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The Fire This Time: Why Kucinich May be the Right Guy at the Right Time

Maybe Kucinich can beat Bush. Here's an article discussing this question. Thoughts, anyone? (I know, I know, some of us think electoral politics are futile or worse ... ;~)
The Fire This Time:
Why Kucinich May be the Right Guy at the Right Time
Daniel Patrick Welch

Kucinich may be the only guy who can win this [US Presidential] election. Sounds far-fetched, right? What the Brits would call Loony Left delusional thinking. The U.S. press would just ignore the whole thing, naturally, until it's no longer possible. Just plain crazy. But is it? Every finely tuned ear has recorded the spike in interest every time someone has had the guts to speak up about various aspects of the nascent fascism we are confronting. From Gore's early comments breaking the taboo of criticizing Bush to Byrd's articulate blasts, mainstream politicians have received a grateful roar from the rabble with each thrust, the bolder the better.

Of course, political parties have never been comfortable with movement politicians, and the Boy Mayor of Cleveland is no exception. But these, of course, are no ordinary times, and along the political spectrum, from Chomsky to, say, Chenoweth, people would be hard pressed to say the old rules will work this time around. Along with positive notes from Chomsky, Studs Terkel, Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry's, Lynn Woolsey of the Progressive Caucus, and left/liberal websites like Democrats.com ( http://www.democrats.com/) and Citizens for Legitimate Government ( http://www.legitgov.org/), the Kucinich campaign ( http://www.kucinich.us/) crossed new threshold when he took second place in the Moveon.org ( http://moveon.org/pac/primary/report.html) online primary, itself a fascinating exercise in online democracy.

It's a remarkable surge in just a few days, and with the resultant influx of sorely needed cash, it is only a matter of time before people start voting where they really want to--the buzz is that Dennis is people's "I would, but..." candidate. And all the notables who take note of Kucinich, even some who overtly or implicitly endorse him, "concede" that he doesn't have a chance.

I think they may be selling their man short. My answer to those who say we can only win by playing the same game is that--what seems completely logical to me--it's the only way we can lose. The money and the media will always favor the right--unless we can learn to run an insurgent, Kucinich--type candidate and campaign and win successfully, we are screwed. Why is this news? Why should U.S. elections be so special--they are some of the most corrupt and money-polluted scams in the world.

We need to look elsewhere for models and quit whining and focusing on old-school gamesmanship. It is nothing new for progressive populists to run against moneyed candidates with "only" the Truth and the People on their side. Why should this be a losing proposition? Lula did it in Brazil. Chavez did it in Venezuela. Allende did it in Chile before the CIA mowed him down... Not only is it possible--it may be the only way to win, especially as time goes on and the demographics further favor such insurgency. It's still Jackson's model: without bringing millions of new people into the process, by energizing and mobilizing base constituencies, the left is suicidally following the right's game plan and ignoring its own overwhelming strengths. The Emerging Democratic Majority may well be ours--but we have the power to blow it by convincing future generations of Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and others that their growing numbers are not of interest to us and they have nothing to gain by participating. The right is quite justifiably following a smart strategy which is the only way they can win. They have even succeeded in getting most Democrats to follow a strategy which is the only way they can lose.

The last insurgent populist campaign the Democrats dispensed with was Jesse Jackson's, and his math is still sound. Consider this equation from his 1984 convention speech ( http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/jessejackson1984dnc.htm) (still a great read-isn't it amazing what you can find online?):

"If Blacks vote in great numbers, progressive Whites win. It's the only way progressive Whites win. If Blacks vote in great numbers, Hispanics win. When Blacks, Hispanics, and progressive Whites vote, women win. When women win, children win. When women and children win, workers win. We must all come up together. We must come up together."

Those who think that campaign never set off alarm bells in the halls of power need only remember the Newsweek cover four years later, when Jackson managed to break 50% in the Michigan primary by mobilizing tens of thousands of African American youths to vote in their first electoral experience. Somebody found a fairly scary close-up of Jackson in the throes of an intense speech, face contorted and sweaty in a way reminiscent of Hitler or Sun Yung Moon. The one-word caption, in large-type yellow letters, served as headline, heads-up, and horrified call-to-arms: Jesse?! It was apparently the moment when the establishment, although still dismissive, actually considered that he might win, and began to contemplate what it might mean.

The math, stripped of its eloquence, looks something like this: If minority constituencies could be inspired to vote in proportionate numbers and in line with their historical preferences, a populist candidate would need less than 40% of the white vote to constitute a majority. In other words, in a 100 million vote election, 12% Black at 90%, 12 Latino at 65%, Asian at 60%, White Women at 53%...leads to only 25% of white men needed…. Before you get out your calculators, remember this is only a rough sketch. The theory is that by truly energizing the progressive base, we can further effect this shift to the left.

The problem, of course, is that Kucinich isn't Black, and it remains to be seen whether he could mobilize the necessary base constituencies in sufficient numbers. Jackson had a special charisma, which Sharpton and Braun seem to lack in the same quantity. It may not only be about race, though white progressives have been saying this for generations. The difference is that the African American community still has a cohesive political consciousness: Black voters enticed to vote can largely be relied on to support progressive causes. The same can not be said for the alienated white votership, who occasionally sneak out in record numbers to vote for David Duke or worse.

And these tendencies aren't changing, much as we are led to believe otherwise. For one thing, the right would not be pouring money into vote suppression if they were. Anecdotal insights may also be instructive. A Latina friend of mine, recently naturalized, sought my advice on voting, since we often discussed politics. One caveat, she said, was that she couldn't vote for any candidate who supported abortion. I cautioned her that, given her other beliefs, she would probably find that pigeonholing along these lines might cause her to vote for some ideas she rejected with greater vehemence. Some time later, it has become apparent that she is horrified by the right wing, furious at what she felt was a GOP coup in 2000, and poised to support progressive candidates despite their reproductive rights stand. Similarly, in California, Pete Wilson and the state GOP's ugly support for anti-immigration legislation has virtually guaranteed the further entrenchment of these gains. And it can only get worse for the right if the left wakes up soon enough.

Even white people are getting the message. The Nation ran a piece in May quoting the likes of former Silicon Valley moguls on how they may have changed their minds about the need for unions, limits on corporate power and the like. The Kucinich campaign seizes on one of these transformations, maybe with a little too much hope of Things to Come (but who's to say?), a disaffected voter who, after 22 years of being a libertarian, just switched to Democrat because he finally found "someone to vote for: thank you Dennis Kucinich!"

The notion of elections actually reflecting the popular will is at the root of radical democratic thought, and provides the ground on which elements of radical democratic, anarcho-socialist, libertarian and anarchist ideas intermingle. Expanding democracy can only be a good thing. If the people's voice were truly free to be heard, would people really be against such things as raising the minimum wage? Providing health care and education? Limiting the influence of corporations, and the intrusive power of government in private lives?

The real trouble, of course, to advancing a people-focused, progressive agenda, is that democracy isn't really in the offing. The money-drenched, corporate-fixed "process" we stomach has little in common with the Greek ideal, unless you consider that women, slaves, and the poor are not included. Even before the end of American Apartheid, the hypocrisy of exporting "democracy" was a staple of the American self-perception. Florida is only the latest chapter in our national self-denial. It may seem ludicrous to many to think in terms of obtaining change through a major party candidate in the current system. Without structural changes like proportional representation, instant runoff voting and other reforms that would encourage independent and third-party participation--as well as abolishing the electoral college and other undemocratic forms of skewed representation--not to mention long overdue representation for DC--the bar is that much higher, and the dream recedes.

But there is no need to choose one path over the other. The fight is now, and it has never been more important. And Kucinich just may be the Right Guy at the Right Time. To paraphrase Jackson, who paraphrased Lazarus, who couldn't have said it better: "Give me your tired, give me your poor, your huddled masses who yearn to breathe free, and come next November there will be a change because our time has come!"

© 2003 Daniel Patrick Welch. Reprint permission granted.

Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, USA, with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The Greenhouse School ( http://www.volunteersolutions.org/boston/volunteer/agency/one_157700.html). He has appeared on radio [interview available here]. Past articles, translations are available at danielpwelch.com ( http://www.danielpwelch.com/). We would appreciate your linking to us.

homepage: homepage: http://www.danielpwelch.com/

anything is possible 23.Jul.2003 13:06


Some things are just more probable than others. The "kucinich can win" theory -- that is, when it's expressed as a theory and not just a 'bush is evil/kucinich is right on this issues, if you don't see it that way yer an idiot' rant -- is based on an awful lot of iffy assumptions.

In that vein, the first flaw with this article is the business about dramatically boosting minority vote turnout. Though it goes unmentioned, getting minorities to vote in the same numbers as white voters would require a get-out-the-vote effort that completely eludes white "oppostion" voters. That doesn't seem to likely to me.

The use of south american countries as a model is also questionable. Anarchist theories and such aside, the United States does NOT have an enormous population that considers itself poor and in need of a political savior. This is not a left -leaning country by any stretch of the imagination.

Which leads to the assumption that people really do want to vote for kucinich, they just don't know it yet. For a candidate who is trailing the pack in money raising and polling numbers, the guy gets an awful lot of press. People are figuring out who he is, but they're not saying they're going to vote for him (I know, I know 'polls are rigged.' I don't buy that). If he's going to be the nominee, he's got to start moving up in the polls yesterday, and fast. It's happening, but very, very slowly.

My prediction: Kucinich flames out by the North Carolina primary, then packs up his remaining campaign contributions (its legal) to go back to Ohio and battle Jerry Springer in the democratic primary for Senator.

Democratic Party a Stinking Corpse 23.Jul.2003 13:44


don't you people get it? the reason tens of millions of working people, youth and minorities don't turn out to vote is because they rightly see the Dems and Republicans as two sides of the same coin. Kucinich plays a definite role in this charade. It's to mobilize a layer of liberals within the Democratic Party who will then later be asked to endorse the winning candidate (Kerry?, Dean?). in a nutshell, by creating these hollow illusions in the nature of the Democratic Party (a big business party through and through and through), you are basically seeking to perpetuate this fraudulent system we call a democracy. working people need a new party based on policies of social equality, not capitalism - so, that rules out the Greens, too.

hey anselmo 23.Jul.2003 14:13


If you honestly believe that the majority of working people in this country want a party that disavows capitalism in favor as something as ephemeral as "policies of social equality," you're delusional.

Kucinich may end up playing the role you suggest -- but if people brought forward by the Kucinich candidacy don't want to vote for the eventual nominee, they don't have to.

So, have it your way.

but, what do you mean, ... 23.Jul.2003 14:34


"a get-out-the-vote effort that completely eludes white "oppostion" voters"? I don't understand what you're saying here.

I ask, because, with the voting statistics I've heard in recent years, I assume that, as Welch suggests, if eligible members of ethnic minorities could successfully be inspired to actually cast their ballots, that it would assure election of progressive presidents and Congress, But that seems to require much both from minority leaders and from white progressive activists (committment, volunteer hours, inclusive attitudes, and je-n'est-sais-quoi).

So what are you saying about white "opposition" voters ( I guess you mean, in this case, anti-Bush voters) and about get-out-the-vote efforts?

And - to anselmo - are you seriously saying that you don't repudiate all electoral politics - just the Democratic and Republican parties we have now? If that's the case, then you're short-sighted in your observations about the non-voters and the Democratic Party. I don't believe most non-voters have a very thought-out active resistance to voting or to voting for Democrats. Rather, it's a collection of believes and attitudes that, combined, leave them passively not voting. And, given the control over campaign and election laws that the two dominant parties have - that they use to squelch the effectiveness of organizing new parties - I see nothing inherently easier or more practical about building "a new party based on policies of social equality" than winning control within the Democratic Party.

Clearly, large numbers of working people, youth, and minorities are NOT joining together either to take over the Democratic Party (locally or nationally) or to create their own parties. So, as a white person, I assume it is my responsibility to look at how to help bridge the gap between the power structure (with which I have a bit more "privilege" and familiarity) and the non-participants, to move towards a democratic society. Unfortunately, I don't know what it is that I should be doing to move this along. It seems as though in electoral politics it should be relatively cut-and-dried, as compared with other less quantified and codified aspects of society. But it doesn't appear to be working that way. In fact, the old Democratic Party factions and the coalitions they formed seem mostly to unravel more and more, with very little activism and alliances to take their place.

latina/latino voters and pro life issues 23.Jul.2003 21:17


Daniel Welch makes a point about latina/o voters being concerned about the abortion issue.

I have done some thinking in this area because i am so tired of right wingers bringing out the "pro-life" issue as a way to scare "Christians" into voting for them. Catholics especially have a history of being pro labor/pro working class/ and yet in the last years they have drifted to the right over the life issue.
when talking to these people it is important to bring up all the life issues. e.g. no to capital punishment/no to war/yes to healthcare/yes to living wage jobs/. When seen in a broader spectrum it is clear that while Bush or his look alikes are "anti abortion", they are clearly much less pro life than Kucinich who only "fails" on one issue...

The right wingers have taken over this argument by manipulating people with gross pictures etc. and then puffing themselves up as pro life and self righteous... it is time that people who view life in much more inclusive terms begin to take back the argument, especially when dealing with people of strong religious belief.

Kucinich is terrific choice for the times we live in.

What do you want - socialism or capitalism? 24.Jul.2003 10:29


i agree with anselmo. i don't want to get into a big slanging match. one of the responders remarked that it was easier to take over the Democratic Party than to build a genuine alternative for working people. Well, you are basically saying that you believe that capitalism can be made into a progressive force in society. Why? Because no one disputes the fact that the Democratic Party is a party of, by and for big business. That's what you want to take over. And its because, if you really want to admit it, you believe that capitalism still is the only/best system warts and all. If you don't believe that, like Anselmo, then you understand that it is necessary to build a genuine party by, for, of the working class. That we call socialism. The question is not "Is it easier to resurrect a stinking corpse (Liberalism) or to give birth to a new party" - although I would say that resurrection went out with Lazarus and Jesus - but WHAT IS REQUIRED to end this horrible nose dive into barbarism, poverty, war, lies, Patriot Acts, disappeared "prisoners', Gitmo concentration camps - well, you get the picture. They are all things the Democrats in government have largely voted for. I'll come clean here. If you agree, check out the wsws.org socialist website. If not. Call me back when a defeated Kucinich meets on the Democratic Party Convention platform in Boston and hugs Lieberman or Kerry or Dean or Gephardt or General Wesley Clarke and asks you to vote for them.

Idealists Wake Up! 24.Jul.2003 15:04

Anarchist for Kucinich


Bush is in power, and he's not going to get out of power due to your half-formed theories of "social equality" or "revolution". And don't even try to say "all politicans are the same", since there is no fucking way Kucinich is as bad as Bush. Because you make this dumb little assumption and decide that since all Democrats and Republicans are the same you aren't going to do anything about it and will just wait around for this marvelous little revolution, *people are fucking starving and dying*. The people who are farthest removed from the effects of Bush on the working class, women, minorities, and so on are the ones who have the *luxury* of being able to say that Bush is just as bad as [insert name of Democrat].

It's also obvious you don't know anything about Kucinich. He's not a typical Democrat, and ran several times and won offices without the backing of the Democratic party. If Kucinich doesn't get the candidacy, the only people I know who would still vote for another Democratic candidate are the same people who would just be voting Democratic anyway. A hell of a lot of Kucinich supporters are smart enough to tell the difference between the man and the party (unlike you) and wouldn't vote for any Democrat (if they'd still vote at all).

I am a social anarchist and would like to see the abolition of capitalism/the State/the system, but for now actual people's lives are depending on what goes on in the government. Rather than spouting about my radical theories and principles while the woman next door is laid off and doesn't know if she can make rent, I'd rather do something actively to help her, even if it's something as simple as voting. Sitting on your ivory tower with your radical politics shows a complete callous disregard for reality and the daily lives of most of the people of the world.

social anarchist democratic? - thats a mouthful 25.Jul.2003 07:00


actually I work daily organizing workers, writing articles, attending trade union meetings and rallies. so enough with the personal vitriol. looks like i hit a nerve, though, Mr. social anarchist Democrat. Can you say "opportunist"? It has a long history in the workers movement.