Leaving Congress after sixteen years (1997-2013), Rep. Dennis Kucinich does not sound bitter or angry even though he lost his seat to a fellow Democrat, thanks to some nasty gerrymandering by Ohio Republicans. In a valedictory visit to Democracy NOW! on December 28, this election-rigging, a routine, bi-partisan abuse of democratic process wasn’t even mentioned, the sickness of American democracy was treated as a mere fact of life, more political bad weather.
As a progressive congressman in the House of Representatives, Kucinich is part of a minority of a minority, and that minority appears to be shrinking. Another, very different lame duck Congressman, Republican Allen West of Florida, notably claimed that there were 78 to 81 “members of the Communist Party” in Congress, referring to the Congressional Progressive caucus which had 76 members, including Kucinich, whose view of the caucus is somewhat more jaundiced: ).
“…some members will choose affiliation with the Progressive Caucus as kind of a social function more than a political function. So the membership of the caucus belies the fact that once Democrats are voting on the floor of the House, you know, it doesn’t matter what caucuses they’re involved in. It’s like a social thing….”
Kucinich didn’t draw the connection specifically, but he cited an example of Democrats’ willingness to entertain progressive ideas without being willing to act on them. After the 2004 election, most Democrats in the House were openly opposed to George Bush’s policies generally, although perhaps more circumspect in their opposition to the Iraq war and the falsehoods that had persuaded many of them to vote for it. As Speaker of the House (and before) Nancy Pelosi stifled numerous impeachment efforts by members of her party, especially after Democrats controlled Congress after the 2006 elections.
“covering the Iraq war, the Valerie Plame affair, creating a case for war with Iran, capture and treatment of prisoners of war, spying and or wiretapping inside the United States, use of signing statements, failing to Comply with Congressional Subpoenas, the 2004 elections, medicare, Hurricane Katrina, global warming, and 9/11.”
Under Pelosi’s guidance, the House voted 251-166 to send the bill to committee, where it died, to Kucinich’s continuing regret:
“… it’s really unfortunate that the—that the Democratic leadership in the House did not support an impeachment effort to challenge the Bush administration, and Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, on the lies that took us into war in Iraq. That was a pivotal moment for this country. And instead of choosing the Constitution, our leaders chose politics. Bad choice.
“ The fact is that today, after a decade of war, we are looking at an eventual bill for that Iraq war of $5 trillion. We’re looking at perhaps as many as a million innocent civilians perishing—for war that was based on lies. People have to remember this…. you cannot forget about the past. We went to war based on lies.”
On an equally potent constitutional issue, President Obama’s unchallenged use of drones to kill people without due process of law, based on a list drawn up by his staff, Kucinich was less emphatic, though still more outspoken than the vast majority of Democrats at all levels:
“… this whole idea of drone wars being proliferated across the world, without Congress having anything to say about it, without any accountability whatsoever, is against the Constitution of the United States, and it’s against international law.
“ If any other nation sent a drone over the United States, they would have hell to pay, because we’d see it as an act of war. Yet we’re increasingly committing acts of war against other nations—Yemen most recently—and we are—we’re not seeing any accountability at all. And Congress does have a role to play here, both on the budget side and constitutionally….
“… we’re actually strengthening al-Qaeda’s hand with these attacks. We’re making it more difficult to meet the challenge of terrorism by creating more terrorists. I mean, what is this about? We’re increasingly dysfunctional as a nation because of our unwillingness to challenge the military-industrial complex, which Dwight Eisenhower warned about generations ago. And so, we really have to look at America’s role in the world.”
Kucinich talked about the American economy being based on guns, with the political system so dysfunctional, even at edge of a fiscal “cliff,” that it couldn’t relate the war budget to deficits or the national debt. He observed that instead of addressing problems of a soft economy, continuing unemployment, growing wealth disparity, the only thing the Congress has accomplished recently is to extend the government’s power to spy on its citizens.
He blamed this on “a breakdown in trust,” without really explaining what that means – or how it’s different from the Palmer raids of the 1920s or the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover. He expressed apparent bewilderment that the government organized systematic, national spying on the Occupy Wall Street movement:
“What is this? What’s going on in our country, where we don’t have oversight of the activities of the government when it comes to domestic spying? And what are we doing in America, where the privacy concerns of Americans are swept aside?”
He didn’t stop to examine the oddity of calling for oversight of domestic spying. And the Democracy NOW! hosts didn’t ask him why there should be any domestic spying, why warrantless surveillance was even constitutional, or why so much public discourse treats the Presidency more like a monarchy, approaching the president on bended knee asking for favors that were once clearly rights embedded in the constitution.
At one point Kucinich touched on what seems to dominate the current American mind-set: that in post-9/11 America, we are mired in fear. But he didn’t pause to wonder why that fear is so intense that almost no one admits it, never mind talks about it. Instead he talked about the effects of fear:
“… the government apparatus being able to look in massive databases and extract information to try to profile people who might be considered threats to the prevailing—to the status quo. But we also are looking at drones, which are increasingly miniaturized, that will give the governments, at every level, more of an ability to look into people’s private conduct. This is a nightmare.”
Kucinich, as one of the best, most honest Democrats of the past two decades, continued to talk rationally about going in the right direction, making the right choices, building bi-partisan bridges, building a culture of peace, and a variety of other decent responses to the nightmare – except waking up.