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Kucinich: ‘I’m Just Trying to Do the Best I Can’
Posted on Mar 20, 2010
P.S.: Sorry to interrupt. It sounds like you’re saying that you felt you came to the realization that it was your vote that would have sunk the bill, potentially. Was that expressed to you by the leadership, by the president?
D.K.: Well, it wasn’t only expressed, but it was expressed to me in many different ways, including contacts with congressional leaders and published reports that suggested that the efforts that I was making could create momentum in the direction of killing the bill. Look, I proceed on things always being mindful of what’s happening in the moment and what direction things are going. And I would liken this to driving a car and intending to go a certain route and as you’re driving you hit a roadblock. And you can try to go through the roadblock, and you can go over a cliff. Or you can take a detour and then reconnect with the direction that you ultimately want to go in. And very clearly, this is a detour, but I feel that it’s better to keep moving than to cut and go through a roadblock and rest on a principled position which I continue to hold but which is not in this bill, and which doesn’t have the support in the Congress that it needs. And so I decided to continue to fight for the things that I believe in while at the same time, having a new compromise so we can move the ball so I can keep the possession going, and to preserve the hopes of an ongoing effort towards reform. Again, if the bill goes down, forget any discussion about it. And if it passes without my support, and with my active efforts to defeat it, I’m not going to be given the chance to participate in those efforts. And this isn’t about me, ultimately. I have a responsibility to the people of the district that sent me here not to cling to some ideological purity, although I have very strong commitments and stand for economic justice, and stand for peace, and am willing to challenge groups and others. 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 could lead to something better?” And that’s ultimately where I came down.
P.S.: Well, I think you can tell by Josh’s sniffling that he’s not entirely thrilled. You’ve gotten pressure from other groups that were disappointed with your decision. Josh, do you have anything to ask the congressman?
J.S.: I do have a quick question about the mandating of health care. I know that it’s going to take place in four years, when it’s going to be implemented. How are you going to enforce that, to make sure all Americans have health care? Is that going to be through fines?
D.K.: The bill has some penalty mechanisms in it. And I’m in a difficult position here because the letter of the bill is something that I can’t tell you that I’m excited about. I’m not. But what I see it as, the passage of it would be a breakthrough so that we can continue to work towards a more comprehensive approach. This is not a comprehensive approach; it is not the bill that I wanted. And I’m in a position where I’m either going to be instrumental in blocking any discussions down the road, or help keep something going that I don’t agree with. I’ve never really been in a situation like this that I can recall in my life, where something that I really didn’t like, that I found myself supporting in order to accomplish some better, higher good down the road.
P.S.: Do we run the risk of a situation where people like you try to improve and expand on health care coverage and health care reform and the public says, “Didn’t we already spend a year doing this? Didn’t we just do this?”
D.K.: This is something that will be the work of the rest of our lives, trying to make a health care system more just, more affordable. After the bill passes, I’ll be in touch with single-payer organizations around the country asking them, “What can I do to help their efforts at a state level?” The work of our lifetime will be to make the health care system one in which we cannot just have confidence for one in which every American is given an opportunity to take some measure of responsibility. One of the things I’ve talked about, and I talked to the president about this, too ... a missing dimension of health care, a missing dimension of discussion, is the central element of individual responsibility: of the choices that each person makes that creates health or disease; the choice of diet, the food that we eat, paying attention to nutrition. These are real choices that people make that have real consequences. That’s something that we need to have a broad discussion on, and take America in a new direction on that. And to look at things like children’s nutrition, and Michelle Obama is doing that right now, to make sure that we have a path towards complementary and alternative medicine. Because I know, from my own experience, a change in diet, a change in an approach to medicine, made all the difference in my own life. And I know it does in others, too. The responsibility that I take here is one that requires me to stay in the debate, but now I’m clearly in a position to do it, whether the bill passes or fails. Because no one can say to me that I spent my misgivings, didn’t give every opportunity for a bill to go forward, which is not within the context of a system that I approve of, but which, generally speaking and broadly speaking on health care, is an attempt to bring reform within the context of that for-profit system.
P.S.: When you were meeting with the president or the leadership, were you given any assurances about this kind of work going forward?
D.K.: The president said directly, “I give you my word that I will work with you on these issues,” meaning the broad range of issues that I just articulated, but he did not say, “Work with me on single-payer.” It’s not his cup of tea. But I do think that I have a firm commitment from him to work together on some of the broad areas of health reform, including diet, nutrition, and some of the other things I articulated, as we go down the road. There’s no question about that, that that commitment is there.
J.S.: There’s involvement, right, with your wife and Michelle Obama on eating plant foods?
D.K.: That was a Rush Limbaugh story.
J.S.: She’s supporting George Miller. He has a big thing that’s a push on healthy living?
D.K.: George Miller, Jerry Powers has a bill on nutrition. I’ve had life-long interest in this. Elizabeth is the public affairs director for the Physicians Committee on Responsible Medicine. I don’t believe she’s ever talked to Mrs. Obama about this, but I know she’s been working on that for quite some time. So Elizabeth and I share an interest in health and nutrition. I’m vegan, she’s vegetarian, and we both try to live a life that’s consistent with what we talk about.
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