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What makes Dennis run?

Paul Jay talks with Dennis Kucinich

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Story Transcript

Manchester, NH

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: I’ve heard this a thousand times, talking to potential Democratic Party voters, particularly people who identify themselves as progressive. I agree with Dennis Kucinich, but he can’t win, and I’m going to vote for Edwards, I’m going to vote for Obama. And not very often is Hillary Clinton’s name mentioned. You hear that in progressive blogs. You hear it even in progressive magazines and publications. What do you say to them?

DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, when people decide that they really want to win—this isn’t about which candidate wins. Yes, the winner may go on to be president. But the question is what do you win if you’re for a not-for-profit health care system, and you’re instrumental in electing someone who isn’t? What do you win if you are for getting out of Iraq immediately, and you’re instrumental in electing someone who doesn’t want to do that? And so you see the direction this goes in. This isn’t just about me. People have to have the courage of their convictions. We can have the world we want if we vote for the world we want. If we vote for something other than what we want just on the basis of somebody looks like they might be winning, then we’re not even making our own decisions.

JAY: There are two different dialogues going on in this campaign. One dialogue’s about change versus experience, and the other dialogue, whether it’s coming from a Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul or Mike Gravel, is using words like “soft fascism,” “empire.” The two campaign dialogues, never the twains do meet. There’s a wall between them.

KUCINICH: Well, the truth of the matter is we’re losing our nation to war based on lies, destruction of our civil liberties, the massive debt, borrowing money from China to pay for the war against Iraq. And I think that we have to understand that the price that’s being paid is the price of our democracy. We are moving towards fascism. There’s no question about it. So are we looking for a Democratic form of fascism as compared to a Republican form of fascism? Or are we looking for a profound return to the basic principles of our democracy? So our campaign really seeks to help connect people with those basic principles. And, here again, if someone wants a candidate who will firmly stand for civil liberties, who says the president or vice president ought to be impeached for violating the constitution, ought to be prosecuted for violating US law, then I’m not only that candidate, but what I’m doing is talking about raising the moral tone of this country so that leaders will have to abide by the highest principles.

JAY: In that respect, some of your supporters were confused in Iowa when you suggested they should support Obama as a second choice in the primary, ’cause Obama’s not really on the same page as you are on the critical issues you just discussed.

KUCINICH: Look, none of those candidates are, the truth be told. I mean, none of the candidates are. So, you know, I told my leaders, I told my supporters that the second choice, if I was there, would be Obama. Now, I didn’t compete in Iowa. I didn’t campaign in Iowa. I am campaigning and competing here. That was an Iowa-only recommendation.

JAY: Do you distinguish between them, between Edwards and Obama?

KUCINICH: You know what? The degree of style. Because on the substantive issues, both of them voted to fund the war. Both of them have supported the Patriot Act, although Obama didn’t vote for the Patriot Act—he wasn’t there when the vote was taken. On the issue of impeachment, none of them have spoken out. On Iran, on the issue of Iran, they have both said all options are on the table, thus encouraging the Bush rhetoric a year ago that led to the ratcheting up of tensions against Iran. I mean, Democrats participated in that. On health care, they’re both for continuing a for-profit health care system at a time when it’s so obvious that health care is a basic right and it shouldn’t be based on ability to pay. Senator Edwards says he wants people to have to buy private insurance. Mandatory. Well, you know what? If you can’t afford it in the first place, what advantage is it to have a president who says you must buy it, just like you have to buy auto insurance? I’m saying get rid of the for-profit system, because the truth of the matter is that system makes money not providing health care, and we have to get rid of the premiums, co-pays, and deductibles and have a health care system just like every industrialized democracy. So are you kidding? I mean, the difference between me and the other candidates: night and day. But I decided, based on the sincerity that I saw Senator Obama demonstrate in all the times that I had contact with him, I felt that he was a person that in Iowa only, on the second ballot, since I wasn’t there competing, deserved consideration.

JAY: Can you support him in a presidential campaign if in fact he wins this?

KUCINICH: Oh, you know, we’re a long way from that discussion, ’cause I’m challenging him right now on his statement about Pakistan. He apparently is ready for aggression against Pakistan. I think that’s a colossal mistake. I think that he is ill-advised. And I think that anyone who really understands what the United States has done in damaging relations with Islamic countries, and with Arab nations, would understand that a move against Pakistan, authorized or not by the Pakistani government, would put us at great jeopardy.

JAY: It’s a very serious issue. There are several reports that there’s special operations, special ops plans being made in Florida right now. It’s not a theoretical possibility, apparently.

KUCINICH: I’m totally opposed to any action against Pakistan. Look what happened. The United States worked with this Dr. Khan for years and basically looked the other way while he was exporting nuclear technologies. We knew what was going on, but we let that happen, because the Bush administration’s idea of foreign policy is chaos. And what I’m saying is that Senator Obama and I have a sharp disagreement about Pakistan, and among other areas.

JAY: Take us forward almost a year. If Dennis Kucinich is not the president, what should people do to keep up the fight for the ideals that you’re suggesting?

KUCINICH: Well, these ideals relate to the practical aspirations of the American people. I mean, it’s not like it’s some vast sea change in American politics. I’m talking about jobs for all.

JAY: No, I’m not questioning the values. I’m asking you, what should people do? What do you think people should do when this presidential election’s over?

KUCINICH: We have to see how it goes. I mean, this is a tremendous pageant of democracy in motion. It’s not predictable. We don’t know what the outcome will be. I believe this election will go all the way to the convention, which is why my involvement becomes one of participating at every step of the way. And we’ll see how the delegate situation goes. Anyone in that convention could end up being the nominee once it goes to the convention. It’s very early.

JAY: So a very close call at the convention. Dennis Kucinich has some delegates. You’ve become a player there.

KUCINICH: Oh, that’s true. And it’s more than that. This is a long road. We’re at the first primary. We’re not at the end of the road. We’re just at the beginning. And the first step may not have any relationship whatsoever to the second, third, and fourth step. So I’m prepared to go forward raising the banner of not just progressivism but mainstream American values: jobs for all, health care for all, education for all, new environmental policies, carbon-free and nuclear-free energy policies. I’m looking at a new foreign policy of ending wars, an instrument policy, and getting America out of Iraq, stop rattling the sabres against Iran, engage them, get them the help and an international security peacekeeping force that moves in as our troops leave.

JAY: Just one final question. What’s your next step on impeachment?

KUCINICH: I am preparing right now about a fifty-count document relating to the impeachment of the president of the United States.

JAY: This is directed at Bush, not Cheney.

KUCINICH: Right. And it’s taken many months to prepare. And at some point in the not too distant future I will be bringing it forward. I think, I don’t see this as something that I’m injecting because it’s a presidential season, ’cause I’ve been on this issue, expressed my concerns about the violation of the law a long time before I was running for president. I do feel it’s important to know where the other presidential candidates stand on the level of conduct that they would expect to be obtained by anyone who’s in the Oval Office. If the level of conduct by George Bush and by Dick Cheney is sufficient and is thought to be acceptable by the other Democratic candidates, then we are on our way to establishing a new low for the norms that we would expect of a president and vice president, and we are on our way to accepting violations of law that would destroy our constitution, especially since congressional leadership is taking impeachment off the table. So we need to know what kind of conduct those who are in the Oval Office would feel would be justified as president of the United States. That is a major question that needs to be answered. And I’ve already indicated the high level of conduct that I think should be expected out of a president and vice president.

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