May 22, 2013
Kucinich: ‘I’m Just Trying to Do the Best I Can’
Posted on Mar 20, 2010
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A full transcript of the above interview, conducted by Truthdig Managing Editor Peter Z. Scheer and podcast producer Joshua Scheer, begins on Page 2.
By Narda Zacchino
Congressman Dennis Kucinich predicted Saturday that the health reform bill will win passage in the House on Sunday by just one vote. In an exclusive interview with Truthdig minutes after President Obama personally lobbied the Democratic caucus, Kucinich likened the bill to “the political equivalent of castor oil” but said he has been working to get other holdout Democrats to vote for it.
“The moment I made my decision, I knew I would be helpful with other members who have struggled with the contradictions of the bill ... who knew how badly flawed the bill is and still wanted to see if there was any way to justify voting for it,” Kucinich said.
Kucinich, long a proponent for Medicare coverage for all Americans or at least a public insurance option, had vowed not to vote for the bill without those reforms, and just days ago was considered a firm “no.”
After riding aboard Air Force One with Obama on a visit to the congressman’s home state of Ohio on March 17, he switched his opposition to the measure. On Saturday, he said he did so for several reasons: out of concern for how a defeat would impact the Obama presidency, responding to his constituents, and primarily to remain a strong voice in the continuing debate for further health care reform.
“I understood that any opportunity we have to impact health care policy after this bill is really going to depend on whether the bill passes or not. If the bill goes down, we may not see another opportunity in our lifetime to have a serious discussion about expanding health care, about redefining it, about transforming it, about making it more comprehensive.” He noted that serious discussion about reform last took place in Congress 16 years ago during the Clinton presidency.
When he saw no support from the White House or congressional leaders for the reforms he advocated and was told that he could sink the bill, he asked rhetorically, “Then do I want to be responsible for killing the only approach to health care that’s been offered, no matter how far [off] I think it is, do I just want to stop the discussion?
“I have to look at it from the standpoint that if the vote goes down, there’s not hope for after to do anything that I want to do. Who’s going to pay attention? ... Why would anyone want to hear anything I have to say about health care if I was the deciding vote against it? ... Why would anyone want to hear about the needs about my constituents?”
Yet in the end, “It’s not whether somebody’s ever going to listen to a bill of mine, that’s the least of my worries, I’m concerned—can we restart a health care decision in the Congress again? And I want to be part of it if we can, and I’m going to be part of it when we do.”
Speaking of his constituents in Cleveland, he said many who wanted a “yes” vote from him brought him the message that “You can’t always get what you want, and when you can’t get what you want, you have to reflect maturely as to whether or not something is better than nothing. ... I have a responsibility to the people of the district that sent me here, not to cling to some ideological purity. ... But there comes a point when you have to look at the real world and say, ‘Is there anything that we can get out of here that would lead to something better?’ And that’s ultimately where I came down. ...”
Kucinich acknowledged that he is “usually the last one standing on a lot of issues” and conceded, “When you stake out a position that some see as ideologically intractable, you run the risk of marginalizing yourself. “ But on this issue, “I felt that the greater good was to be accomplished by permitting this bill to live and being part of an effort to continue to reshape health care.”
A vegan whose wife is a vegetarian, Kucinich said he talked to the president about a “missing dimension” of the health care discussion, which is “the choices that each person makes that creates health or disease; the choice of diet, the food that we eat, paying attention to nutrition.” The congressman, who has taken heat from across the political spectrum for his vote switch, scoffed at right-wing radio commentators who suggest he got “something” from Obama for his vote, other than “a firm commitment from him to work together” on these broader issues of health care.
Kucinich said he would continue to press for single-payer health plans at the state level, because not-for-profit, government-run health care is likelier to be achieved by the states.
The congressman said that his “concern about the president” is another reason he switched his vote. Although he has opposed Obama on his escalation of the war in Afghanistan, the financial industry bailouts and other issues, “the potential of his presidency is still unfolding. If this bill goes down, it also has an effect on his presidency. ... We have to be careful that we don’t cripple his ability to deal with some of the broader issues that deal with the economy and jobs, education, peace. ...
“But it gets to a point where things lose coherence here. And where the center is not holding anymore. And there’s a level of chaos building that actually works against principles of self-governance, so I’m hopeful that if this passes, we can use this as momentum to get to a bill on a range of concerns. Maybe it means that the Obama administration can hit the reset button and work on economic policy in a way that they haven’t been able to. Maybe it will be a chance to give this presidency a boost so he can go back to help more people get jobs and more people stay in their homes and have a stronger hand in a wider range of things, not only domestically but [in] foreign policy as well. So we’ll see what happens. But in the end, I’m just trying to do the best I can.”
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