GIVE DENNIS HIS DUE: When Dennis Kucinich lost his re-election bid on March 6, the country lost something too. The Congressman from Ohio was that rare politician who makes real the cliché “speak truth to power.” Kucinich was never afraid to take the positions that should have been at the core of the Democratic Party. He was among the few who opposed the Patriot Act. He opposed the Iraq invasion, “whipping” three-fifths of House Democrats to vote against it too. Later he pushed to defund the war when few in his party were willing to go along. And with almost no political support, he introduced articles of impeachment against Dick Cheney for lying to get us into the war.
Kucinich railed against the abuse of executive power, under both Bush and Obama. He pushed to investigate the politicization of 9/11. He called for an end to hostilities in Gaza and warned, as he still warns, of fearmongering that would lead to another war of choice, this one with Iran. And he stood on the side of all who believed that a battle against economic inequality was the war worth waging.
Kucinich has been a frequent contributor to The Nation, and his political courage was praised in its pages by Studs Terkel and Gore Vidal. I have not always agreed with Kucinich’s views or tactics. But I have great respect for how hard he tried to move the conversation in Washington back toward the left. When we lose outspoken progressives like him or Russ Feingold, we lose the counterbalance we need against the powerful forces that have gathered on behalf of the 1 percent. Such leaders cannot just be replaced by people who quietly vote the same way. It is the public debate that stakes out progressive positions to help define the true national center. Kucinich believes in the power of progressive ideas and ideals and did his best to force the media to pay attention to them. That’s what made him matter more than the average Congressman. Indeed, more than most. KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL
PULLING THE PLUG ON LIMBAUGH: Rush Limbaugh upped the volume on his vitriol when he moved from his usual trashing of prominent women like Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton to attacking Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, calling her a “slut” and a “prostitute” because she dared to defend reproductive rights.
While the GOP presidential candidates, who continue to bow and scrape before Limbaugh, chose not to call him out—the best Mitt Romney could do was say he would have chosen different language—Limbaugh’s advertisers finally decided to make a break with the man who dismisses feminists as “femi-Nazis.” Ten days after Limbaugh’s slut talk, the Clear Channel Communications subsidiary that distributes his show listed ninety-eight national companies that had requested their spots not be aired during programs “deemed to be offensive or controversial.”
Advertisers weren’t the only ones revolting against Limbaugh’s revolting remarks. The host has always tried to spice up his show with rock music. But it’s going to be harder now. When Peter Gabriel learned his song “Sledgehammer” was playing in the background while the host attacked Fluke, the “appalled” British rocker demanded that Limbaugh stop playing his music. The Canadian band Rush threatened legal action unless Limbaugh agreed to “immediately stop all use” of its work. And when Tom Morello and his bandmates learned Limbaugh was playing their music, they summed up a lot of sentiment with this message: “Hey Jackass, stop using our music on your racist, misogynist, right wing clown show. Sincerely, Rage Against The Machine.” JOHN NICHOLS
JUDGING JUVENILES: In the landmark case Roper v. Simmons, the Supreme Court ruled out the death penalty for children on the grounds that children are less mature and their sense of responsibility has not fully developed. Kids are more vulnerable to peer pressure and, unlike adults, cannot control or escape dysfunctional homes or neighborhoods—two major contributing factors to youth crime. They also have a greater chance of rehabilitation. Thus, the Court declared, “it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult.”
In 2010 the Court applied the same logic in its decision in Graham v. Florida to conclude that children convicted of non-homicide crimes cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority, “Juveniles are more capable of change than are adults, and their actions are less likely to be evidence of ‘irretrievably depraved character’ than are the actions of adults.”
On March 20 the Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in two cases, Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs, that ask whether it is ever constitutional to condemn a child to die in prison. The petitioners, Evan Miller and Kuntrell Jackson, convicted of murders committed when they were just 14, argue that, by the Court’s own logic, it is not. As attorney Bryan Stevenson writes in a summary of the Miller argument: “To wholly disregard a 14-year-old offender’s age and age-related characteristics in sentencing him to be imprisoned for the remainder of his existence makes a mockery” of the precedent set by Roper and Graham.
Laws that allow children to be tried as adults stand in stark contrast to hundreds of others that deem children too immature to vote, serve on juries or drink alcohol. Rather than a rational response to youth crime, the legal provisions that have led to kids being sentenced to die behind bars are an accident of historic trends that were based more on rhetoric than reality. The same experts who in the 1990s warned of a new generation of “morally impoverished juvenile super-predators,” prompting a wave of “tough on crime” reforms, now acknowledge—including in an amicus brief in support of Miller and Jackson—that juvenile crime rates actually dropped in that era. Yet children accused of serious crimes, a grossly disproportionate number of them children of color, found themselves caught permanently in the web spun by academics and politicians, sentenced to die in prison with no hope of release no matter how they might reform themselves.
Unlike the way Miller and Jackson were judged, the Court judges us, as a society, by how we have matured over the years. Based on our “evolving standards of decency,” a deeper understanding than ever of adolescent development, and the debunking of vicious myths, the Court should reject life-without-parole sentences for all children.
For more on Miller and Jackson, see “Why Life Without Parole Is Wrong for Juveniles,” at TheNation.com. RANDY HERTZ