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A Conversation With Dennis Kucinich
Posted on Jan 6, 2008
By Chris Hedges
This interview, originally published by The Philadelphia Inquirer, was conducted Dec. 19 in the Washington office of the Ohio Democrat.
The office is spare, with two sagging leather chairs, a brown leather couch and a desk. There are framed pictures of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the wall over the couch, all with accompanying quotes. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is on his poster-sized portrait. Kucinich keeps a white cloth from the Dalai Lama in his office. He has a bust of Gandhi and a picture representing “conscious light”—a gift from Brahma Kumaris nuns, as well as a Tibetan dragon washbowl. On his desk are two heavy crucifixes once worn by Catholic nuns who taught him; he says the nuns “saved my life.” Outside his office door in the small reception area are framed letters of support from George McGovern, Robert F. Kennedy and Hubert H. Humphrey.
Chris Hedges: Why has the Democratic Party not done what it should do?
Rep. Dennis Kucinich: Lack of commitment to Democratic principles. No understanding of the period of history we’re in. Failure to appreciate the necessity of the coequality of Congress. Unwillingness to assert Congressional authority in key areas which makes the people’s House paramount to protecting democracy. The institutionalized influence of corporate America through the Democratic leadership council. Those are just a few.
Hedges: Have we evolved into a corporate state?
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NAFTA, GAT, the WTO, China Trade, and every other trade agreement that’s passed in Congress has been passed with the help of either the leadership of or with the help of the Democratic Party, knowing that each and every one of those agreements was devoid of protections for workers, knowing that if you don’t have workers’ rights put into a trade agreement then workers here in the United States are going to see their own bargaining position undermined because corporations can move jobs out of the country to places where workers don’t have any rights. They don’t have the right to organize, the right to collective bargaining, the right to strike. So what I see is that the Democratic Party abandoned working people, and paradoxically they’re the ones who hoist the flag of workers every two and four years only to engender excitement, and then to turn around and abandon their constituency. This is now on the level of a practiced ritual. At least a biannual ceremony, or every two years. So you can see how pernicious this becomes when the minimum wage increase was tied to funding the war. That, to me, says it all. Because it is inevitably the sons and daughters of working Americans that are the ones who are led to slaughter. Aspirations for health care.
So what I’ve done in my campaign is to advocate a full-employment economy. How do you do that? A new WPA-type program. We’ll rebuild America’s bridges, water systems, sewer systems, our libraries, our universities, our mass transit systems. And we do that with a program that I introduced legislation in repeated Congresses with the cosponsorship of a Republican from Ohio by the name of Steven LaTourette and the bill, HR 3400, provides for rebuilding America’s infrastructure. And I would put millions of people back to work in good-paying jobs. I would put millions more back to work in new energy policies where we would design, engineer, manufacture, install and maintain wind and solar microtechnologies which would be retrofitted into tens of millions of American homes and businesses, driving down our carbon footprint and dramatically reducing our cost of energy. This would be a major development in America to take us away from a condition where America is leading the way towards the destruction of our global climate. I call this part of it the WG: a Works Green Administration, where we turn government into an engine of sustainability, where the whole government becomes about moving towards green. The transportation plan, mass transit, housing and development—it’s about green housing, solar, natural lighting, using recycled material, the energy department stops incentivizing coal and oil and nuclear, and moves toward incentivizing wind and solar, bringing forward a whole generation of entrepreneurs just waiting to get into green energy solutions.
NAFTA becomes about the development of these new technologies at the alpha stage and then licensing them to the beta stage to encourage that entrepreneurial spirit. I mean we could create millions of jobs to prime the pump of the economy—that’s the way I think about this. Prime the pump of the economy, get people back to work rebuilding America and creating a transition economy and making us more green in all of our policies. Agriculture, for example: Bring back the concept of parity, work for sustainable practices in agriculture and help protect small farmers, get their products to market, get their price, get a fair price, protect them with local markets, help organic farmers. I could go through every department, and that’s what Works Green is about.
Addressing the practical aspirations of people, you’re looking for jobs, how to create jobs, how to create movement in the economy that benefits people. And our party just swings around the edges and always makes deals with the idea of protecting the status quo, which is war.
Hedges: Because the working class has suffered so grievously, why is it that the only mass movement essentially comes from the right, let’s say the Christian Right, in terms of grassroots level? Why aren’t we seeing a period like the 1930s, where there is a real kind of outrage on the part of the working class?
Kucinich: I think it’ll get to that but it’s not there yet. First of all, Eric Hoffer ... understood the power of dogmatism, in terms of mobilizing people. But one can come from a position of love and compassion in being able to mobilize people as well. On higher principles, not along the narrow path that some on the right have chosen.
Hedges: The corporations control the process of communication. I mean you just got shut out of a [Dec. 13] debate—
Hedges:—courtesy of Gannett—
Hedges:—and Ralph [Nader] talks a lot about how he believes that corporate interests were determined that his issues weren’t going to be heard. Eighty percent of newspapers are controlled by what? Six or eight corporations? How do you—they’ve in many ways shut down the ability, I mean they shut you down quite physically in Iowa.
Kucinich: Well, Iowa is a couple of factors that came into play. The American people—I never looked at it as being about me—I mean the American people are entitled to the fullness of the debate. It’s not democratic to try and shut one point of view out. And since it’s very obvious to anyone watching that my point of view is profoundly different from any other point of view being offered inside the party, what they’re actually doing is unwittingly contributing to the destruction of the Democratic Party itself by saying that “these are the only points of view that we will deem acceptable within the Democratic Party.” And those points of view are generally reinforcing the corporate mentality inside the party. And that’s very destructive of the democracy. It actually contributes to the undermining of the hope for legitimate debate within a democratic society. And one of the major issues that I feel is somehow somewhat linked to what’s going on in Iowa, is the issue of health care. I’m the only one in this race who’s talked about the necessity of a single-payer, not-for-profit health-care system, Medicare for all. Now this plan would bring health care to those 46 million Americans who don’t have any health insurance and the tens of millions of American who are underinsured, who would no longer have to worry about their economic position being undermined by the insurance companies. Insurance companies make money by not providing health care—we all understand that. When you consider that half the bankruptcies in this country are linked directly to people not being able to pay their medical bills, when we consider that the bankruptcy laws were changed so that people would be locked into a sort of debtors’ prison for a good part of their lives, you come to understand the imperative of HR 676, the bill that I coauthored, as being the path toward economic self-sufficiency. Many homes in this country are finding that their budgets are totally undermined by their health-care costs. And so my solution is apart from any other candidates. It’s very interesting how little, despite a real effort, how little coverage the not-for-profit health-care system receives, how little coverage this proposal receives.
Hedges: Did you see Russell Baker’s [note in the Dec. 18, 2003] New York Review of Books ... he said, [in effect,] “Let’s take away health-care coverage for all the reporters in the newspapers, so then we’ll get coverage of people who don’t get health care.”
Kucinich: I hadn’t seen that, but it’s probably true. And here’s the problem. If you were to look at all the debates, is it just coincidental that there’s been very little exploration of health care as an issue? Is it just coincidental that the only time that candidates were asked to put themselves on the line as to their position on health care was at the Ark debate in Iowa, where each and every candidate invited, promised, that they would not participate in a single-payer system. Ark being an insurance company, by the way. You know, think about this. An insurance company sponsoring a debate in Des Moines, Iowa. It’s no surprise that later on the Des Moines Register, sitting in the middle of a five-county area, where insurance is the main crop, that they would find some lame excuse to try and limit the debate.
Hedges: What’s been for you the most frustrating part of your campaign, especially looking at the Democratic Party itself?
Kucinich: You know, I don’t look at it as being frustrated, because I don’t think in those terms [loud buzzer sounds]. ... Um—that means there’s a vote on. ... I don’t think in terms like that.
[A voice announces over the loudspeaker: “This is the House Democratic cloakroom ... at 3:21 p.m. Advise members they have 15 minutes to record the vote on suspending the rules on passing the bill HR 2761, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization act ... thank you.”)
OK. So we got a few minutes before I have to go over, and then I’ll come back. So. I’ve written an autobiography of my first 21 years. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to see it yet. It’s called “Courage to Survive.” And what it makes clear is that perseverance is my strong suit. When I was elected to the House of Representatives I got elected on my fifth try. And my first attempt was in ‘72. And I lost in ‘72, and I lost in ‘74, and I lost in ‘88, and I lost in ‘92. And I won in ‘96 and in ‘98, and 2000, and 2002, and in 2004, and in 2006. To me, what you do in life is you stand up and you fight for those things you believe in. And you do it without a question or a pause, to take a phrase from one of my favorite songs. And so I don’t have any complaints.
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