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Kucinich Clears the Way; Edwards Loses His



With the greatest respect for Howard Dean, thank goodness for Dennis Kucinich. Dean, now the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, should thank goodness for Kucinich, too, as last week's debate in Albuquerque made clear. Remind me again, Dean fans, why y'all are not for Dennis? Oh, that's right, because Dennis can't win--he's too progressive.

Which makes Dean the "responsible" progressive choice--see, for example, The New Republic, journal of the well-off white liberal, which insists on conducting its "TNR Primary" with just six candidates, leaving out Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley-Braun, presumably on ethical grounds (it couldn't be race, could it?), and leaving out Kucinich because he's just not their cup of herbal tea. (Dean, a Yalie and a doctor, barely qualifies--TNR likes Lieberman or, failing that, Johnny Edwards.)

What's the rap on Kucinich? You may remember him as "Dennis the Menace," a label stamped out by the national media when he was elected mayor of Cleveland in 1977 at the age of 31, after eight years on the City Council. Cleveland, the archetypal rust-belt city, was hemorrhaging jobs and deeply in debt. The big banks wanted Kucinich to raise money by selling off the city's municipal electric utility. When he refused, they dumped Cleveland's bonds, forcing the city into default. Kucinich wasn't re-elected. Message: Don't cross the bankers.

Fast-forward to now. Cleveland still owns its utility, which supplies low-cost power to a thriving city, and it elected Kucinich to the state Senate in 1994 and to Congress two years later. His campaign symbol: A light bulb, and the slogan, "He was right."

Today, Rep. Kucinich is the leading progressive in the U.S. House. And, notwithstanding Dean's claim to represent "the Democratic wing of the Democratic party," Kucinich's platform is driving the debate--or at least it's clearing the way for more respectable candidates to say more softly the things Democratic voters long to hear.

For instance, every Democrat has a plan to provide almost everybody with health insurance some day, maybe. Kids first. (They're the cheapest.) Kucinich is for universal health care now. He--with Moseley-Braun--thinks it's time for the U.S. to join every other industrialized nation in recognizing that health care is best run as a public utility and not by for-profit corporations.

On Iraq, Kucinich was strongly anti-war. So was Dean. Now, Kucinich says flatly that it's "time to bring the troops home ... bring in the U.N. and get the U.S. out." And "no more Halliburton sweetheart deals," Kucinich says. The U.S. should negotiate a transfer of authority to the U.N. that assures Iraqi oil will be owned by Iraqis.

By contrast, Dean and the other "respectables" say vaguely that it's time for the U.S. to "get help" from the U.N. without specifying what we should offer in return. But at least they're ripping Bush's handling of the war, something none of them--save Dean--was willing to do last fall. That's when it counted, John Kerry.

How about jobs? Kucinich has spelled out a 10-year, $500-billion public works program to create jobs and rebuild the American infrastructure. Kucinich says the U.S. should pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization immediately to protect jobs. Trade agreements should be bilateral, he argues, and the U.S. should insist its trading partners have strong labor, environmental and human rights standards before we open our borders to them.

This allows the respectables to say yes to infrastructure; and yes, NAFTA and the WTO should have standards, and by golly, we'll sure try to get them. How will they get them without abrogating the treaties, or threatening to abrogate them? Not clear.

And, of course, everybody hates those Bush tax cuts now. Kucinich hated them then.

The one great thing Dean has done is mobilize Democrats and independents using the Internet. But it can't be denied that the reason the money is rolling into Dean's campaign is that he appeals to well-off moderates, while Kucinich is the choice of the flat-out, blue-collar progressive who drinks beer--and who, at the moment, may well be unemployed.


And what of Johnny? It's hard to know who to be madder at, John Edwards or the N.C. Democratic establishment that was so eager to force him out of the 2004 U.S. Senate race. Edwards, who (let's face it) is getting nowhere in the presidential race, was the Democrats' best chance to hold that seat next year--far stronger than Erskine Bowles, the clear choice of the Republican wing that controls the Democratic party in our state.

A friend of Edwards who's been close to his campaign, and wanted him to keep his re-election options open, says Edwards was under tremendous pressure from the establishment to get out of the Senate race early so "others"--read: Bowles--could get started. Either that or pull out of the presidential race, which if nothing else would have spoiled The News & Observer's four-part profile.

That they wanted him out of the Senate race is idiotic. That he went so easily is a shame on him.

Kucinich and Dean fans: Rjgeary@aol.com or 412-5051. Edwards' too.

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