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Kucinich: Democrats Must Honor Mandate | The Nation

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Kucinich: Democrats Must Honor Mandate

Dennis Kucinich is running for President again and, yes, he would love to cure what ails the United States.

But, first, he wants to cure what ails his own Democratic Party.

The Democratic disease, he says, is caution regarding the antiwar position it should be taking.

"Democrats were swept into power on November 7 because of widespread voter discontent with the war in Iraq," says Kucinich. "Instead of heeding those concerns and responding with a strong and immediate change in policies and direction, the Democratic Congressional leadership seems inclined to continue funding the perpetuation of the war."

That is not the typical opening salvo for a presidential primary bid.

But Kucinich is not a typical campaigner for the presidency. His aggressively antiwar run for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination captured the imagination of many activists but only won around 70 of the 2,162 delegates he would have needed to secure the nod. He remained in the race to the end, however, and left in place a network of supporters across the country that evolved into the effective activist group Progressive Democrats in America.

As the 2008 race approached and sentiments regarding the war soured, attention on the part of the growing mass of antiwar Democrats focused on the potential candidacy of Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, who opposed the war from the start and was the first senator to call for a withdrawal timeline. But Feingold decided after the November 7 election to remain in the Senate, where he will chair key subcommittees on the Constitution and foreign relations.

So Kucinich saw an opening to run a message-driven campaign on the war issue. The Congressman, who was re-elected with 66 percent of the vote in November by Cleveland-area voters who appear to be comfortable with their representative making longshot presidential bids, says he will take a blunt antiwar message to the campaign trail and to every debate.

In particular, he will challenge Democrats who have voted to keep funding the war. Kucinich argues that Congress should provide the money for an orderly withdrawal of US troops from Iraq--one that assures the safety of the soldiers and the smoothest transition--but that it should not continue to meet Department of Defense demands for continued funding of what looks more and more like a permanent military presence in the Middle East country.

"Unless and until Congress decides to force a new direction by cutting off funds, the United States will continue to occupy Iraq and have a destabilizing presence in the Middle East region," argues Kucinich.

Can Kucinich win more votes in 2008 than he did in 2004? That's an open question. Concern about the war runs deeper now, and frustration with the Democratic Party's failure to develop a clear stance on an exit strategy runs higher. But there may be another candidate who, while not as pure or precise as Kucinich on the issue, can point to a record of opposing the war from the start and to his support for a redeployment timeline.

Like Kucinich, this other candidate has a name that a lot of Americans still have trouble pronouncing. But, if the media frenzy that surrounded Barack Obama's trip to New Hampshire last weekend was any indication, it's a good bet that Obama will be given more opportunities to introduce himself and deliver his message than the Congressman from Ohio.

That said, Kucinich's presence in the debates could well sharpen the discussion among Democrats regarding the war. And as Kucinich rightly points out, that sharpening is needed.

Indeed, Kucinich argues, the fate of the Democratic Party could rest on the question of how it responds to the desire of Americans to bring the troops home.

"On November 7, 2006, the American public voted for a new direction for our Iraq policy. That direction is -- out. As Democrats prepare to take the majority for the first time in twelve years, Democrats now have the responsibility to act on the overwhelming mandate issued by the American public," says the congressman. "Will that new direction mean an exit from Iraq? Because, if not, America will be held hostage by the skyrocketing cost of the war in Iraq even as President Bush leaves office at 11:59 am on January 20, 2009. And, the voters will not forget who let them down. "

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