I've stated before several times that I tend to align on the far left. The left right dichotomy isn't a good model, but it's a familiar model, and if I identify with a fringe, odds are a person will understand what disagreements they can expect. The fringe is a diverse place, and the Democratic Party currently fields two candidates who adequately fit that description - Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich. I'm picking Dennis first, out of sympathy (I favored another candidate in '04, watched the left go center-left, and was sorely disappointed). Also, the "New Mexico Presidential Preference Caucus" is coming up, and I want to make sure i cover my own party in adequate depth before moving on. It's democrats from here until February, unless circumstances change.
The format - This is my opinion on Dennis's written opinions, as stated on the issues page of his campaign website. He has two issues pages, so I will be going through the more immediately available page, as it is both simpler and shorter. I'm sure his opinions will change little, and that detail will be the omitted factor instead.
Before I go into this, there's a quick note I would like to get out about UFO sightings and presidential candidate. I more or less refuse to let things candidates do, other than vote or speak about issues, affect my opinion of their competence as a world leader. What matters is what they say, and for those still troubled by presidential smalltalk, I request you read this comic before continuing on.
Dennis Kucinich through the lens of Kelsey Atherton
Strength Through Peace: Voting records are important from those who have them, and Dennis voted against authorizing the war in Iraq. That's just plain sensible, and it puts this section off to a good start. After this point, his site stops feeling like the standard run-through McCain and Richardson presented, and instead he discusses the US military, and how superiority is so unquestioned right now that war doesn't make sense, and that war has failed to prevent a litany of woes (acknowledging, of course, that terrorism is among those woes). He provides over two dozen links for further reading on his specific stands (including bills), and lets specifics be specifics. It's an interesting approach, and seeing the raw ideology is something I enjoy. Acknowledging strength, Kucinich believes we should move towards other solutions. There's some hyperbole, and he underestimates the armies of the rest of the world, but I like it. Keep the military, and then move on.
A Healthy Nation: A "Universal, Single-payer, Not-For-Profit health care system" is what Dennis is proposing, and it's bold. It turn health care into a public good, values an insured populace for the benefit of the whole of the nation, and aims to cut bureaucracy. It fascinating, it seems to be the far extreme of what people want, and it polarizes nicely with Ron Paul. Kucinich places full trust in the competence of government, and no trust in the free market system. Ron Paul is the reverse, and every other candidate falls in-between. I would like to trust both government and the free market, I don't see them as opposed, and so I am looking for a good middle-of-the-road solution here, but I would be fine being part of a living laboratory with either (such is the confidence of my youth)
Survival of the Middle Class: Phrasing is big with me, and the phrase "casino captialists" doesn't stick, which makes many of his attacks fall short. On the other hand, he quotes from a book (citation and everything) when he admits others may know more than he does, and is smart enough to use the information for good.
Moving on from his language, we get to policy. Kucinich has a radical plan to make the middle class the most important group in American politics again, and hurls favors their way. Better tax refunds, universal pre-k through college educations (!) at government expense, the previously discussed health care plan, a New-Deal style agency for energy and the environment, powers against unions curtailed, and the word "patriotic" applied to tax incentives for businesses that remain domestic are all part of his plan for improving the middle class. The cost comes from the military, from savings made possible by universal health care, and by a shifted tax burden to even further up the economic ladder.
What he is saying is brilliant, and if all went well it would make the USA a middle class nation, with the pacifism and progress a middle class nation can expect to enjoy. It offers nothing to the people it disadvantages, and a new political efficacy for the middle class would be hard to form in the face of upper class opposition that is bound to follow. I like most of it, but I think that it would drive him out of office after one term and replace him with a powerful laissez faire and "trickle down" center-right candidate.
Securing Constitutional Democracy: In a discussion of civil liberties, it is worth noting that Dennis has a solid voting record, having voted against the Patriot Act. The action's enough to support him, and he expands his focus, looking at the justice department, and specifically the fired loyal republican attorneys, as signs that a "unitary executive" and concentrated, increased presidential powers are a threat for everyone. He defends the loyal opposition when they help principle before the party line, and that's a good move as well. Associated with that, Dennis claims that prosecutions for voter fraud are far less important than the harm to democracy caused by voter intimidation. I like the gist of his statements here (excepting the "We don't elect Kings" quote), but my problem is that I am only getting general opinions. it's enough to understand principles and ideology, but it isn't nearly as easy to dissect as stated plans.
A Sustainable Future: A redundant first paragraph is unfortunate, and when assessing quality by semantics, that's no good. I'm not that petty, so instead, let's focus on his acknowledgment of global warming. That's a good thing. He talks about sustainability and alternative energy, and that's very important, solid stuff. He proposes a new works administration to help do the groundwork for a new energy sector. He actually calls for reduced energy use, a first among candidates that I've covered. It's great stuff, from the modern and environmentally as well as scientifically aware voters perspective. And then he gets to nuclear power.
I've discussed my view on nuclear power before, so I won't rehash them here beyond a simple statement. Nuclear power is an idea worth considering, and excluding the idea from talk of a sustainable future out of fear seems to me to be folly, whether or not nuclear power is ultimately used. Kucinich, for his part, argues that nuclear industry is more threatening than nuclear terrorism, and that having nuclear plants, beyond being too risky in and of itself, provides opportunities for terrorists. It's a good watchdog perspective, and one that serves well in the legislature, making sure harm is minimized. It doesn't strike me as a presidential stance, and I also feel his fears of nuclear waste transport are overblown.
Reassuringly, he moves onto that other big issue of the future, and joins Richardson in acknowledging water as an important sustainability issue (Ron Paul and McCain didn't address it). He views water itself as a public good, beyond the reach of commodification, and publicly owned by safeguarded by governments on behalf on the entire world. It's very interesting, and I'm in general agreement with his principles. For sustainability, he's two for three for me, and I think it would be impossible for him to ignore nuclear power if he ever became president, so I would be content with him, far as these issues are concerned. He would make an incr3edible secretary of the interior.
End to Poverty: Ever the internationalist, I'll offer this quote before my analysis "Dennis Kucinich will make it a national priority to fight poverty worldwide. He understands that the path to a safe, strong America is through peace, tolerance and committing our nation to eradicating the root causes of global poverty." Global poverty as a cause of problems in the United States? How wonderfully, wonderfully true. There's a brilliant speech on this page as well, offered in a tiny font but still worth reading. Kucinich believe poverty and urban decay to be more damaging and more worth fighting than Iraq, and more broadly then a war on terror. It's a Great Society he seeks to build, and while the page offers only the general guideline of less military funding and higher upper class taxes as a solution, he knows the problem is real, and hie is willing to address it with the effort needed. This is magnificent stuff.
Saving Capitalism: This page is incomplete, which is a pity. I'll check back when it's up, and both edit this post and link to it again. It's pretty frustrating that this isn't done, though. This is where he has his best platform to be Keynesian and to attack organizations that exploit capitalism, rather than feed into it. He promises to attack NAFTA and the WTO (and to withdraw the nation from both), but there is no more substance here.
Kucinich is brilliant, and it is easy to see why people are so passionate for him, and why there is such sorrow when they say he can't be elected. The trick is he can be elected, and has been, repeatedly, to perhaps the best office for him. Not to say that he wouldn't be a good president; he'd be an incredible one, but one who was stymied at every turn by both sides of both houses. The legislation that was passed would be pale shades of his idealism, but significant progress nonetheless.
Kucinich is the left fringe candidate, and so it is unlikely he will get the nod. That said, his candidacy is important, and votes for him will not be wasted. Kucinich is the name to vote for in a primary (or caucus, or whatnot) if you want the party to move further to the left, if you want idealistic votes to be counted for, and idealism to be somewhat accommodated by other candidates. Also, enough votes may help he gain a position of value that is not an elected office; secretary of the interior I've already mentioned, but there are other roles. Housing and Urban Development would be a particularly good choice for the Clevelander, while Labor and health and Human Services would also be valuable posts.
Kucinich has idealism, and that is just something hard to not support, to not automatically endorse, especially when it agrees so much with mine (Ron Paul is an idealist too, but one with a very different set of ideals.) I would like to see more substance, and though it is linked to on pages covered, it needs further investigation, and I will hopefully have covered those pages when I post about his updated stance on "Saving Capitalism". Then I will offer a final verdict, but for now I stand by my notion that a vote for Kucinich is a vote to shift the party to the left, and even if it doesn't help him, it does great things for the democrats as a whole.
One last note - Kucinich offers on his websites' sidebar link to a fun little quiz that I discovered back in August. It's fun, and is interesting as a tool, if not as a definitive anything. Bonus points for encouraging comparison shopping.