The Kucinich Niche
by Qshio, Thu Dec 14, 2006 at 12:13:13 PM EST
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!
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