After Hillary Clinton spoke to the Take Back America conference on June 20, it was Dennis Kucinich's turn.
Before he could get on stage, about half the crowd left.
But many of those who remained were delighted by his peace appeal.
Introducing Kucinich was the wonderful Steve Cobble, a veteran campaign organizer for leftwing candidates who now is a member of the Kucinich team.
"Dennis Kucinich was the first to say no to the Iraq War," Cobble said. "He risked his career to oppose the war before it started. And the day Bush began the war, most people went into hiding; Kucinich challenged it within the hour."
Cobble praised Kucinich for voting against the Patriot Act. "You know why he did? He read it," Cobble said.
Unlike the other candidates, Kucinich was also in Seattle in 1999 "with the turtles and the Teamsters," Cobble said. "Dennis was there first on fair trade."
His opposition to the war and to fair trade is a winning political message, Cobble insisted. "How are we going to win next year? End the war; make trade fair."
Cobble concluded by noting that Kucinich has sponsored the House bill to impeach Dick Cheney, and that none of the other candidates have supported that bill.
Kucinich then came on stage and launched right in.
"It is our job to heal this planet," he said, "and to bring this planet together as one people."
The crowd was quiet at the beginning, perhaps expecting a more partisan and less ethereal opening.
But he won them over with his commitment to peace.
"I see peace as being the central issue and concern of our time," Kucinich said. "In a Kucinich Administration we would begin with an understanding of the centrality of peace. We would begin with policies that reject war as an instrument of policies."
He quickly got to the Iraq War, saying, "People are waiting for Democrats to tell President Bush: 'No more money.' We shouldn't be offering the President another bill."
Kucinich said he had a straightforward plan: "The occupation will come to an end. The troops will come home. The contractors will be brought back."
He talked about bringing in an all-Muslim international peacekeeping force, and said the United States should provide funds for reconstruction.
He added: "We must stop insisting that Iraq privatize its oil because that in itself is a crime against the people of Iraq."
Not afraid to address the issue of Israel and Palestine, he said, "The path to peace runs right through Jerusalem, and it's time that a President has the ability to approach the Middle East with an even hand and an understanding of the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. Peace in the Middle East requires compassion for both sides."
He elaborated on his long-cherished idea of establishing a cabinet-level Department of Peace and Nonviolence that would encompass such issues as spousal abuse and child abuse.
And he talked about being guided by the spiritual principles of Christ and Gandhi and Dr. King.
"We can do more than we are, and we're better than we are," he said.
He then connected peace to the environment. "Life on the planet is threatened by global warring and by global warming," he said, in one of his better lines.
He talked about the promise of "green commerce" and vowed to create a WGA—Works Green Administration—to "reduce our carbon footprint."
Touching on another signature issue of his, Kucinich vowed that "one of my first acts of office will be to cancel NAFTA and the WTO."
"Workers in this country and all countries must have the right to organize, the right to strike, the right to safe workplaces. Workers' rights are human rights," he said, as the crowd came to its feet. "It's time to have a President who stood for workers."
On the issue of immigrant rights, he said we need to "reconnect with the dimension of America that welcomes people. That's what America represents: E pluribus Unum." He explained that NAFTA ruined the economy of Mexico and devastated the lives of millions of Mexicans. Some of them responded by coming north. "And now we're blaming the immigrants for that," he said. "Stop blaming the victims. Make sure we don't exclude people from an opportunity."
He drew applause by condemning the insurance companies and by endorsing universal single-payer health care, which he called Medicare for All.
He also gave a strong defense of civil liberties.
He said he would repeal the Patriot Act as being unconstitutional and repeal the Military Commissions Act "that is not worthy of America."
He implored Bush to "stop government spying and get the government out of our bedrooms."
And he came out for "true marriage equality for gays, lesbians, transgender, and bisexual Americans."
He finessed the abortion issue by saying "we can make abortions less necessary by providing prenatal care and post-natal care."
And then he rose to the issue of impeachment, saying that Bush had violated the "sacred text" that is the Constitution and that binds us a people.
"The Constitution is at risk," he said.
He said we should "make the Vice President finally accountable, and when we do that, we will make our President accountable."
If he were President, he said he would have the United States join the International Criminal Court. He would sign Kyoto, and move beyond it, he said. He would sign the Chemical Weapons Treaty, and the Small Arms Treaty, and the Land Mines Treaty.
At the end, he returned to his theme of challenging the very idea of war and called for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
"The world is ready to fall in love with America again," he said as the concluded on a crescendo. "I see a new America out there. I see a new world out there. I can see it. It is just waiting to be called forward. . . . Let's call it forward."
Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.
© 2007 The Progressive