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
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
Copyright 2002 The Capital Times