If Americans can look beyond the political theater of the current lame-duck Congress and the uneasy prospect of Republicans taking over Capitol Hill come January, they could begin to restore a badly broken democracy, says former congressman and two-time presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich.
"When you go across the country and talk to people, there's reason to be hopeful," Kucinich told Common Dreams this week. "But the hope is not in a partisan solution. That's a demonstrated fallacy of our national experience in the last few decades."
The former U.S. Representative from Ohio elaborated on comments he made in the wake of the 2014 midterm elections, in which he criticized President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party for blowing a "historic opportunity" to enact real change in the United States and around the world.
"If the president had gone to the people with a powerful legislative agenda that would have created jobs, saved peoples homes, increased wages, provided for child care and a ringing defense of Social Security, and really carried forth the spirit of the New Deal—the country was ready for that."
"Everyone remembers the autumn of 2008 when it seemed as though we had tapped into a new spirit of the times, one that was very upbeat, hopeful, even transformative," Kucinich said. "You could just feel that the United States was on the threshold of something that was new, unique, and promising of great things. When President Obama took office he had a Democratic House and Democratic Senate. And even more than that, he had the American people. He was in a singular position to be able to appeal to the American people to rally around a program of dramatic economic change... If the president had gone to the people with a powerful legislative agenda that would have created jobs, saved peoples homes, increased wages, provided for child care and a ringing defense of Social Security, and really carried forth the spirit of the New Deal—the country was ready for that."
"We could have taken a new direction in the world," he continued. "The world was ready in 2008 for an America that was neither bellicose nor plotting, but rather cooperative and law-abiding."
Instead, the country is grappling with rampant income inequality, involvement in endless war, stagnant wages and ballooning debt, overpowering corporate influence in elections, and near-constant infringement on civil liberties. As such, Kucinich noted, "It's fair for the American people to ask, 'what in the world happened?'"
"The debacle of 2014 had its roots in 2006," he explained, referencing the Democratic takeover of both the U.S. House and Senate during the final midterm election of the Bush presidency. "Here we are, 8 years later: more war, government which has turned into a national security state, an economy that has decoupled itself from Main Street, and America's position in the world—again, a nation on the war path. I don't care where you go and talk to people, individually or in small groups—as I've been doing—you find apprehension about where we're at, and you find a sharp contrast between the security which is defined across the land as human security, and security that is defined as guns and exotic weapons inside the Beltway."
Kucinich and his wife Elizabeth, who serves as policy director at the Center for Food Safety, spent several weeks this fall traveling the country in an effort to start a national conversation about those different types of security. The series of public discussions was framed as a chance to "redefine national security from 9/11 to 11/11"—from a day of terror to a day of peace (November 11 was Armistice Day, on which the world marks the end of World War I).
Along the way, he said, they encountered a deep-seated disillusionment with the powers that be. Years of anti-war mobilization brought nothing but more war and new invasions. Widespread desires to get big money out of politics were thwarted by Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United that Kucinich describes as "among the worst decisions by the court ever." And despite the increasing visibility of the climate movement, "destruction of natural world continues unabated."
"We have to get the connection between peace and prosperity. War brings increased debt, death, and destruction. The only ones who prosper are the arms industries and war profiteers."
"The effort needed to engender hope is often stilled by massive disappointment," he said. "We have been led down a dark rabbit hole and we haven't come out of it. And with that move of the nation down the rabbit hole went the anti-war movement. It just disappeared. It's not that people are for war, but in a way, even the semantic construction of 'anti-war' is no longer useful. This isn't simply a matter of rebranding; it's a matter of a deeper analytical inspection of what we desire. If we desire peace, then we have to reclaim the mantle of bearers of the light of peace—and not simply, 'these people are anti-war.'"
The longtime peace activist, whose presidential campaign platform included creating a cabinet-level Department of Peace, is now promoting a paradigm shift: "First of all, we have to get the connection between peace and prosperity," he said. "War brings increased debt, death, and destruction. The only ones who prosper are the arms industries and war profiteers."
Eventually, he believes the tides will turn: "As the system continues to fail to deliver to the American people, more and more people will see that it's just broken. There'll be more of a readiness to bring about the dramatic change that needs to occur."
And for those who already understand those truths, the task is to spread the word, Kucinich advised. "We have to start talking about peace and not be misled about what peace represents. That's where a new national discussion needs to be achieved. We must not cede, to the forces of destruction, the future of our country."