It was a fluff piece in The American Prospect about the 2004 Democratic Presidential Primary – a ‘get to meet your candidates on the campaign trail’ piece. Written by Garance Franke-Ruta, who I generally respect as a writer, the 1,350 word article, “Presidential hopefuls strut their stuff at Wednesday’s Democratic cattle call,” covered each of the Democratic candidates, including such barely viable candidates in the race as Al Sharpton and former Senator Carol Moseley Braun on the left, and on the far-right Senator Joe Lieberman, who was described as having “no chance of winning the presidency.” What I have remembered in the piece, however, was what Garance said about the candidate she devoted the fewest words to, Congressman Dennis Kucinich. The Senior Editor of The American Prospect gave Dennis Kucinich only these 33 words, 100 fewer than far-right, no chance Joe Lieberman:
“Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, as one member of the press corps put it, got a new haircut ‘so that he doesn’t look so much like a Beatle.’ Or a maybe he meant ‘beetle.’”
I was a supporter of Howard Dean at the time, having judged his chances at election better than those of Dennis Kucinich, but I never forgot the slight. My comment about Garance Franke-Ruta’s article, that I showed to people at the time, was that this was the evidence that there was no left-wing in American Politics. Even The American Prospect dismissed Dennis Kucinich because of his hair.
My, how times have changed. I can’t imagine what Dennis and those of his supporters (and others) who read that article in 2003 now think about the coverage that John Edwards has merited for his hair (and he wasn’t even called a “beetle”!). It is yet another thing, it seems, that John Edwards has borrowed from Dennis Kucinich this run.
While I don’t agree with everything Dennis proposes policy-wise, I agree with a lot of it. Dennis Kucinich was right to vote against the Iraq War from the start – the only presidential candidate then, or now, to do so on the Democratic side (Barack Obama, to be fair, was vocally against the war before it started, although he was not in congress and therefore could not vote against it). Dennis Kucinich is right to advocate for single payer national health care for all Americans – the only person then (in 2003/4) and now the only candidate who has written a bill in congress for it (Mike Gravel, to be fair, also supports single-payer, universal health care, but is not in congress now to produce a bill for it). Dennis believes in universal pre-school and increasing the number of people going to college. He is strong on putting Americans back to work through more reasoned trade, he is strong on civil liberties, the environment, the list goes on (see his issues section). He even has a bill to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney, which as a matter of tactics progressives may or may not agree with, but as a matter of moral and Constitutional right is obviously the right thing to do. You may think Dennis Kucinich, who grew up homeless at times and rose to be Mayor of Cleveland and then a Congressman doesn’t have much of a chance. You may think that this candidate with the smallest bank account of the entire field, who doesn’t attract (or I believe take) large sums from special interests, won’t attract the money to compete. You’re likely right. What I don’t think you can say, however, is that Dennis doesn’t advocate for and represent progressive policies – ones that put him way ahead of most politicians. For that, if nothing else, you would think a ‘politically progressive’ magazine would hold him in (consistently) high esteem.
Here is The American Prospect’s mission statement:
“The American Prospect was founded in 1990 as an authoritative magazine of liberal ideas, committed to a just society, an enriched democracy, and effective liberal politics.
Our mission, simply put, is to rise to the momentous occasion that confronts all Americans who seek a just society built on our greatest traditions. Contemporary conservatism stands to thwart those traditions; it advances its agenda by way of stealth, fear-mongering, and a massive propaganda apparatus. It is our mission to expose that agenda and the lies that support it.
Rising to our historical occasion also means reviving and rebuilding liberalism, renewing its connections both to American history and to people’s lives in the 21st century, and giving progressive political leaders the weapons they need for battle. Through dogged reporting, cool analysis, witty commentary and passionate argument, the Prospect strives to beat back the right wing and to build a majority of true patriots who understand what really makes America great.
We founded the Prospect out of a conviction that the conservative undertow in American political life is profoundly influenced by the dominance of conservative media and think tanks. Our conservative counterparts have played a critical role in pulling the entire national debate to the right. We intend to take it back.”
Given the Prospect’s mission, and the above treatment of Dennis Kucinich, how ironic that just last week it published a glowing piece on Republican Presidential Candidate Ron Paul (a social conservative libertarian), and in a piece about the lack of GOP ideas in the presidential race today, the one positive reference, however brief, went to the anti-war Paul.
It’s not about giving libertarian and social conservative Ron Paul his due. No less than Dennis Kucinich is quoted in the Prospect’s piece on Paul saying, “Paul has true integrity. His word is good and he has the courage of his convictions.” But Dennis, despite his own “true integrity,” “good word” and “courage of his convictions” (so far as I know) gets short shrift even from the left. It is a perfect example of the rightward tilt in American politics. Progressives, even if they don’t support Dennis for president, ought to think about the message demeaning him sends. Demeaning Dennis doesn’t improve America’s progressive prospects.