By Joshua Scheer
The six-term Ohio congressman and 2004 presidential candidate, who has been one of Congress’ most vocal and longstanding opponents of the Iraq war, tells Truthdig why he again has his sights set on the Oval Office:
Rep. Kucinch spoke with Truthdig research editor Joshua Scheer*.
TRUTHDIG: What made you decide to run?
KUCINICH: Someone has to rally the American people, to let them know that the money is there right now to bring our troops home. Democrats were put in power in November to chart a new direction in Iraq. It’s inconceivable that having been given the constitutional responsibility to guide the fortunes of America in a new direction, that Democratic leaders would respond by supporting the administration’s call for up to $160 billion in new funding for the war in Iraq.
For me this is a call of conscience to stand up and speak out about what’s going on—to let the American people know that the money is there to bring our troops home now, that we need to begin now to take a new direction in Iraq, and that to pass a supplemental in the spring for another $160 billion would keep the war going until the end of George Bush’s term. Someone needs to stand up and speak out, and I decided it was my responsibility as the person who has been consistently opposed to this war since its inception, who has been a leader in challenging this thinking that led to war, that I would stand up and rally Democrats to change the course that the party has embarked on with respect to continued funding of the war.
TRUTHDIG: This is obviously your major issue, but what other issues are you going to base your campaign on?
KUCINICH: We have to take these things in sequence. From now until the spring, this is the issue: $160 billion is more than three times what the federal education budget is. This is a huge amount of money, and all the other hopes we have as Democrats to create a new agenda for the American people in housing, in healthcare, in education, are going to be destroyed by the administration’s request for $160 billion.
So does that mean I’m a one-issue candidate? Of course not. I’m prepared to lead this country forward to create a universal, single-payer, not-for-profit healthcare system. I’m prepared to lead the way towards policies of environmental sustainability, to develop advanced technologies for alternative energy, for clean energy.
This campaign is about three imperatives: It’s about the imperative of human unity, of recognizing that this is one world, that we are all one, that people all around the world have an underlying connection, that we are interconnected and interdependent. And we need policies that act that interconnection. We need to affirm institutions which support the idea of human unity. And that means that we support the United Nations. It means we support treaties in working with other countries. It means we support the rule of law internationally.
The second imperative is human security, and that security has to deal with basic needs: Each person in the world has a right to survive, a right to food that is fit to eat, and water fit to drink, and air fit to breathe. Each person has a right to a roof over his or her own head. Each person has a right to have clothes on their back. Each person has a right to some means of being able to make a living. Each person has a right to be free of the fear of violence. We have a responsibility to work to secure the world from a nuclear nightmare. We need to look at what we can do to protect peoples everywhere by working for not just nonproliferation, not just disarmament, but nuclear abolition, which in fact was the promise of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The third imperative I’ll discuss in this campaign is the imperative of peace. There are those who believe that war is inevitable. A belief in the inevitability of war makes war a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need to be convinced in our innate capability to create structures for peace in our society. We need to be convinced of our potential as a nation to make nonviolence an operating principle in our society. This is the motivating reason behind a Cabinet-level Department of Peace, which addresses directly, in a practical way, the challenge of domestic violence, spousal abuse, child abuse, violence in the school, racial violence, violence against gays, community relations disputes.
The imperatives of human unity, human security, peace, all create a context for human prosperity. We have the potential to create heaven on earth. New Jerusalem is within our reach. It’s waiting to be called forward through the power of courage, emanating through our hearts, through our dreams, which come from the longing of our souls. This truly is a time where we can change the world and create the world that we long for.
TRUTHDIG: You obviously have issues that you care deeply about, and it doesn’t seem like you’re going into this as a sort of popularity contest, but do you think you can win? Do you have a plan to win, say, the South, and parts of the Midwest?
KUCINICH: Yes. The very fact the people put Democrats in power in November over the issue of Iraq means that there exists a tremendous amount of support for affirming the will of the people to set a new course, not only for Iraq but for all of U.S. international policy. That percolation, which resulted in the Democrats gaining control of Congress, is still there. It is fairly astonishing that Democrat leaders would forget that only a month ago we were given the control of the Congress because of Iraq. It is fairly astonishing that less than a month after being given that constitutional obligation to assume a coequal position in the government, [we] would capitulate on Iraq by publicly declaring support for up to $160 billion in additional funding to keep the war going.
I’ve said it before, I’ve said it again: It is not credible to simultaneously say you are opposed to the war and continue to support funding for the war.
So these are some of the reasons why I’m running for president. And I believe that I will win, because people are truly looking for a new direction. Not by incrementalism, not by capitulation, but people are looking for real leadership, people are looking for foresight. And I’ve demonstrated foresight by moving out front very quickly when the administration was talking about attacking Iraq—warning the country that this was folly, warning the country that we needed to avert this conflict, letting Americans know that there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 or Al Qaeda’s role in 9/11, that Iraq did not have WMD, did not have the intention or capability of attacking the United States.
Everything I said turned out to be true. People want leaders who know what the right thing is to do in the moment of crisis, not people who will say, years later, “Well, you know, I agree, this is what should have been done.” This is a call for clearsightedness for foresight and for action, and in each case I’ve demonstrated an ability to step forward. And I’m going to do it again, and I expect that the American people are going to respond very powerfully to my candidacy.
TRUTHDIG: John Kerry got tarred with the “flip-flopper” label in 2004 for his perceived wavering on the issue of Iraq. Do you think you’re going to have a better chance than someone like Kerry—or Clinton, who’s also been wishy-washy on some of the issues?
KUCINICH: I haven’t talked about any other candidates, and I’m not going to now. I think that my consistency speaks for itself, and I think that my opposition not only to the authorization for the war but continued opposition to its funding puts me apart from all the other candidates. I’m the only member of the House and Senate who has consistently voted against continued funding for the war.
TRUTHDIG: I saw Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institute on CNN saying that candidacies like yours are just an ego trip. Is this an ego trip for you?
KUCINICH: I’ve spent the last five years of my life warning our nation about the path to war and about our occupation of Iraq. There are probably easier ways to pamper oneself.
*Truthdig interviewer Joshua Scheer worked as an entry-level staffer on Kucinich’s state Senate campaign and was later a summer associate in his congressional office. In this weekly interview series, Rep. Kucinich gives his take on the goings-on in Congress in the wake of the Democrats’ victory.
AP / Luke Palmisano
Rep. Dennis Kucinich at a 2005 speech in Lakewood, Ohio.