With Kucinich’s Exit, Democratic Discourse is Diminished | January 26, 2008

John Nichols
Posted 01/24/2008 @ 10:46pm

The media managers of the 2008 presidential contest
worked for months to get Dennis Kucinich off the stage
and out of the running. And they have finally succeeded,
as the Ohio Congressman says he is now “transitioning
out of the presidential campaign” and into a tough
Democratic primary race for reelection to his Cleveland-
area U.S. House seat.

Kucinich’s decision to quit the Democratic presidential
race is an acknowledgement of reality. Never flush with
the funds needed to buy paid media, he has lately been
denied access to the free media that is the lifeblood of
insurgent candidacies. The congressman was excluded from
the last few debates by the television networks, and his
campaign events — even those that drew substantial
crowds in New Hampshire and Michigan – went largely

The casual dismissal of what for Kucinich was always a
sincere, issue-oriented endeavor made it easy for
critics at home — led by the virulently anti-Kucinich
Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper — to ridicule a
campaign that raised critical issues as little more than
an ego trip. That encouraged challengers to enter the
March 4 Democratic primary contest for Ohio’s 10th
District House seat.

The critics claim that Kucinich has neglected his
constituents in order to pursue what Bill Clinton might
refer to as a “fairytale” campaign for a nomination that
was never realistically within reach. “Our district is
heading in the wrong direction because we have an
absentee congressman,” says Cleveland City Councilman
Joe Cimperman, whose primary challenge to Kucinich has
been generously funded by special-interest groups that
disdain the incumbent’s independent streak.

Kucinich, who flew to Cleveland rather than to South
Carolina or California after the New Hampshire primary
in which his campaign received more votes than the
“serious” candidacy of debate-regular and one-time media
darling Fred Thompson, was anything but an absentee
congressman during his presidential run. If anything,
the congressman neglected the national race in order to
spend time in his district and on the floor of the House
— where he maintained a far steadier attendance record
than the senators against whom he was running for the
presidential nomination.

The congressman’s greatest attention to his district
during the course of the presidential campaign took the
form of his focus on the economic issues that are most
important to a working-class district that includes
portions of the city of Cleveland and neighboring blue-
collar suburbs. Even as he discussed the essential
subject of the war in Iraq, Kucinich usually did so in
the context of a discussion about the cost the war was
imposing not just on the distant battlefields of Iraq
but on the American cities from which needed federal
funds have been diverted to fund a fool’s mission in the
Middle East.

Much is made of the populist turn the presidential race
has taken as economic conditions have worsened. But when
none of the other candidates were taking pointed stands
on trade policy, the mortgage crisis and real health-
care reform, it was Kucinich who staked out precise
positions and forced the other candidates to offer
working Americans more than mere rhetoric.

The AFL-CIO extended an enthusiastic invitation to
Kucinich to participate in the labor federation’s August
debate in Chicago because union leaders knew that he
alone would guide the debate toward specifics on
questions of how to reform free-trade agreements, renew
industries and protect the rights of workers to
organize. At that debate, it was Kucinich who earned the
loudest applause. And rightly so. He was bringing the
concerns of cities like Cleveland to the national stage.

One of things that most debate moderators found so
frustrating about Kucinich was his determination to talk
about the bread-and-butter issues that matter most to
working Americans, rather than to play their games.
Kucinich forced the anchormen and the reporters, as well
as the other candidates, to pay a little attention to
the problems of factory workers, shop clerks and
farmers. There is no question that the Ohioan’s
determination to do this influenced more prominent and
well-funded contenders, especially former North Carolina
Senator John Edwards.

Kucinich never got much credit from the media or the
other candidates. But he influenced the national debate
for the better, and the race for the Democratic
presidential nomination is diminished by his exit.

It is not just Kucinich who is leaving the national
stage. It is the discussion about cities like Cleveland
and Detroit and Milwaukee. Mayors have bemoaned the
neglect of urban affairs in this year’s campaign, but
the former big-city mayor never allowed that neglect to
become complete. Now, it may be, as least as far as the
presidential race in concerned. But the congressman’s
determination to retain his House seat points to the
likelihood that Congress will still be called upon to
consider the concerns of a city on Lake Erie and the so
frequently-forgotten people who live there.


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