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Bold Kucinich Leaves Tepid Dems Behind
Published on Tuesday, August 13, 2002 in the Madison Capital Times
Bold Kucinich Leaves Tepid Dems Behind
by John Nichols
 

Dennis Kucinich is using his summer vacation to stir up working people across America. Come fall, he might just find that he is a serious contender for the Democratic nomination for president in 2004.

Indeed, while every Democrat who is even pondering a presidential run angled for a prime speaking slot at this week's Iowa AFL-CIO dinner - in hopes that the right message will kick-start their campaigns in that state's critical caucuses - Kucinich has been awarded the coveted keynoter spot. Later this month, he'll address the conventions of the United Steelworkers and Service Employees unions.

None of this means that the labor movement is ready to throw its considerable weight behind a still relatively obscure congressman from Cleveland. But it does suggest that Kucinich, whose passionate defense of workers' rights, civil liberties and sensible foreign policies recalls William Jennings Bryan more than it does most contemporary politicians, is certainly getting noticed.

Kucinich is in some senses an unlikely Democratic presidential prospect. He has cast votes against abortion rights protections, he has an intensely spiritual side and he is entirely unafraid of speaking his mind and standing his ground - even when it costs him politically. The former mayor of Cleveland was forced out of office at the dawn of the 1980s Reagan era when he refused to buckle under pressure from bankers and corporate power brokers who wanted to privatize the city's municipal utilities.

After Kucinich lost he was written off as a political ghost. But in the mid-1990s, he returned to haunt the corporate interests that had driven him from office more than a decade earlier. In 1994, Kucinich won a seat in the Ohio legislature as one of the few Democratic challengers to prevail in that Republican landslide year. Two years later, in 1996, he beat a Republican congressman and headed for Washington.

Unlike most politicians who suffer early in their careers, however, Kucinich did not come back cautious. Rather, the current chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus may well be the boldest member of the current Congress.

His courage was on display earlier this year when, in a speech to the Southern California chapter of Americans for Democratic Action, the congressman delivered the speech heard round the world. At a time when few members of Congress were willing to challenge a president with 90 percent approval ratings in the polls or that president's military adventuring abroad, Kucinich dared to demand that the United States stop and reflect on strategies that had led to the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians in Afghanistan, inflamed tensions in the Middle East, estranged the United States from European allies and undermined constitutional rights at home.

The talk of a Kucinich presidential run started after that speech, as dissenters from the Bush administration's military and economic policies hailed him as one of the few Democrats who was willing to challenge not just a popular president but the direction in which the nation was headed.

Whether Kucinich actually makes a run, and whether that run draws the support of powerful unions, remains a big "if." But there is no question that the congressman will continue to be the sort of outspoken dissenter from a dreary status quo that his party desperately needs.

"I believe the world is a profoundly creative place where we can turn war into peace, where we can turn famine into plenty, where we can turn fear into hope. But that does require us to speak up," says the Cleveland Democrat. "When we limit ourselves to the fears of the moment, we often miss opportunities to change the whole debate."

Copyright 2002 The Capital Times

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