‘New Age’ candidate for the Democratic nomination
An interview with Dennis Kucinich
In a recent interview, Mother Jones magazine described Dennis Kucinich
as a political animal who kept his personal life hidden from the public.
But as I sat in the campaign van with the Democratic presidential candidate
Thursday (Dec. 4) during his drive from Ann Arbor to East Lansing, where
a fired-up crowd of 200 awaited him, I found this stereotype to be furthest
from the truth. In addition to discussing his platform, Kucinich showed
me the box of books he is reading, shared his thoughts on religion,
and even shared his hummus lunch with me.
In his political life, the 57-year old politician told me he has never
“conformed” to political or corporate pressures. Kucinich
first gained national prominence in 1977 when he was elected mayor of
Cleveland at 31, the youngest mayor ever elected in a major American
Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, a candidate for the Democratic presidential
nomination, holds up a copy of a book he is reading as he travels
to Lansing for a campaign appearance.
campaign platform, he promised to save the city’s struggling Municipal
Light Co. When the utility company’s private competitor tried
to force the city to sell, Mayor Kucinich refused. In response, the
banks cut off the city’s credit, and the City of Cleveland went
into default. In 1979, Kucinich lost his bid for re-election.
During a 15-year departure from politics, Kucinich worked as a TV commentator,
media consultant, college instructor and public utility consultant.
He also lived for a while at actress Shirley MacLaine’s retreat
in Malibu (the actress is the godmother to his 2-year-old daughter,
Jackie), where he says he learned to expand his horizons and developed
a more “holistic” perspective of life.
Kucinich re-launched his political career in 1993 with the campaign
symbol of a light bulb, and the slogan “Because he was right!”
He won his seat in the Ohio state Senate in 1994, and two years later
was elected to Congress. The Cleveland City Council later honored him
for “having the courage and foresight to refuse to sell the city’s
municipal electric system,” and saving ratepayers more than $100
As co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Democratic
candidate has opposed President George W. Bush’s request for an
additional $87 billion budget to spend on the occupation of Iraq. He
has also criticized the administration’s plans for reductions
of civil liberties following 9/11. Kucinich is against the Bush administration’s
plans for further tax reductions for big business and its efforts to
cut spending on health and the environment.
On Feb. 7, Kucinich is running in the Democratic primary in Michigan.
proposed a 90-day plan to end the occupation of Iraq. Can you give more
First, that the U.S. will turn over to the United Nations the handing
of all oil assets to Iraq, until the Iraqi people become self-determining.
No. 2 is that the U.S. will turn over the handing of the oil contracts,
because we don’t want to continue war-profiteering and sweetheart
deals with contracts going to administration-favored firms. No. 3 is
that the U.S. would give up its ambition to privatize the Iraqi economy.
No. 4 is that the U.S. will put in the hands of the U.N. the power to
develop a structure for governance in Iraq.
For five months, the president of Michigan State University, Peter McPherson,
was financial coordinator for the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian
Assistance in Iraq, helping to privatize the economy. What’s your
Perhaps he is unaware that no nation has the right to go into another
nation, chop it up, and then sell it to the highest bidders. That action
is a violation of international law. It’s a violation of the Hague
and Geneva conventions.
Of the nine people now running for Democratic Party nomination, you
are the only one to have voted against the current war in Iraq. Why
didn’t you conform?
Conforming to a lie? I’m not bound to do this, just because there
are many people who agree with something that’s a lie. That’s
a matter of intellectual integrity!
Didn’t you face pressure to authorize Bush’s request for
You know what the real pressure is in life? The pressure you feel when
going against your conscience. I have never felt that kind of pressure.
One of your ideas has been to create of a Department of Peace. Could
you give more details?
We will work in our society to make non-violence an organizing principle.
This is an aim derived from principles in the life of Dr. Martin Luther
King, Mahatma Gandhi, and others. We can do this by setting up programs
in our schools, with our community groups, supporting non-governmental
organizations, and working for peace in the community. The Department
of Peace would also address serious challenges we have in our society
relating to peace in our homes — spouse abuse, child abuse —
and to come up with programs that help families deal with these difficulties.
We’d also look at issues such as racial violence, violence against
gays, and police/community relations.
Do you want to replace the Pentagon?
The Department of Peace would make it less likely that we need to employ
armed forces, because peace has a force of its own. It would be not
only a counterbalance, but also a diversion away from war, on an international
level. It would create conditions for non-violent conflict resolutions,
for mediation, and for the possibility of intervention before things
percolate into violence. It would look at issues of scarcity, poverty,
draught and famine, and all of those things that create preconditions
for war. There is no function within our government like that right
After Sept. 11, U.S. residents suspected of sympathizing with terrorism
have reported experiencing repressive government actions. Some people
weren’t allowed to fly — others have been arrested, or even
deported. How many people do you know of who’ve had such experiences?
My congressional office hears from people all the time who have been
subject to the kind of treatment you describe. As president of the United
States I will move immediately to send the Justice Department to Federal
Court to nullify the USA Patriot Act as being inherently unconstitutional.
I’ve already introduced legislation in the House of Representatives
to overturn the Patriot Act, and I voted against it when it was first
Earlier this year, the 2000 Green Party candidate, Ralph Nader, said
he wouldn’t run for president if you or Howard Dean were nominated.
Did you consult with Nader or the Green Party leadership about your
In every city I go to, Greens come to my events. We talk about our mutual
commitments to a sustainable environment, to a government that is responsive,
and I’m very grateful to have the help of many Greens in my campaign.
However, in some states the question of ballot access becomes critical.
My ability to win the White House is in no small way connected to my
ability to bring in to the voting booths Greens, Natural Law Party,
Reform Party, and Libertarians, who ordinarily would not vote for the
Democratic candidate. Any Democrat is good for 47 percent of the vote
in the critical states. But none of the other candidates could help
the party get the 3 percent that takes you over the top. If the Democrats
really want to win the White House, they need to go with somebody who
has the ability to inspire those who ordinarily would stay away from
the picture. That’s why I can win.
The historian Eric Hobsbawm recently wrote that the United States, in
its public life, “is a country that is geared to operate with
mediocrities, because it has been rich and powerful enough to do so.”
Do you agree?
I think we are at the threshold of a new era, where more people are
aware of the importance of having an American leader who has the ability
to reach to the community of nations — someone, who sets aside
anger, aggression, and greed — and really looks to connect with
the world community. I think Americans want someone who has a broad
understanding of how institutions can be put into the service of humanity,
instead of into the service of the economic interest of a few. Look
at how our government now seems nothing less than a service station
for wealthy interest groups. Look at how the international institutions,
such as the IMF, WTO, NAFTA, and the proposed Free Trade Agreement of
the Americas, facilitate the coalescing of economic power for a few.
An American president who recognized the inequities that exist in the
world, and who wasn’t committed to those multinational interests
who are based in this country, would find enormous good will in this
country and around the world from a great mass of people.
Mother Jones recently characterized you as a political anima who does
not share his personal life with the public “Ask him about the
last book he’s read, he’ll draw a blank.” Now I’d
like to ask you exactly this.
I’m currently reading a book by George Monbiot about corporate
dominance. I’m carrying sacks of books with me all the time. I’ve
got a book by Gore Vidal about “Inventing A Nation,” and
Emery Reeves’ “Anatomy of Peace.” (Kucinich reaches
to a suitcase behind him and pulls out half a dozen books, including
a copy of Vidal’s book, personally dedicated to him).
During the mid 1980s you lived in the desert in New Mexico, and for
a while at the actress Shirley MacLaine’s house in Malibu. What
can a politician learn from New Age philosophies?
What some people call “New Age” is really a discovery of
ancient principles of human awareness, of understanding the connection
which all people have to one another. What’s so new about a belief
in arts and culture, and the unfolding of human potential? It’s
In his recent book, “The Roaring Nineties: Seeds of Destruction,”
the Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz blames Bill Clinton
as much for the economic misery as he blames George W. Bush. Have you
read his book?
Of course, I have it. I also have the “Soul of Capitalism.”
Stiglitz is one of the first Nobel laureates who really understood the
flaws of the global economy. Bill Clinton took his economic advice from
Wall Street. Where do you go with that? You go to whatever facilitates
growth of the markets. You don’t look at the concentration of
wealth issues, because the markets must grow. You don’t look at
the fact that there’s vertical and horizontal integration occurring
in the energy sector, that the agriculture sector is run by six different
companies. You don’t look at the fact that the decline of the
manufacturing base is a long-term destructive economic effect on America’s
ability to have a viable middle class, and you don’t look at the
fact that a burgeoning trade deficit saps the long-term economic vitality
of America. Bill Clinton was a remarkably skilled politician, and yet
he made a wrong turn. He was able to create a surplus, but a surplus
doesn’t equal a basis for economic opportunity for all the people
in the country. As a matter of fact, where was the emphasis? It was
on cutting back welfare. That was his big mission.
During the last presidential election,
Gov. Jeb Bush ordered local elections supervisors to purge 57,700 voters
from registries. Are you concerned about the integrity of vote counts?
Kucinich: All Americans should be concerned. Florida was a wake-up call
for what this administration is capable of. With the help of the Supreme
Court they stole the election, after 9/11 they lied and attacked a nation
which did not attack us. We’re clearly occupying that nation,
and what this administration has procured, it will chop the nation into
pieces, for the highest bidder. They passed the Patriot Act, creating
a climate of fear that evacuates our constitutional freedom. Would you
trust these guys with an election? This group is unlike anything we’ve
ever faced in American governance.
Any comment on your post-election plans?
One of the reasons why I’ve been successful in life — in
achieving things that other people thought were impossible — is
that I don’t dissipate my emotional, mental or spiritual energies
by countering conditions that are contrary to that which I aspire.
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