KUCINICH AT SB
On Monday, I had the chance to see my second ever presidential candidate*, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (very D - OH), speak at Campbell Hall on campus at UCSB. I found him to be a very inspiring, positive speaker, and not some negative-inluence kook, or "the left's Gary Bauer", as some have pegged him.
There's an assumption among some who follow political campaigns that fringe candidates like Kucinich damage the chances of the party they represent, that they are a liability or, worse, an embarassment. But if this is the case, Kucinich, as well as the Reverend Al Sharpton appear to have bucked the trend, the latter by keeping his rhetorical guns trained on President Bush while pledging to conduct a very comprehensive get-out-the-vote effort, and the former by staying on as immensely positive and forward-thinking a campaign message as I've heard from anyone.
Opening for Kucinich was his friend, a youthful singer-songwriter named Aaron Nicholson who, armed with a guitar and a microphone, belted out a very sincere, very perky song, co-written with Kucinich, called "Spirit and Stardust", which had an old-meets-new acoustic versatility well-suited to the grassroots campaign Kucinich seeks to run.
Kucinich's speech (conducted while striding back-and-forth in front of the podium with a body-mic; it was completely memorized) was optimistic and inspirational from start to finish. His strongest points were made in the whole-earth realm, foreign policy and sustainability in particular. His presentation, while nearly in total opposition to everything George Bush and company stand for, was not framed as an attack on the current administration but was angled more generally as what America could, and should accomlish. Signing on to the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol, and an ambitious call for nuclear disarmament figured prominently within his personal platform. Conceptually, he promotes a more "holistic world view"; in this interest he attended the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg last september.
He highlighted the fact that as a congressman, he drafted a resolution, signed by 47 other representatives, calling for the creation of a cabinet-level "Department of Peace" (being ironically ridiculed by others in congress, who called the idea "impractical"). This may have been a symbolic gesture, but it is thoroughly indicative of Kucinich's professed agenda which, as he described it, is to "make non-violence an organizing principle" in national policy. This is something that I personally have believed for a long time, that the world changes for the better when attitudes change. Right now the only American face seen by much of the world is that of war, and we have the power to change that.
Other interesting tidbits include:
-Kucinich is a proud vegan, and if elected would be our first vegan President. Animal treatment has never been a serious campaign issue in America, that would change if Kucinich figures prominently in the primary season and beyond.
-He made a clever reference to Boy George (the singer, not the Chimp), though I don't immediately recall its context.
-During the Q & A, he addressed his newfound belief in a woman's right to choose with a long and reasonably well-thought-out explanation, finally arriving at the pertinent policy connotation: He would use enforcement of Roe v. Wade
as a litmus test for judicial nominations.
-When asked by a scraggly-haired audience member why he wasn't running out of the Green Party, he loudly retorted "I'm a green Democrat!" The confused young man stumbled back up the aisle, wondering why such a principled man as Kucinich wouldn't want to help give George W Bush a second term.
-Lastly, his idea for the USA Patriot Act was classic: Once in office, he would set it aside until such time as it would be repealed. In the meantime, he would have the Department of Justice working up to its ears in anti-trust cases, keeping the workload so high that they wouldn't even be able to enforce the Patriot Act. Priceless.
Does Dennis Kucinich have a chance of becoming President, winning his party's nomination, or even figuring significantly in the primary season? It is too soon to tell; after all, this long before the 1992 election, Bill Clinton was polling at 1%. What he has going for him is his positivity, his verbal passion, and a sort of unspoken understanding about working-class America, a inborn populism that could allow him to catch fire in the coming months. Nevertheless, in the post-9/11 American political climate, ripe as ever with the strategic cultivation of fear in the American public for political gain, Dennis Kucinich faces an uphill battle.
* - The first was President-elect Al Gore in September 2000