Did Dennis Kucinich Sell Out Anti-War Democrats?

Democratic Party delegates supporting presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich struck a deal this weekend with representatives of John Kerry over the Party's stance on the Iraq war. The deal happened this weekend at the Democratic Party Platform convention in Miami. Kucinich's delegates withdrew their proposal for a quick withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

The critical paragraph was worked out in negotiations led by Sandy Berger, who was President Bill Clinton's national security adviser.

It pledges to remove American troops "when appropriate so that the military support needed by a sovereign Iraqi government will no longer be seen as the direct continuation of an American military presence."

Ana Dias, the chief sponsor of the pullout proposal, said Kucinich had called off his forces. Dias is a delegate from Hawaii and she told The New York Times she was "terribly disappointed" not to get a vote on the issue, but added, "We do want to be unified."

Berger characterized those he was negotiating with as "a group of people who want to win." Berger added, "We didn't give up anything."

The platform retains a sentence that the antiwar delegates originally found objectionable stating that "people of good will disagree about whether America should have gone to war in Iraq."

  • Rep. Dennis Kucinich, U.S. Congressman from Ohio and a Democratic presidential candidate.

AMY GOODMAN: We're joined right now by the democratic presidential candidate, Ohio Congressmember Dennis Kucinich. Welcome to Democracy Now!.


AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Well, what about the charge that your delegates-- that you backed down because you didn't want to have a platform fight over what many considered a key peace plank in the platform that they wanted to get in.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, I still consider the withdrawal from Iraq as being central not only to America's security, but to peace in the world. However, we didn't have the votes to be successful in a platform fight. You know, we barely had enough to start the discussion. I've carried this campaign in challenging the war for two and a half years. But there comes a point where we have to realize, whether we have the votes or not, to be able to prevail in insisting on our point of view, or if we're going to create a rupture that would make it impossible for a Democrat to be elected president. You know, I think what we were able to do was get some recognition from the Party, of the urgency of not maintaining a long-term commitment to Iraq, and it's a step in the right direction. It is not everything we wanted by any means. But it manages to do two things. We carried the fight as far as we could in the Platform Committee, and we're intending to participate in helping to elect a new president, and our efforts are going to continue to try to guide the United States to a more constructive policy in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Sandy Berger, who negotiated this agreement, was quoted saying, "we didn't give up anything."

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, I think, you know, you could take that literally or you could also take it as we do, and that is that we didn't insist that they had to adopt our language. If we did, we were looking at a platform fight. But we still had to marshall dozens of votes in order to be successful in even getting a minority plank. And our people who were at Miami and contacting delegates, didn't see that there was enough support to be able to do that. So, the question is, you know, do we face the reality of what we have with the political terrain being as it is, or do we move forward and create a break that could make it difficult to get a Democrat elected president? And frankly, Amy, I think that when all is said and done, John Kerry is immeasurably better than George Bush and it's not even a close comparison. And while I'm going to remain to have differences with the Democratic Party, and with John Kerry, I think those differences are not insurmountable and we can move ahead and continue the debate within the Democratic Party and continue to try to reshape policy. There's no hope to do that if George Bush gets re-elected president.

AMY GOODMAN: We're many months away from the actual election. Many people see this time as time to put pressure on the Democratic candidate on a number of issues, that he has changed his position on many issues and that they can force him to take a tougher line. For example, on the issue of the invasion, one that he supported in the Senate. You always were against the war. You were very clear about that.


AMY GOODMAN: But what does that mean if--

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I haven't changed -- Amy, I have not changed my position one iota. I think it's important to understand that. At the same time, what we're able to achieve inside the Democratic Platform Committee is an altogether different thing. So, you know, I know that there's still a great distance to go before the Democratic Party and John Kerry will have policies that are going to be satisfactory to me. But I also know that there comes a time where we have to realize the implications of what happens if we continue to say that, you know, if you don't adopt a withdrawal strategy, you are not going to have our support. I think that's, you know, that's a very dangerous proposition in terms of the fact that we have an administration that lied to get us into a war, and you can't -- you know, you can't pin that war on the Democrats. This was a -- you know, there are Democrats who voted for it. That's true. And John Kerry was one of them. And I'm going to do everything I can to keep trying to influence a new direction for the Party. But we didn't have the votes inside the platform. So, the question is, do we -- you know, do we create a fight that there's just no support for winning inside the Party?

AMY GOODMAN: But if you're concerned about Democrats winning in November, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, by a margin of 56-38%, people who identify themselves as Democrat, say United States troops should leave Iraq as soon as possible, even if Iraq is not completely stable. And not stay in Iraq as long as it takes to make sure Iraq is a stable democracy.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I know that position well because I've been out in the country continuing to promote that position. And I've done it for the last two and a half years. And I continue to do it. There's a difference between, you know, what I'm doing and have continued to do, and what we are able to achieve in the Democratic platform. I tried and my representatives did everything they could to try to get a platform plank that would call for immediate withdrawal from Vietnam-- excuse me, yeah, here we are -- from Iraq. But we weren't able to prevail. And so, you know, we made the effort. The question is, what are we going to do next? We'll continue our efforts to continue to insist that the Democrats take a new direction. And I think it would be politically beneficial to do so, as well as being the, you know, the correct thing to do for this country and the world.

AMY GOODMAN: What are your plans now? Will you remain a presidential candidate?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, you know, my candidacy ends in two weeks with John Kerry formally receiving the nomination. You know, I've taken this campaign on from, you know, early last year all way through to this moment and I've kept the cause of peace, health care, fair trade, civil liberties, uppermost in the minds of people across the country. I'm going to conclude that effort formally as a candidate at the Convention. But I am going to continue to remain active in advocating those same positions within the Democratic Party. Amy, I had to make a decision, whether I want to, you know, stay a Democrat and continue to work within the Party or go in a different direction. And I still maintain that there's plenty of opportunities to try to shift the Democratic Party in a more constructive direction and I'm going to continue my efforts to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Congressman Kucinich, we had Peter Camejo, the vice-presidential runningmate of Ralph Nader, Independent presidential candidate, on the line. He said, "Dennis Kucinich told me John Kerry is a fake and a fraud when we had a private meeting. He said but I'm sorry, Dennis, I'm going to go public with that because I think it's horrendous that you now think he's a terrific guy when you don't believe it." What is your response?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I'm sorry to hear that my good friend Peter Camejo would want to get to that depth of -- sink to those depths. You know, I never said that. It is not my approach in life to disparage people, even those people with whom I have the strongest disagreement, such as George Bush. You know, I haven't disparaged George Bush personally during this campaign. And I certainly haven't done it to John Kerry. So, I'm sorry -- I have no idea why he would say that. But it never happened.

AMY GOODMAN: We just saw a posting at antiwar.com, that's headlined "Democrats Drop Anti-war Pretensions." It's by Caleb Ewing, and he describes what happened at the platform debate discussion and he said, "so it went, amendment after amendment, all unseen, none debated. Forgotten for now is justice in Palestine, department of peace, a scaled back military, the prescription of pre-emptive war, the legitimacy and primacy of international law, etc., etc. We are die-hard Democrats and even though some of us felt stretched to the breaking point by the sustained cold shoulder of the Democratic Party power elite, our progressive caucus leadership quickly scrambled to put a positive spin on the process, to wit, 'even though we were all but marginalized and ignored in the platform, and even though we got practically nothing in the end, the fact that we took part in the process and formally accepted nothing is evidence of a working relationship with the Kerry camp that will bode well for us once Kerry is elected.'" He ends by saying, "I don't know if I believe that. If the upcoming election proves to be a referendum on the war, and I think it might be, then Democrats have not sufficiently differentiated themselves from Republicans for Kerry to win."

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well you know, the same article in the New York Times that talked about the Platform Committee, on the front page of that newspaper, was a story that showed Senator Kerry and Edwards beginning to challenge the Bush administration on the war in Iraq. I think that we-- I think that they are going to continue to come a distance and it may not be exactly what I want, which is a withdrawal, and I'm going to keep continuing to speak for withdrawal. But Amy, the people who are in the Platform Committee were people who were elected, the overwhelming majority, Kerry delegates. And, you know, what does that -- so the platform does reflect the choice of Democrats from around the country. Now it may have been the choice that was made months ago, and it may not be where many Democrats are right now who are going to be voting in November. And that's why, you know, I think that I still maintain a legitimacy within the party by continuing to insist on a new direction while recognizing that we didn't have the votes to be able to put an end to a party platform. You know, I still have every intention of continuing this effort to challenge the war. You know, I started that effort and continue to do it, and to challenge the kind of policies that took us into war. So, you know it was disappointing. But at the same time, I'm going to do everything I can to see that we have a change in the White House and I think it's imperative that we get rid of this administration. What we have isn't perfect, but it's-- you know, but it's a lot better than another four years of George Bush and I think that at the Convention, I'm going to make a strong case why the election of John Kerry is a step in the direction that is going to be important to achieve peace.

AMY GOODMAN: Will you stand with people outside the Convention in Boston who are protesting war, protesting the vice-presidential and presidential democratic nominees who both supported the invasion?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I'll be participating in events inside and outside the Convention and I expect to, you know, a number of the people who will be there are people I've urged to come. Again, the Democratic Party has to have enough resilience to be able to create challenges such as we brought to the Platform Committee. At the same time, be able to countenance challenges at the Convention, both inside and outside. But I also think that, you know, we have to ask, do we want another four years of George Bush? And-- or his policies. And I think that we can find a different direction with John Kerry. It's something that I'm going to work with Senator Kerry on to achieve. And at the same time, I think that there are Americans who realize that not only the war, but there are so many policies that we have to work for change and I'm going to keep working within the Democratic Party. Again, it is not that easy to do, as we saw in Miami. But I think that we also have seen in state after state, eight states where they adopted language supporting a department of peace, that there is a movement inside the party, for a more progressive position. And so if we don't get what we want today, it doesn't mean that we quit and walk away. It means that we continue our efforts until we finally win.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you get to address the Convention?


AMY GOODMAN: Will you be criticizing its stance on the invasion?


AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Kucinich, I want to thank you for being with us. Ohio Congressmember, still one of the Democratic candidates for president. Thank you very much.


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