It was July 12th in Detroit, and all eight Democratic Party presidential candidates had just finished sparring at a forum sponsored by the NAACP when John Edwards and Hillary Clinton were caught hatching a plot to rid future debates of all but front-runners. The two were apparently unaware that Fox News’ microphones were still turned on to overhear their mutual exasperation at sharing the stage with those on the losing end of opinion polls. According to the Associated Press, Edwards whispered, “We should try to have a more serious and a smaller group.” Clinton agreed that the broad format had “trivialized” the debates, adding, “We’ve got to cut the number… They’re not serious.”
Dennis Kucinich, who would certainly be excluded if Edwards and Clinton succeed at this scheme, rapidly issued a press release stating his outrage: “Candidates, no matter how important or influential they perceive themselves to be, do not have and should not have the power to determine who is allowed to speak to the American public and who is not… Imperial candidates are as repugnant to the American people and to our Democracy as an imperial President.”
Indeed, Kucinich stands alone among the current crop of candidates in his consistently principled stand on issues ranging from opposition to the war in Iraq to support for single-payer healthcare, immigrants’ rights and the legalization of gay marriage. During a nationally televised MSNBC debate on September 26th, none of the three front-runners-who all claim to be “antiwar”-pledged to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of their first term in office in 2013. Clinton argued, “It is very difficult to know what we’re going to be inheriting.” Barack Obama stated, “I think it would be irresponsible.” Edwards admitted, “I cannot make that commitment.”
Kucinich answered with a refreshingly concrete anti-war resolve: “We can get out of there three months after I take office.” He added, “To me, it is fairly astonishing to have Democrats who took back the power of the House and Senate in 2006 to stand on this stage and tell the American people that the war will continue till 2013 and perhaps past that.”
And while current Democratic Party talking points blame Iraqis for the chaos enveloping Iraq, Kucinich supports reparations for the Iraqi people from the governments who have caused their suffering, arguing, “The U.S. and Great Britain have a high moral obligation to enable a peace process by beginning a program of significant reparations to the people of Iraq for the loss of lives, physical and emotional injuries, and damage to property.”
While Clinton has lurched rightward on support for abortion rights in recent years (stating in 2005 that abortion is “a sad, even tragic choice”), Kucinich is the only candidate who has shifted leftward on the issue of choice. He actively opposed abortion for many years but reversed his stand in 2003, stating, “[I]t finally came to the point where I understood that women will not be truly free unless they have the right to choose.” He has not wavered ever since.
Kucinich also stands firmly on the side of immigrants’ rights, however much his own party has compromised, arguing, ”No fines should be paid [by immigrants], no one should be made to go back, and we should stop scapegoating immigrants.” He seeks to abolish NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) because it drives down Mexican wages and opposed the Security Fence Act to further enhance border control.
But Kucinich has no hope of winning the Democratic Party nomination, for his unwillingness to compromise on sound humanitarian principles dooms that outcome. This fact, combined with his steadfast refusal to accept corporate donations, relegates his candidacy in 2008, as it did in 2004, to the margins of the electoral arena-a project willingly enabled by a compliant mainstream media. The Kucinich campaign complained, for example, that ABC News “deliberately cropped [Kucinich] out of a ‘Politics Page’ photo of the candidates after their August 19th debate” and removed an online “Who won the debate” survey after Kucinich came out the winner.
Nevertheless, like a scorned relative who always shows up to family functions, Kucinich refuses to disengage from the Democratic Party establishment that, as Clinton and Edwards attest, tolerates his presence only with gritted teeth.
But Kucinich’s loyalty to the party that holds him in such contempt will perform a useful service in delivering left-wing support for the party’s chosen, corporate-backed nominee in 2008.
This is a service that Kucinich will undoubtedly perform. Look back no further than 2004 for a preview of what lies ahead. After a principled anti-war campaign, Kucinich promised his supporters he would fight for a plank opposing the Iraq war at the Democratic Party Convention in July 2004. But no antiwar debate materialized, and Kucinich’s stunned supporters were left with no other choice than backing pro-war John Kerry as the anointed candidate.
Kucinich must therefore be faulted for compromising his principles in one crucial respect. He remains beholden to the Democrats-a ruling-class, imperialist party that coexists in a power-sharing arrangement with the Republicans-offering voters no genuine alternative to the status quo. If Kucinich truly believed his own rhetoric, he would leave, creating the possibility for building a viable third party that could provide an electoral vehicle to express popular opposition to corporate rule and the imperialist wars it inevitably produces.
SHARON SMITH is the author of Women and Socialism and Subterranean Fire: a History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org