Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s St. Patrick Day’s announcement he’d vote for the Democrats’ pending healthcare legislation exposes that this so-called “progressive” is no St. Patrick driving out the snakes of insurance companies, Big Pharma, etc., but in reality just another phony liberal leprechaun. Kucinich had voted against the measure in November and remained a holdout because it didn’t include a single-payer Medicare-for-all system. But Kucinich’s March 17 capitulation two days after flying with President Obama aboard Air Force One to his Ohio district reveals Kucinich’s true colors and shows he’s running true to form. Kucinich’s eyebrow-raising healthcare flip-flop, like his presidential campaigns, raises the question: How Left is Left?
On December 9, 2008, as California’s February 5 Democratic primary neared, candidate Kucinich went to the cash cow Golden State, attending a fundraiser in an upscale Santa Monica home. Gore Vidal, arguably America’s preeminent man of letters, was the event’s celebrity draw. Progressive Democrats of America’s Advisory Board Chair Mimi Kennedy (who played a character named after Abbie Hoffman on ABC’s Dharma & Greg and appeared in 2009’s antiwar satire In the Loop), Lydia Cornell (who co-starred with Ted Knight on the Too Close for Comfort sitcom) and openly gay L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl also attended.
Kucinich, who was then proposing impeaching President Bush, told the crowd: “We understand the urgency… that our democratic principles are being destroyed… and have an obligation to do something about it. My candidacy is really not just a restoration… but it’s really about American evolution, about evolving beyond the conditions which tolerated preemptive war, unilateralism, first strike. Beyond… American imperia or Pax Americana… Human unity is the antithesis of a ‘War on Terror’… We stand for international law… [and] basic rights in a democratic society to healthcare, education and employment.”
Highfaluting words indeed. Towards the end of the fundraiser in the venue’s kitchen I approached the contender and his aide, requesting an interview. After Kucinich agreed, I began: “If your candidacy is not successful and the corporate wing of the Democratic Party --” Like any politician seeking spin control he icily cut me off, asserting: “I’m not going there. I’m not talking about my campaign not being successful.”
During his onstage discussion with Vidal, Kucinich had groused about “This issue of viability. I hear all over the country: ‘Boy, we love you Dennis but you can’t win’… There is this presidential sweepstakes… it’s already occurred in the media, where they’ve anointed two people. And if anyone else tries to break that consensus, shame on you, or you’re a non-person.”
I can understand how annoying it must be to be constantly bombarded with negativism, and to have to constantly defend your constitutional right to run for office, instead of answering questions about the issues. But as a First Amendment stalwart, I hate it when any politico tries to control the press, so I pressed on, asking:
“Would you favor the Kucinich wing of the Democratic Party splitting off and joining with independents to create a new progressive party?” He responded: “Right now, I’m thinking about unity, not division. We need to unite to redefine the Democratic Party, so that it isn’t a party of complicity in war… and destruction of our civil liberties. We need the Democratic Party to be a true second party, instead of a pathetic mimicry of another party. We need the Democratic Party to show up and be Democratic.”
Although Kucinich’s sidekick tried to stop me from asking a follow-up, the candidate did anyway. “You used the phrase ‘a workers’ White House’ in one debate. Do you think there’s any place for… socialism in America?” Kucinich responded: “You know what? I think we need a government that stands for education… healthcare… jobs for all. To me, that’s a Democratic government. I gotta go right now.”
As it turned out, the candidate doth protested too much. Shortly after the Santa Monica fundraiser and before the California primary -- around half a year before the Democratic National Convention! -- Kucinich dropped out of the presidential race. I don’t know if the 200 Californians at Santa Monica received refunds for their campaign donations.
One of the Democratic faithful, in 2008 Kucinich refused to consider leaving a party he himself condemned, even if its reactionary and centrist elements prevailed. Two years later, once again putting party before progress, principles and the people, this loyal organization man sold out on healthcare. Declining to break with capitalism, Kucinich prefers to reform it. What did Kucinich get in exchange for his backtracking? Reportedly, face time with Obama four times, including twice on Air Force One’s roundtrip to Ohio, and more media coverage than he probably got during his ’08 prez race, when most of the press overlooked his candidacy and Kucinich was even excluded from a presidential debate.
Among Kucinich’s rationalizations for reversing his position and once again not sticking it out is that a defeat of the pending healthcare legislation would weaken the presidency of Obama. You know, the guy who had so much political capital after he won the November 2008 election that deluded buffoons likened him to Abraham Lincoln even before he served a single day in office, and who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize shortly after his inauguration.
In those heady days when he was being compared to the Great Emancipator, who kept the Union together and ended slavery, Obama decided to first spend his political capital not on health reform, but instead on escalating the war in Afghanistan. Unlike closing Gitmo, this is the one major campaign pledge Obama has kept, as this military-industrial-complex tool raised the already much bloated Pentagon budget; proposed caps on discretionary spending – except for the military (precisely the most wasteful federal spending), and also spit in the face of the Nobel committee with an acceptance speech at Oslo that justified war and U.S. imperialism. Perhaps, if Obama had focused on healthcare instead of warfare, rather than a year of wrangling about a watered down bill minus even a public option, Americans could receive the universal coverage most civilized peoples afford their citizens.
So, if Kucinich was the Democrats’ most left-leaning presidential candidate (with the possible exception of former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel), how Left is Left? Americans of all stripes are sick and tired of Washington and the tyrannical duopoly governing and controlling our limited political process. Democrats’ inability to provide Americans with the healthcare tiny, underdeveloped Cuba has afforded its citizenry (as well as many overseas nations through aid programs) for 50 years, and Kucinich’s healthcare sellout, are further proof we need to think outside of the two party box. Kucinich denounced the bill even as he announced he was voting for it, but this holding your nose while you vote for the lesser of two evils is precisely what’s wrong with U.S. politics today, and why evil prevails.
Americans on the Right and Left are beginning to go beyond the two-party trap, with the Tea Party and now the Coffee Party, which may become a true people’s alternative. But only if the Coffee Party genuinely remains independent of the Democratic Party, which, as 2004 Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb pointed out, and Kucinich’s caving in once again illustrates, is “where progressive ideas go to die.” Anybody who thinks the Democrats will provide any real reform like healthcare is delusional. Kucinich speaks of “American evolution” when what we need is American revolution. It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.
Ed Rampell was named after legendary CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow. Rampell is a L.A.-based film critic/historian and author. Michael Moore is on the cover of Rampell’s book Progressive Hollywood, A People’s Film History of the United States.