Dennis Kucinich is running for President again, and yes, the passionately antiwar Congressman from Cleveland would love to cure what ails the United States. But first, he wants to cure what ails his own Democratic Party.
The Democratic disease, as diagnosed by Kucinich, is caution at the party's leadership level about moving to end US involvement in Iraq. "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 bid. But Kucinich is not a typical candidate. When he ran for the nomination in 2004, he said a lot of things that grassroots Democrats were thinking. But he didn't say them in a way that won him many delegate votes--only around 70 of the 2,162 needed to secure the nod.
Still, Kucinich's candidacy merits attention because his presence in the debates--which should be assured by his status as a former mayor of Cleveland and a six-term Congressman re-elected this year with 66 percent of the vote--should sharpen the discussion among Democrats regarding the war. As Kucinich rightly points out, that sharpening is needed in a party that still struggles with the question of an exit strategy.
This time around, many antiwar Democrats focused on the potential candidacy of Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, an early and consistent opponent of the war. But after the election Feingold decided to remain in the Senate, where he will chair key subcommittees on the Constitution and Africa.
Kucinich has decided to try to fill the void, saying he will bring a blunt antiwar message to the campaign trail and to every debate. In particular, he will take on 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 but that it should not continue to meet Defense Department demands for continued funding of a long-term military presence there. "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, who wants Democrats to challenge supplemental funding requests from the Pentagon.
Concern about the war runs deeper now than in 2004, but there is no guarantee that will improve Kucinich's chances this time. There may be another candidate--Barack Obama--who, while not as pure or precise on the issue as Kucinich, has a record of opposing the war from the start and supporting a redeployment timeline. If the media frenzy that greeted Obama's recent trip to New Hampshire was any indication, it's a good bet that the Illinois Senator will be given many more opportunities to deliver his message than Kucinich. If Obama does not run, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards is likely to position himself as the candidate with a plan to bring the troops home.
Kucinich, however, is undeterred in his drive to mount an aggressively antiwar presidential quest. "On November 7, 2006, the American public voted for a new direction for our Iraq policy," says Kucinich. But if troops are still there in two years, "the voters will not forget who let them down."