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Should Kucinich get your vote?
The candidate of the antiwar movement?

October 10, 2003 | Page 5

FOR SOME people on the left, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is seen as the candidate to support among the field of Democratic contenders for the 2004 presidential nomination. Kucinich's opposition to the U.S. war on Iraq and his liberal positions on a number of issues--from support for universal health care to opposition to the World Trade Organization and NAFTA--has won him the primary endorsement of well-known progressives, including writer Barbara Ehrenreich, actor Ed Asner and musician Ani DiFranco. These supporters today look to Kucinich in the belief that he and his progressive agenda will transform the Democrat Party back to its liberal "roots."

But is this really what Kucinich's campaign is all about? ELIZABETH SCHULTE and KATHERINE DWYER explain.

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SUPPORTERS AND opponents alike see Dennis Kucinich as a long shot in the 2004 race for president. Some campaigners compare him to Seabiscuit, the small horse with the bad leg during the Depression era who came out of nowhere to become Horse of the Year.

Despite the fact that he began his political career more than 30 years ago, when he became a Cleveland city council member at the age of 23, Kucinich touts his credentials as a "political outsider." He is running a grassroots campaign that refuses to take corporate donations.

Despite this, Kucinich managed to take second place after Howard Dean in a Internet primary for the Democratic contenders. "It's the angry crowd," David Loebsack, a political scientist at Cornell College in Iowa, told the Los Angeles Times, describing Kucinich supporters. "The Democrats who are almost as mad at Democrats as they are at George Bush."

His unabashedly liberal stance on a number of issues has won him this support--not the least of which was his opposition to the U.S. war on Iraq. Kucinich voted against congressional authorization for the invasion of Iraq and consistently maintained his opposition. He also voted against the USA PATRIOT Act. He has proposed a cabinet-level "Department of Peace" and cutting the Pentagon budget so that more money can be spent on education.

But this alone doesn't make Kucinich the candidate of the antiwar movement--or even consistently antiwar. In 1998, Kucinich voted for the "Iraq Liberation Act," Bill Clinton's call for regime change in Iraq. "It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime," reads the Iraq Liberation Act.

And before the invasion, in a February 23 interview on Meet the Press, Kucinich argued for the continuation of sanctions on Iraq as an alternative to war, despite the fact that sanctions killed more than 1 million Iraqis--and despite the fact that he opposed the sanctions in a Progressive magazine interview a few months earlier.

Kucinich argues that the important difference between Bush's war and the 1991 Gulf War was that under Bush Sr., the U.S. was part of an international coalition defending Kuwait. In other words, he might have supported regime change in Iraq if Bush had only gathered international support--which is pretty much now the position of mainstream Democrats.

That's not the only issue that Kucinich has changed his position on. The most glaring example is women's right to abortion, which he has long opposed. "In his two terms in Congress, he has quietly amassed an anti-choice voting record of Henry Hyde-like proportions," wrote Katha Pollitt in the Nation in May 2002.

Kucinich's record includes voting:

-- For the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act," which makes it a crime to cause the injury or death of a fetus

-- Against funding research on RU-486, the "morning after pill"

-- For a ban on the late-term abortion procedure that abortion opponents call "partial-birth" abortions, without a provision for the woman's health

-- Against contraception coverage in health insurance plans for federal workers

-- Against allowing Washington, D.C., to fund abortions for poor women with nonfederal dollars

Now that he's running for president, Kucinich claims that he's changed his mind and supports a woman's right to choose. When the misnamed "partial-birth" abortion ban passed Congress this year, Kucinich voted against it for the first time since he got to Congress.

"People want to make sure that their president has a capacity to grow and a capacity to evolve," Kucinich explained to the San Francisco Chronicle. The gamble for women is whether he'll "evolve" back into an anti-abortionist fanatic again.

Today, Kucinich says that he supports same-sex marriage. During his 1996 run for Congress, he opposed it.

And although Kucinich now co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, he hasn't always taken the progressive position. He voted to allow the House Judiciary Committee to look into impeaching Bill Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal.

He voted for legislation barring "desecration of the flag." Today, he opposes the death penalty and supports affirmative action. But during his early political career in the 1970s, Kucinich exploited the racially charged atmosphere of the time, taking backward stances, such as opposing busing programs that sought to desegregate Cleveland public schools.

And as recently as 1997, Kucinich voted in favor of the juvenile justice bill that allows children as young as 13 to be tried as adults and sent to adult prisons. Anyone considering voting for Kucinich should ask whether this record really deserves your support.

Rounding up activists for the Democrats

KUCINICH HAS been harshly critical of the Democratic Party establishment during his campaign. But that doesn't mean that the party leaders don't appreciate the role he will play. For them, the purpose of Kucinich's run is to appeal to progressive voters--like the almost 3 million who voted for Ralph Nader as a third-party alternative in 2000--and pull them into the Democratic Party.

"The Democratic Party created third parties by running to the middle," Kucinich recently told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "What I'm trying to do is to go back to the big tent so that everyone who felt alienated could come back through my candidacy."

And that means "stay back" even after Kucinich loses--and support a presidential candidate who will inevitably be more conservative. As the endorsement from "Feminists for Kucinich"--which includes writers Barbara Ehrenreich and Meredith Tax--explains, "[T]his does not preclude our voting for whoever gets the nomination; this is about whom to support in the primaries. Molly Ivins has put it: Vote your heart in the primaries, vote your head in November."

The Democratic establishment needs candidates like Kucinich. Their job isn't to bend the party to the will of the people, but to bend the people to the will of the party.

So when Nader speaks on platforms with Kucinich, don't be fooled. Kucinich isn't in favor of third parties, and he doesn't represent an alternative to Democratic Party status quo. He represents an attempt to recruit activists who oppose war and corporate greed into a party that supports both.

Kucinich in his own words

"The Founders meant to separate Church and State, but I don't believe they ever meant to separate America from spiritual values."
-- Tikkun, May/April 2003

"It's not wrong to support life, and it's not wrong to support a woman's right to choose. We have to permit both points of view to have expression."
-- The Progressive, April 2003

"I have no interest in a third party candidacy. None. I want to do it the other way--bring third party candidates into the [Democratic] Party and get support in the primaries."
-- The Progressive, April 2003

"I believe life begins at conception, and that it doesn't end at birth."
-- The Nation, May 20, 2002

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