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A Conversation With Dennis Kucinich
Posted on Jan 6, 2008
By Chris Hedges
Hedges: Do you know John Ralston Saul? “The Unconscious Civilization”?
Hedges: He’s a great philosopher. He writes about the corporate state; he’s Canadian. He talks about how the whole purpose of the corporate state is to disempower citizens. The government, once it’s turned over to corporations, what you then undergo essentially is a coup d’etat in slow motion. Which appears to be what we’re undergoing right now. ...
Kucinich: Are you familiar with what happened to me in Cleveland in 1978?
Square, Site wide
Hedges: Oh, yeah.
Kucinich: You know the story? I was 30 years old when I was elected mayor of Cleveland, 31 when I took office. And Dec. 15, 1978, I was given an ultimatum by the chairman of the largest bank in Ohio, the 33rd largest bank in the country. He told me that I had to sell our city’s municipal electrical system, which serviced a third of the city, provided electricity at anywhere from 20 to 30 percent less than private utility—I had to sell that system to the private utility, thereby giving them a monopoly, or the bank was not going to renew the city’s credit on loans I hadn’t even taken out, $15 million in loans, this was the lead bank. So I was basically being told what the conditions were of my continuing as mayor. I was the youngest person ever elected to be mayor of a big city. And people were predicting all kinds of things for me. I was mayor by the time that Bill Clinton was on his way to becoming governor of Arkansas, youngest governor. So basically they told me, “Look, you sell the system, you’re going to get $50 million worth of new credit, you can do anything you want with it. Get all these programs going. If you don’t, we’re going to put the city in default.” The bank, it turned out, and the next bank, owned two percent of the common stock. Which is a large percentage of common stock of utility. Utility had its deposits in a couple of these banks, and there were firm locking directorates between the banks and the utilities. And so I said, “No,” and this put the city into default. It was an amazing thing. It has never happened in American history. I lost the next election, and in the middle of that there were a couple of clear assassination attempts and a few other things that happened during this period. There is only one American political figure who came to my defense, and that was Ralph Nader. No one else. He was there. Ralph was able to get a subcommittee of the banking committee to do a staff report, which was pretty damning of the banks, and there was a perfunctory hearing about it.
Hedges: Do you share Nader’s pessimism?
Kucinich: I’m not pessimistic.
Hedges: Where is it going to come from? How is the state going to be wrested back?
Kucinich: There has to come a moment of awareness. Something will happen to cause people to become aware of what’s happening, of what’s happened to the government. This is why impeachment is so important. Impeachment would bring up the whole train of abuses that have caused our government to become less democratic. The lies to take us into wars, the eavesdropping, the wiretapping, the rendition, the torture, I mean it all becomes one piece. If people see the whole thing at once, it then creates a kind of awareness that will create some change. I have no doubt about that at all, none whatsoever. What’s happened is that people just see bits and pieces and it is never being tied together. I feel we are losing our democracy to lies that took us into war, lies that caused the destruction of essential civil liberties, lies that are driving us into debt, corruption on Wall Street and a Democratic Party that has lost its will to fight these people.
Hedges: Are we hostage to corporate dollars? Isn’t this the only way you can become president?
Kucinich: It would appear that way, although of course I have taken another path. Are they—whoever “they” are—hostage to corporate dollars? I think that’s fair. Who are they? Well, you have to get the scorecard. I used to go to baseball games when I was a kid. There was a guy who would run up and down the aisles waving scorecards, saying, “Scorecards, scorecards, can’t tell the players without a scorecard.” Each player had a number and you knew their position. In order to know people’s numbers here you have to go to Open Secrets and see who is contributing to them and study their votes. Then you know what position they are playing, and more important than that, you know whose team they are on. To me this is the kind of disclosure that is essential. But let’s go way over that and look at it from up here. This is why we need to change the Constitution and provide for public financing for elections. [Knock on the door.] ... I’ll be back.
[Leaves to cast a vote on the House floor. Returns.]
Kucinich: There is no other Democrat who is advocating a not-for-profit system. I am the only one, and I am the only one with a plan and I am the coauthor of the bill and I have been involved in this for years. In 2000 I took this plan to the Democratic Platform Committee with a group of people from California including Gloria Allred, Tom Hayden, Lila Garret. We offered it. But we were asked not to even offer it by the Gore campaign because that it would be a slap in the face to the interests that were helping the campaign. In 2004 I offered the same proposal to the platform committee and it was rejected again. Now, if there is any issue that the Democratic Party could establish itself on, in the same way FDR established the Democratic Party with the New Deal, the Democratic Party as a party could reestablish as a party of workers and small business in a single stroke by standing firmly as a party for single-payer, not-for-profit health care. The party refuses to do it. There are 83 members of the House that have signed onto the bill HR 676, but the fact that the Congress ... I was the coauthor of the bill. ... Here again this is one of those areas as president my positions run contrary to the rest of the Democratic field, but also my own party.
Hedges: What about the war? This is what gave the Democrats control again.
Kucinich: No question about it.
Hedges: And yet they have failed. That was their mandate.
Kucinich: Look at this: In October of 2002 the Democrats counseled in a telephone conference with our leaders in which we were told that the election of 2006 was about three things: Iraq, Iraq and Iraq. The ads attacking Republicans were replete with references to the war and the Democrats sensed from the polls indicating a shift in public opinion against the war, campaigned against the war, elected House and Senate because of the war, and yet it wasn’t one month after that victory was achieved because of the war that the Democrats gathered in a conference and declared that has a party we were going to continue to fund the war.
Kucinich: The ostensible reason given was to support our troops, which is so transparent a dodge that it borders on the obscene. I walked out of that meeting and knew I had to run for president again. I knew it.
Hedges: When was that meeting?
Kucinich: The second week of December, maybe the 6th or the 8th, somewhere in there.
Hedges: To what do you attribute this decision? It has to be counterproductive to Democratic interests.
Kucinich: I think there has been a serious loss of confidence in the Democratic Party over the last year. It has been interpreted as a decline of confidence in Congress, but in truth, since the Democrats took control of Congress, it’s a decline of confidence in the Democratic Party itself.
Hedges: Why did they lose their nerve?
Kucinich: One of the things you have to remember, and this is where ... I don’t think anyone has done this research ... but it is my impression that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the Democratic primaries in 2006 more often than not opted to support candidates who were either neutral or supported the war. You have two waves here. You have the primary, of going for candidates who were either neutral or supported the war. Most of them won their primaries. And then you had the next wave, which was an anti-war wave. ... [T]he paradox was that a Democratic Congress was elected that was less congenial to ending the war than the Congress before it. Most people don’t understand that. How that could happen? Now, that doesn’t mean, however, that the leaders would have to follow that direction. The leaders could say, “Look, we are going in a new direction.” You have to remember what happened to the Democrats in 2002. It was Dick Gephardt who stood next to George Bush and gave him the OK for war. Most people thought the Democrats OK’d the war. Well, in the House they didn’t. Two-thirds of the Democrats in the House voted against the war. I know because I led the effort. In the Senate they could have stopped it because they controlled the Senate. They didn’t do it. You had Edwards and Clinton in the Senate at the time and Biden and Dodd. Any one of them could have held up the war. They didn’t do it. They all went in with it.
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