American Dreams, Lost and Found | The Nation


American Dreams, Lost and Found

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It was his voice in the State Senate that caused Ohio to scrap the planned siting of a nuclear waste dump in the state. He gets things done in no small way because of his understanding of his opponents' humanness as well as his wrongness. There is an ultraconservative congressman from a nearby state whom Kucinich describes as a "good, honest man." I spoke to that Congressman and discovered that he admires Dennis very much. You get the idea? I think this guy can reach anyone and change seemingly unchangeable minds. (Personal note: Dennis, there's one thing I'd like to change your mind on--your stand on a woman's right to choose. I know, because of your background, you are of two minds on the subject. I have faith in your honesty and in your belief in the dignity of the person that you will make the right choice: pro.)

This conversation appears in American Dreams Lost and Found (New Press).

About the Author

Studs Terkel
Studs Terkel's most recent book is Will the Circle Be Unbroken? (New Press).

Also by the Author

As part of a nationwide festival of tributes to Pete Seeger in 2005, Studs Terkel offered this essay on the life and times of an American balladeer.

It's more than a hunch that tells me Kucinich Is the One (if I may borrow a Nixonian slogan). I am a believer in egalitarianism, and I feel it's high time an Ohioan had another shot at the presidency. We've had only three since the eminently forgettable Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876.

In 1896, Ohio gave us William McKinley, with a little help from his boss, Mark Hanna. In 1908, it gave us William Howard Taft, fondly remembered as the heaviest occupant in the history of the White House. And in 1920, we were gifted with the genial, handsome, presidential-looking Warren Gamaliel Harding. Even though I was only 8 at the time, I remember it with some sense of pride because his nomination happened in my hometown, Chicago. In a smoke-filled room at the Blackstone Hotel, the Boys, blowing wondrous smoke rings from H. Upmanns, with a touch of bourbon or two to lift all spirits, boozily announced that Harding's the one. Sure, he was as little known, say, as Dennis Kucinich, but with the leading candidates, Gen. Leonard Wood and Governor Frank Lowden in a damn deadlock, they said, What the hell, here's a good-lookin' guy. And we gotta get home.

Now, in the year 2002, Ohio has given us another, of a somewhat different stripe. I doubt whether he'll ever make People magazine's list of the most beautiful people, but the blue-collar Kucinich is the only one who can win back the blue-collar Reagan Democrats, among the other disenchanted, and the disfranchised. He talks the language they understand and, at 55, with a remarkable eloquence.

Imagine him in a televised, coast-to-coast debate with Dubya. Blood wouldn't flow, but it would be a knockout in the first round, and we'd have an honest-to-God working-class President for the first time in our history. It's a crazy thought, of course, but it's quite possible, considering the roller-coaster nature of our times.

Since plagiarism is à la mode these days, let me steal the closing passage from the Rev. William Sloane Coffin's invocation at a Yale commencement during the Vietnam War: "Oh God, take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire." I'll add a brief benediction: Kucinich is the man to light the fire. Amen.

Postscript. Obviously, I haven't touched on ways and means. Obviously, the big dough will not be there. But this could be the catapult for the hundreds of grassroots groups on a thousand and one issues to coalesce behind one banner. Jim Hightower has touched on that often. And Michael Moore's book Stupid White Men is a bestseller. And there's a whole new generation of kids, not just the students, but bewildered, lost blue-collar kids. And, strangely enough, it can be done the old-fashioned way, shoe leather and bell-ringing, as well as e-mails. It could be that exciting. Nicholas von Hoffman once observed that when people get active, they get the feeling they count. Kucinich is like Poe's purloined letter--right there on the table as we helplessly play Inspector Clouseau goofily searching elsewhere.

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