The Kucinich Niche

The year 2006 hasn't even ended yet, and we're already surrounded by politicians announcing their candidacies for president.  I couldn't be happier.  Sure, there's plenty of stuff going on in the world, subtle and exhaustive minutiae for the press and blogosphere to pore over, but it's the clash of the pseudo-titans that makes for sexy blog entries!  In this posting, I want to address a little-discussed candidacy that I postulate may have a bigger impact than expected.

A few days ago, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich surprised me by announcing his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.  He had run in 2004, and while he was spirited and passionate, he failed to make a major splash in the campaign.  He was an interesting and inspiring side show, running a campaign he couldn't win, but giving us all something to believe in, and even if you didn't vote for him, you probably wished him well, and cheered his few double-digit showings in the primaries.  He was a positive influence who had the effect of keeping the leading candidates (as well as debate moderators) honest.  I'll never forget when he tore into Ted Koppel at one early debate for asking too many questions about process and the horse race (that's my job, now), and not enough about policy and the war in Iraq.

I thought that would be it for Dennis.  He had made his point, and with a new Democratic majority in the House, I assumed he would ease into the role of progressive elder statesman, making reasoned cases for controversial positions, from a place of greater influence.  When the news broke that he was back for more, I was surprised.  And then, I started thinking...read on!

I am under no illusions that the Democratic Party will be nominating Dennis Kucinich for anything other than his current job any time soon (with the recent victory of Sherrod Brown in Ohio, however, it makes me want to see Kucinich run for his state's Senate seat).  He had a lot going against him in 2004 and most of those things still hold true.  I will postulate, however, that he may have a much greater impact on the race in 2008 than he did last time around, and wield far more influence.

Kucinich's central problem in 2004 was that the Democrats were looking for someone who embodied the utterly-undefinable term "electable".  This is why I think so many people jumped ship from the dynamic Howard Dean at the last minute, and hitched their wagons to the stately-yet-stony John Kerry.  Kucinich's turf was the progressive wing of the party, and he talked about unpopular issues and proposed unpopular solutions (though they sounded good to Lefties).  He may have been able to stake out a much greater plot had Howard Dean not monopolized the anti-war position so effectively.  The progressive's embrace of Dean early on left few arms to hug Dennis.

On the shallower side of things, Kucinich is small and boyish looking.  Americans seem to prefer their leaders to be on the tall side (alas, for me), as though they first had to pass a Hollywood screen test for the role before running.  Bunch that up with his almost-zero name recognition, his problems as mayor of Cleveland, and his relatively low-profile job (not a governor, senator, or House leader - yes, I know he was chair of the Progressive Caucus.  That and 50 cents will...well, you get the idea) and you have only a small-but-passionate smattering of support.  Not even Willie Nelson could save him.

This time around, the dynamics of the race will be different.  Electability will be a very big deal once again, if not bigger, but its definition will change.  US involvement in Iraq, once a subject that required a great deal of hemming and hawing for Democrats, will be an issue that is much wiser to campaign against.  Weary of GOP administrations and congresses that bloat government without enhancing its effectiveness in handling national problems, voters will turn to the bolder, more impassioned candidates.

Here is where Kucinich can start claiming some territory.  First, it was smart for him to announce as early as he has, because it gives him a little burst of press attention, and allows him to get a head start on gathering enthusiasm for his cause.

Kucinich benefits from some conspicuous absences in 2008's race, namely current DNC Chair Howard Dean, and Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold (who's decision I unpopularly depicted in skit form in an earlier post).  With two heros of the Left gone, Kucinich can more easily gather up the disillusioned true believers.

Many believe that the support that would have gone to the two aforementioned men will enthusiastically run to Barack Obama or Al Gore, should they jump in, and that may very well be true.  My take, however, is that Obama and Gore will be phenomena unto themselves, not carrying the banner of any particular wing of the party, as either can appeal to a broad spectrum - which is, of course, exactly what they would want!

But while the main event of electability with Clinton vs. Obama (vs. Gore?) rages on, what is left is a line of second-tier moderates all scraping around for the same like-minded folks (yes, I know, I'm painting with a broad brush to make a point. Bear with me).  While Edwards, Clark, Vilsack, Biden, Richardson, and the duller-than-Kerry Bayh scuffle over the tiny scraps left by the main contenders, the progressive  left will be a wide open prairie in which Kucinich can set up his village (I'm running out of territorial metaphors, here).  As of now, he is the only Democratic candidate for president calling for an immediate end to the US presence in Iraq and cutting all funds for the war, and don't think that his position won't sound good to many of the pacifists and pro-dimplomacy folks in the party.

Or maybe none of this will happen.

My point, only, is that unlike he 2004 race, where Kucinich gasped for attention, the 2008 race may finally give him a chance to be heard in a real way, collecting more support, votes, and delegates than anyone expected.  He won't win, but he may finally find himself having something he could only dream about last time: influence.

P.S. - Happy birthday, Dad!

Don't forget to Digg this piece if you dig this piece!

And don't forget to come argue with me some more at FifteenNineteen!

Tags: 2008, dean, Democrat, Gore, Kucinich, left, liberal, obama, Ohio, president, Primaries, proressive (all tags)

Comments

10 Comments

Re: The Kucinich Niche

Probably not.

by ElitistJohn 2006-12-14 07:46PM | 0 recs
Not A Chance

Is this the best the Liberals have.

Ouch.

Great job on the war, Dennis.

But you will get 1% just like last time.

And then all your supporters will whine all through the general election.  And we will get another Republican Pres.

Bank on it.

by rapallos 2006-12-15 04:20AM | 0 recs
Voice for Impeachment

One of the nice things about not having a chance is that you can  say whatever the fuck you want.

Kucinich might get some traction in the media and with the grass roots on this.

I understand (and agree with) Pelosi in her cautious approach; she is, after all, not even speaker yet.

But both Bush and Cheney should not walk away from their eight-year crime spree with impunity. Dennis can do the world some good by holding their feet to the fire.

by stevehigh 2006-12-15 06:07AM | 0 recs
Re: The Kucinich Niche

Kucinich is a kook, a nut.  I volunteered for him and was absolutely astonished at what a horrible campaign he ran.  He showed no interest in playing to win at all.  He's a lightweight, a candidate who fails the laugh test.  His one chance for some real media exposure came when Tim Russert invited him to be interviewed on Meet the Press, and Kucinich refuses because NBC is part of the corporate media.  Great job, Dennis!  Really made your point there!

I voted for Kucinich in the 2004 primaries/caucuses (we had multiple votes in DC that year).  I will not vote for him again.  If he wants higher office, he should challenge Voinovich in 2010.

by Sandwich Repairman 2006-12-16 12:34PM | 0 recs
Re: The Kucinich Niche

In my 59 years on the little blue planet, I have seen this exact same scenario play out whenever any reasonably palatable candidate, like Kucinich, or Nader, appeared. Always. It simply must be the handiwork of the Conspiracy.

by blues 2006-12-16 05:43PM | 0 recs
Re: The Kucinich Niche

How did Paul Wellstone upset a two-term senator who outspent him 6 to 1 in 1990?

It can be done.  But not when your candidate is a moron and your campaign is a joke.

by Sandwich Repairman 2006-12-19 11:29AM | 0 recs
Kucinich wants to bring the troops home now

There's an interview with Kucinich at Truthdig. Immediately, he brings up the obvious, ugly point about the Democrats and the war in Iraq:

Someone has to rally the American people, to let them know that the money is there right now to bring our troops home. Democrats were put in power in November to chart a new direction in Iraq. It's inconceivable that having been given the constitutional responsibility to guide the fortunes of America in a new direction, that Democratic leaders would respond by supporting the administration's call for up to $160 billion in new funding for the war in Iraq...

The very fact the people put Democrats in power in November over the issue of Iraq means that there exists a tremendous amount of support for affirming the will of the people to set a new course, not only for Iraq but for all of U.S. international policy. That percolation, which resulted in the Democrats gaining control of Congress, is still there. It is fairly astonishing that Democrat leaders would forget that only a month ago we were given the control of the Congress because of Iraq. It is fairly astonishing that less than a month after being given that constitutional obligation to assume a coequal position in the government, [we] would capitulate on Iraq by publicly declaring support for up to $160 billion in additional funding to keep the war going.


The Democrats won the Congress and Senate because they led the American peolpe to believe that they would bring this war to an end. But after the election, they voted for more funding for the war, which will in effect keep the war going until the 2008 election. A classic case of bait and switch. Kucinch is the only candidate who is pointing this out—the only candidate addressing the will of the people on the most important issue facing the country today. Surely he should be taken seriously simply for that.

by Alexander 2006-12-16 03:24PM | 0 recs
off-topic,

and out of curiosity, Qshio. What is the significance of "fifteennineteen", the name of your blog?

by NuevoLiberal 2006-12-16 03:40PM | 0 recs
Re: off-topic,
Glad to answer. It refers to the fifteenth and nineteenth amendments to the constitution, allowing minorities and women the right to vote.
by Qshio 2006-12-16 07:19PM | 0 recs
He's Got Support

I was at a party last night, and someone there expressed a desire to bring him to town for an early campaign event.

A pure and passionate campaign will do that.  He should have lots of invites like this that his campaign doesn't have to initiate--and I don't see anyone outside the top tier who's likely to have a similar level of interest or enthusiasm for getting him out in front of people--except possibly Al Sharpton.

People think that a campaign is only about winning, they think Kucinich can't win, and therefore they ignore him.  But there's a lot more to running than winning.  There's getting issues onto the table, plus attacking proposals that sound good inside the Beltway, and maybe even test okay with a focus group, but don't stand up to real scrutiny.  In short, there's helping to shape the debate.  And Kucinich can do that.  How successfully, we can't tell in advance.  But it is something he can do, and that is a reason to pay attention to him.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-12-16 04:53PM | 0 recs

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