Who's Afraid of Dennis Kucinich?
After the speech, I went through the crowd and spoke with some of the students. The majority had signed up to volunteer immediately. But a few held back. One, 27-year-old Dave Wilmes, said that he liked Kucinich but wasn't sure he could support him.
"He's everything that I personally would want in a President," Wilmes said. "But I don't think he can do it. It's going to have to be someone like Kerry or Edwards."
"Why?" I asked.
He shrugged. "It's probably going to have to be someone who's tall," he said. "I mean, Kucinich is great, but this just isn't serious."
Welcome to the Dennis Kucinich paradox. The congressman is not serious precisely because he is serious. Because he wants his victory to mean something, he is said to not really want to win. Pundits and journalists talk a lot about Kucinich's height and his decidedly non-Hollywood looks as the main reasons he cannot be considered a contender, but on the campaign trail, it sure looks like Kucinich's chief "problem" is that when he talks, he means it.
It does not take much exposure to Dennis Kucinich to realize just how serious he really is. He says things that could never even occur to a phony. This was most forcefully demonstrated to me right at the start of an hourlong interview in a minivan on the road back to Bangor, Maine, after the candidate's appearance at an organic farmers' fair in rural Unity.
We had been talking about corporate crime, and at first Kucinich said some things that sounded very much like Howard Dean--that he was going to make prosecuting irresponsible CEOs more of a priority, etc. But then, as he sat there loudly munching Udon noodles (bought at the fair: Kucinich is a devout vegan), he suddenly stared off into the distance and added something else.
"I think rehabilitation should be part of it," he said. "We ought to rehabilitate the guy who steals his company's pension."
I looked up, surprised. "You mean like drug court?" I said. "Rehab programs after sentence? Re-education?"
He nodded. "Why not? You have to go to rehab for traffic court. Treatment for these people should be made available, if circumstances dictate that they need it." He smiled. "After, of course, an appropriate term of service to society."
I laughed. Well, that makes sense, I thought. Why does a serial speeder have to seek treatment, while the person who liquidates thousands of jobs and imperils whole economies does not? Why is a drug problem considered treatable, while a greed problem isn't? The question gets right to the heart of the fundamental prejudices of our society: You have a problem if you use drugs to dull your misery, but you don't have a problem if you're just trying to get rich by any means, legal or otherwise.