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News :: DNC : Environment
IndyBoston Interview: Dennis Kucinich
by Pete Stidman
Email: petestid (nospam) yahoo.com
12 Jun 2004
Boston, MA – In town today for the Pride march and a fundraising Brunch, the Congressmen from Ohio managed to squeeze a few minutes in for Indymedia. Congressman Kucinich has been focused on revitalizing the Democratic Party, but I was wondering how he felt about the electoral system as a whole so I asked a few pointed questions. His answers tended to return to a certain theme, as all politicians answers can be expected to do, but in between the proselytizing is an interesting admission or two about the general failure of our electoral system to encourage campaigns that are anything but poll driven, vote hunting, strategic exploits devoid of any heart, soul, or meaning.
INDY- Do you feel that the American people are well represented by our Majoritarian winner-take-all voting system?
DK –Well of course they’re represented, the question is how well, to what degree. That’s the real question. And are they represented well? No. The system we have right now enables interest groups to work for electoral majorities that will serve narrow interests. It’s kind of a contradiction.
INDY- You often express opinions that are unpopular in the Democratic Party as a whole, yet you choose to stay within it. Is this because you believe a third party is not a viable option under our current voting system?
DK- No, it’s because I want to see the Democratic Party become a viable second party which it currently is not.
INDY- John Kerry is inching towards the right as we progress towards election day, and he may feel safe doing so since the mantra from many on the left has been “Anyone but Bush”. But with strategy seeming to supplant actual opinions not only of the candidates, but also of their constituents, how does the voice of the people reach the government?
DK- Well, Anybody Bush doesn’t really describe what we are I mean we want to see change in Administrations but you can’t motivate people, you can’t inspire them to just say: not Bush. There has to be something creative, something empowering that causes people to be animated to support a candidacy, a campaign and that’s the challenge that democrats have. It’s really a fundamental mistake that’s being made to just say, to expect people to support a negative.
INDY- Absolutely, but most of the major candidates seem to discover that the winning strategy is to bridge the gaps between a whole bunch of disparate groups using dumb-downed messages and non-controversial issues and as a result, the candidates don’t really bond to their constituents or represent their needs.
DK- I think we have to ask a question. We have to ask why have the democrats lost, not only in the Whitehouse, but also in the Senate, in the House of Representatives, and in the electoral majorities in many of the Statehouses. Why did this happen? I think it happened when we stopped expressing what we really believe in and when we stopped connecting with people’s hearts. This idea of a quantitatively driven politics eviscerates the electoral body we need in order to win. You know, it’s all about polls, and it’s all about trying to move towards a mythical middle, so that we can somehow get support from where we think people are yesterday. It’s devoid of heart and conscience. It’s politics that stand for nothing. So why would people vote for a political party that doesn’t seem to have a compass with respect to the following principles. You know we just buried a President, who had no compunction about taking American politics in a direction that was really transformational. I didn’t agree with it, but he did it and at the same time he inspired people. He had the courage of his convictions. That’s what people respond to, people respond to that.
INDY- Do you think it’s an institutional problem?
DK- The whole Democratic Party thing, the democratic party is basically, it’s like, we have party leaders who are fearful and that’s why they lose.
INDY- When I say institutional I’m more referring to the electoral system as a whole.
DK- The system can work, let me just tell you. Any timidity on the part on the part of third parties for example, can result in a collapse. It’s not just that third parties represent some kind of panacea, they don’t. However, I favor a system, which is conducive to permitting third parties to be able to freely operate because it helps to keep Democrats and Republicans on their toes.
INDY- A system like ours, a majoritarian system, generally I mean in the history of the country there’s only been two parties, a viable third party under the rules that we have, isn’t really possible. So that would make it an institutional problem, correct?
DK- Well it is. Sure, there is an institutional problem, but I’m coming from this perspective. I’m not trying to create a third party right now, if I was trying to create a third party I would offer you a totally different level of analysis. So I’ll let those people that are trying to create third parties offer that analysis. What I’m trying to do is make the Democratic Party relevant. And so, because of that, I see the shortcomings of the party and where the party has failed to respond to people’s practical aspirations and therefore has not been able to secure a faithful following. People who are so called swing voters are people who used to be democrats, think about it. People who used to be democrats, that’s who the swing voters are. But they’re still swing-voters and we somehow think we can get back to them by adopting classic Republican ideology. It doesn’t work.
INDY- Corporations hold huge financial power that influences elections, how can people counter this force? Do we need constitutional amendments to protect the power of the human being’s vote vs. that of the corporate “person”? What do you believe is the first step?
DK- Well, there ought to be federal chartering of corporations, and there should be a constitutional amendment that would forbid any corporate funding of elections and the only way we can do that is to have public financing of elections. We need public financing of elections, only public financing.
INDY- You have reached out to all the organizers of the protests and “people’s parties” planned for the DNC. Do you hope to provide a voice for these marginalized people inside the convention? And if so in what ways will you do this? Will it be effective?
DK- Yes, absolutely. Yes. We have to expand the meaning of this political party; it has to go back to being the big tent. It’s becoming increasingly narrow in its focus in an effort to try to respond to what pollsters think the voters want. Again, it’s heartless, and soulless. This automaton is not going to win an election. All its going to do is continue to take resources that are based on peoples hopes but then not be able to deliver or satisfy peoples hopes because it’s not connected to a politics of meaning. There’s no meaning to it. It’s all about winning. And you know, we ought to want to win but were getting it mixed up. You win because you believe in something. You don’t win and then you decide what you believe in. If we make the mistake as a party by saying that it’s all about getting rid of George Bush that’s not going to be enough to attract Americans. We have to give them more of a reason. That might be enough for ardent democrats, what more do we need? However, we must be careful not to become the very things that we criticize in George Bush.
INDY- How important is the “Nader Factor” going to be to Senator Kerry? Is moving to the right, as Kerry is doing now, a mistake?
DK- I think that one of the things that I’ve done is to demonstrate that there is a place inside the party for those people who are independent minded, for those people who want to see politics more relevant, for those people who want to challenge corporations, for those people who want peace, for those people who want to protect civil liberties. There’s a place inside the party and I’m demonstrating that. It’s like taking a stand inside the party and widening the sphere of activities within the party, then the Democratic Party changes. That’s what I’m trying to do.
INDY- Do you think that the Democratic Party itself is really Democratic?
DK- Well obviously the d is a capital D not a small d.
INDY- Do they listen to you? How much problems do you have getting your message across?
DK- I never have a problem getting my message out. The question is what does the party stand for. It’s really looking for a set of principles by which to stand. You don’t have to go to far, just go out on the streets. People will tell you they want healthcare they want jobs, and they don’t want corporate delivered healthcare, they want healthcare they can count on. Not one that they’re going to have to check with the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies to see what they can afford to pay. And they want peace you know, they don’t want this approach that the United States is going all over the world looking for dragons to slay. We’ve been warned against that for 200 years. The Democrats ought to stand for peace. People want civil liberties; they don’t want to have to sacrifice their basic constitutional rights to fear. And the democrats should stand to challenge the system instead of playing a game of trying to out position the republicans.
INDY- The corporate media has not given you the coverage you deserve, such as the now infamous yanking of ABC’s embedded reporter in your campaign after your showdown with Ted Koppel, yet independent media such as Democracy Now seems to be on the rise. How effective has independent media coverage been to your campaign?
DK- Well I’m appreciative of it. Probably its been helpful to direct people to our website at kucinich.us. I’m grateful for the coverage of independent media and I think the public more and more is looking for alternatives in the media. We are in a culture where people are searching for alternatives in politics and the same is true in media. They help to reinforce each other.
INDY- Having traveled the country and gauged public opinion everywhere, do you think there is latent potential for change in fundamental institutions such as the election system?
DK- The American people are much more ready for change. It’s the institutions that are designed to frustrate the unfolding of change.
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