Fighting the Power From Inside the Belly of the Beast: an Interview With Dennis Kucinich

Kucinich announcing his run for mayor of Cleveland in June, 2021.

Most politicians these days are somewhere between mildly corrupt and totally in the pocket of big business and the corporate right wing. Ask them a question and they usually have two or three answers and four of them are lies. Kucinich is the rare bird, part of an endangered species: An honest politician. Kucinich was the youngest elected Mayor of a major American City at the age of 31, and also served in the US. House of Representatives from 1997-2013. Kucinich ran for the Democratic nomination for President in 2004 and 2008. In his his latest book,  The Division of Light and Power, Kucinich thoroughly details his quest to literally take on City Hall and restore, power to the people of Cleveland,  surviving various assassination attempts in the process. In the Book, he  gives an unprecedented, fully documented, insider’s account of dealing with all the issues that are now confronting us at the federal level.

Bernstein:  Welcome Congressman Kucinich.  It is good to talk with you again. Let’s start here. You saw the corporate muscles flexed at the national level as a member of Congress and running for President.  Would you say that what we’ve just seen—some would say we were just Manchined, but what we’ve just seen in terms of Manchin, a right-wing Democrat controlling, essentially the flow of policy in the United States, is this about corporate power?  Is that still the problem?

Kucinich:   Well, you know,  that’s one level of analysis, but I’d like to kind of expand the discussion.  What we’re seeing here with the deadlock over Build Back Better is truly a symptom of a nation that is sharply divided among political and ideological lines.  I mean, the basic requirement of a nation is that there be an underlying consensus.  So, unity and purpose and that’s been severely eroded and the consequences are catastrophic, because you have these kinds of divisions that we have right now. This puts the country on a decline.  We have a hyper-partisanship that doesn’t serve any purpose and it’s not just about one party. It’s about both.  They’ve both been sidetracked by campaign financing laws, which make the government an auction to the highest bidder. You cited corporations, but that’s kinda the way it is.

You know, I would just say, it might be simplistic to place the blame on just one person.  The Senate’s split 50/50.  You pick up two Republican votes, you overcome this current problem. Senator Manchin does bear some responsibility for the deadlock.  The question is, did he bargain in good faith?  That remains to be seen.

I’d just like to conclude with this thought:  you know, Democratic leaders, once they decoupled the infrastructure bill from social spending, set the stage for this situation where $2.2 trillion Build Back Better Plan would just be thrown up into the air.  So,  I’m very concerned about the state of affairs that is in our country.  I think we have to expand the discussion beyond Senator Manchin if we’re really going to understand why this is happening.

Bernstein:   Let’s talk about the new generation of nuclear weapons and this—this bomber—one bomber of it costs $1.7 trillion.  How can we have one bomber contract that’s meant to drop weapons that can destroy the world for $1.7 trillion and not have the money for kids, for food, etc.

Kucinich:  Aside from an inadvertent vote when I first came to Congress, I never voted for any of the spending for the Pentagon.  That’s over 16 years. Why?  Because because I understood that what they were doing was shifting the priorities away from the basic needs of the country and using war as an instrument to facilitate that.  I led the effort against numerous wars, including in Iraq, and warned the American people that there was no reason for that war, which ended up costing $5-6 trillion and [killed] half a million Iraqi, innocent Iraqi lives, and, of course, our soldiers lives who were put on the line.  About 5,000 [US military deaths.]

So, again, when you look at this, we still have not gotten away from that mindset.  I mean, they just passed the National Defense Authorization Appropriation, for $740 billion.  It was billions more than [the Pentagon] asked for.  This idea of $1.7 trillion for a particular piece of hardware, look, anytime there’s a price tag put on that, it’s always a miracle.  It’s always an effort to try to reshape the public discussion.

What I’m concerned about right now—yes, I am very concerned about what happened—with the collapse of these negotiations over programs that are aimed at investing in affordable housing and giving more Americans access to healthcare.  But I’ll tell you, this military drumbeat that’s going on right now is going to change the discussion pretty quickly.

Bernstein: Are you talking about the—the sort of combination Russia and China bashing and the—sort of the expanding pivot if you will?

Kucinich: Absolutely.  When you look at this, okay, everybody’s attentive right now.  They focus it on Senator Manchin.  As I said, you know, he’s got responsibility here, but this system is bigger than one person.  Besides that—I mean, have people in Washington forgotten how to make a deal?  You know, really the whole place is built on wheeling and dealing.  And I don’t like a lot of the deals that have been done, but that’s what they do there.  And when they can’t make deals anymore, then you know, that’s a problem.  The whole system is based on negotiation.  Not on one person getting their way.

You’ve got in the Senate,  where 100 people are negotiating all the time.   I’m glad you’re having a discussion about the nuclear weapons, but I really want to turn attention to not just this serious discussion about what in the world are we going to do to meet the social needs of the country, to get more young people access to university, to free school, you know, to invest in childcare.  To make it possible to meet some of these environmental challenges that are crippling our ability to be able to survive as a species.

So, you got that, but then at the same time, in parallel, you have a move towards a build up against Russia with NATO and the US licensing NATO’s move in Ukraine. And at the same time, you basically have been forced [into being] an alliance between Russia, China and Iran against the US.  Why did we have to do that?  It’s very handy to use that as a lever to be able to drive ever higher spending for the Pentagon.

How did you get a consensus on that so quickly?  Think about that. No problem settling on $740 billion for a single year to beef up [what’s] already the strongest military in the world by far. But it’s not even about the men and women who serve.  It’s about the hardware, that’s all they’re doing.  The defense contractors own the place.

Bernstein:  Sometimes it feels incomprehensible and unbelievable and of course, you know, you’re right,  it’s not Manchin, but he’s the quintessential character I mean, seriously, he drives his Maserati up to his yacht and then he does an interview where he’s looking down on people 50-feet below him.  And in recent comments he was talking about, you know, sort of the old language of democratic racism.  You can’t trust these people to have a little extra money, where are they gonna spend it? So, we’re back to welfare mom situations.  I mean, it really is—it feels at one level that we are really back peddling.  Are you concerned by the way that given what’s happening at the local level and what we’ve seen in terms of the first insurrection, that violence is not a thing of the past in this context, but it’s going to be a big part of our future, if you will, elections?  Free elections.

Kucinich:  There are a couple of different things here.  First, we should all be concerned about the increase in violence that’s going on in the country.  It’s happening in a number of different ways.  It’s happening where there’s a sharp increase in homicides in cities. That seems to parallel a big increase in poverty.  We have to address the underlying poverty issues.

The thing that I think licenses (and I’ve actually thought about writing a book about this) the government’s massive spending for war material, for the instruments of war, to wage war, the deaths of a million Iraqis and people throughout the region at the hands of the US government who has lied to the American people about [the cause of the] war.

Let me tell you, when you make human life anywhere in the world so cheap, it cheapens it here at home.  Mass communication really does make this one world.  If there’s anywhere in the world where our country assists in the cheapening of life, that is certain to come back in one way, shape or form, at a local level.  And will that at some point be reflected in political violence?  Yes.  Could it become worse? Of course.

We have to look at the underlying causes of violence in our society.  The impulses that are moving people, the desperation, all of those things. We need to look at this as a nation and we need to address it in a systematic, comprehensive way, right from the early years of children all the way up.  Not for the purpose of social engineering, but for the purpose of being able to discover the talents that we have [and] that we can use without resorting to tearing each other apart.

The violence is not just physical violence.  It’s a violence of language.  It’s a violence of thought, because thought, word and deed, are unitary.  These are the kinds of discussions I hope to bring to more of the country.   We really have to start asking, where are we headed as a nation with this kind of approach that we’re using?  When we feel that no amount of money is enough to be able to spend towards the implements of war, but we’re quibbling about a billion here and a billion there, about feeding people, about housing them, about—about making sure they’re educated.  Holy smokes, what a mess.

Bernstein: Just finally, I have to get you on the record, Congressman, on Julian Assange.  We talk about the war, so here’s somebody who made a dent, made it more difficult for the United States to prosecute its war, for instance, in Iraq and now, his payback for that is to be in jail. And if the United States has its way, I mean, it’s already talked about kidnapping and killing him and it’s about to kill him right now.  Your thoughts on truth telling and what this message is, in terms of shutting down Julian Assange. 

Kucinich: Well, the central point is that this military Leviathan doesn’t brook any dissent.  It has an axis with the intelligence agencies and they’re all working together to keep his happy party of spending and profitable violence going around the world.  When somebody exposes that, as Daniel Ellsberg did years ago, as others have, including Julian Assange, there are human rights issues that come into play.  I’m not convinced that there won’t be some international “intervention” that would block an attempt to extradite Julian Assange to the United States.

There are real serious human rights issues at stake here.  And as someone who has led the effort against the federal death penalty, I have great concern about a capricious use of federal government power to try to put at risk somebody’s life for political purposes.

The American people were lied to by past government officials to take us into a war against the people of Iraq; that’s an incontrovertible truth.  I would ask all of your [readers] who are interested, you know, type in Kucinich Iraq Analysis, October 2, 2002.  You’ll see that many months before the United States actually began the war against Iraq and before we had the vote, I called it right spot on. I knew they were lying and yet because of the drumbeat, the politics, the media, the financial interests, we went to war against innocent people.

So, will other innocents be swept up because they blew the whistle?  Well, that’s what’s happening.  I mean, this stuff never stopped.  As long as we have such a dedication to America which has become an armed encampment in the world and an armed encampment here.

Bernstein: Well, we thank you former Congressman Dennis Kucinich.  We always appreciate the visit and the good information.  Again, I want to let people know that your most recent book is In the Division of Light and Power and it’s really a story about you fighting power at the local level, thank you.