The conventional "realist" line on Dennis Kucinich's presidential campaign goes something like: Great on the issues; terrible in the polls; can't win; need to find another candidate. This logic may be okay - unless you're actually seriously concerned with things like ending the war in Iraq or achieving universal health insurance.
In November, you vote for the presidential candidate you have to vote for. And if one of the Democrats currently leading the field in fundraising does ultimately secure the nomination, no doubt most Iraq war opponents and universal health insurance advocates will quite readily back him or her over whatever the Republicans throw up. After all, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama are all against the war - more or less, and they all want to do something about health care. But the primaries are when you can vote for what you believe in - that is, if you're fortunate enough to find a candidate who agrees with you. And by that measure, you might say that serious antiwar and pro-health care voters who don't back Dennis Kucinich are, well, throwing their votes away.
After all, it's not just that the front runners won't commit to actually removing all our troops from Iraq by the end of their first term but they all go out of their way to clarify their fundamental agreement with the saber rattling policies that got us there in the first place. Edwards, for instance, insists that "To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep all options on the table," a statement widely understood to include possible American use of nuclear weapons. For her part, Clinton pushes continued use of American troops to pursue Al Qaeda in Iraq, ignoring the fact that it was the introduction of American troops that brought Al Qaeda to Iraq in the first place, and votes to declare part of Iran's armed forces a terrorist organization. (Presumably allowing for the continued jettisoning of the Geneva Accords currently rejected in our ongoing wars.) And Obama not only outflanks his rivals, but Bush himself, in threatening military action in yet another country, warning that "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and (Pakistan's) President Musharraf won't act, we will."
Over the past five years, millions of Americans have opposed the Iraq War in word or deed and yet it would be quite a stretch to argue that any of the "top three" Democratic candidates represent them on the war. Chances are then, that if you have ever been to a demonstration or even written a letter against the war, Kucinich's positions of complete American withdrawal in ninety days, maintenance of Iraq's rights to its own oil, no permanent American military bases, and an international transition force are a lot closer to your views than those of Clinton, Edwards or Obama.
The situation regarding health care really isn't terribly different. Clinton, Edwards and Obama all have plans that if enacted might make some significant improvement upon our current situation of forty million uninsured, but none tackles the elephant at the center of the problem - the wasteful private health insurance industry that diverts billions of dollars from actual health care spending. Instead their plans will themselves require new bureaucracies to determine individual eligibility for government assistance and to look for potential insurer discrimination. And two of them would require monitoring individual compliance with a new legal mandate to purchase health insurance. Kucinich's Medicare For All plan, on the other hand, is widely recognized as a legitimate solution that would dramatically decrease the diversion of health care funds from actual health care spending.
There are two main "realist" responses to the fact that the top fundraisers offer such tepid approaches to the country's major problems. One is to tease meaningful distinctions out of their pretty similar positions and go with the one who seems ever so slightly better. The other is simply to pick the one most likely to win and hope for the best. Unfortunately, this approach produced rather dismal results last time around when some opted for Howard Dean as the "electable" antiwar candidate and others went for John Kerry as the most likely nominee. Despite all the wishful thinking about Dean (as they used to say, Kucinich actually was the candidate many people thought, or wanted to think Dean was), he was gone by the California primary, his candidacy entirely premised upon "electability" and the money that brought. Meanwhile Kerry, feeling little electoral pressure from the antiwar movement, never veered from his pro-war stance, leaving antiwar voters with little more than the hope that he didn't really support the war, but had only voted for it out of the delusion that it was politically expedient. Such were the accomplishments of "realism" in 2004.
So does voting for Kucinich in the 2008 primaries require believing that he can somehow rise to the top of the polls? Not necessarily, but it does require recognizing that you have to actually vote for your positions for them to have any electoral impact. Although we can't yet say who will get the Democratic presidential nomination, there is one thing already certain: if you don't vote for what you believe in in the primaries, you certainly won't get to vote for it in November.
And of course, if everyone who believed that no more American soldiers should die for a lie decided to actually vote that way, the polls would start to look a whole lot different.