his biggest haters, the Cleveland Scene, who said as much in a hatchet piece they ran awhile back. The author was hard-pressed not to reveal that Kucinich was mobbed by the largely African American crowd in a restaurant meeting--even though he hadn't campaigned in the district in years. Dean might win Vermont; Kerry might win Massachusetts. Kucinich might win Ohio--and if he does, he wins the election. Of course, it is skewed by his potential favorite son status, but every Democrat who wins Ohio has already won the entire rust belt (except Indiana) and Florida, in the new equation.
It's not easy, but then it's not going to be easy for any Democrat. To talk of single digits as a death knell in a 9-candidate field (where polls this far in advance have a 4 or even 6[!]% margin of error)--and add in that fully a third of registered Democrats could not name a single candidate by name--just sounds silly to me. The press is having a field day--but it's a critical mass thing. Most people don't know what to think until other people know what to think. In that sense it's like global warming. Climatologists talk of the climate "flipping" when a certain unknown point is reached. GW is dangerous (Global Warming, not that G.W.) not for its own sake, but because it might "flip" the climate sooner rather than later. I've been waiting a quarter century for something decent to happen. I'm okay with a slow burn for now....
Daniel Patrick Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, USA, with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The Greenhouse School. He has appeared on radio [interview available here]. Past articles and translations are available at www.danielpwelch.com. © 2003 Daniel Patrick Welch. Reprint permission granted.