Whenever Dennis Kucinich gets any attention from the media, the focus is so often on the seemingly impossible odds of his victory that his strong stances on big issues are forgotten.
But when the Ohio congressman and democratic presidential candidate visited a Portland State political science class yesterday, he was all about the issues.
Kucinich, whose campaign platform includes goals like withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, universal healthcare and repeal of the Patriot Act, seems to know that he is not going to win the Democratic Party’s nomination. But he said he hopes his candidacy will “take up the discussion that was lost” in Senator John Kerry’s rapid rise to the top of the primary race.
“The election was on its way to being over before it started,” he said. Since Kerry’s victories in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, the focus has been entirely on “electability,” according to Kucinich, a word that he says “sounds like something from Forrest Gump.”
Kucinich said that he wants to re-spark serious discussion of policy in the election, and the congressman urged his audience to use the upcoming state primary election on May 18 as a tool to continue debate within the Democratic party, and draw attention to important issues.
Particularly, Kucinich wants to draw attention to the situation in Iraq.
“We’re not in the Olympics now in Iraq – we’re at war,” he said, urging people to consider the ongoing conflict as a serious issue in the election. “My presence in the primary gives people a chance to voice their desire for a new direction in Iraq.”
“What do we [Democrats] get when we win?,” Kucinich asked. “I don’t think people in America want to trade a Republican war in Iraq for a Democrat war in Iraq.”
Kucinich, who supports ending American occupation of Iraq and instead involving the United Nations in the country’s reconstruction, spoke of the importance that the U.S. rebuild it’s relationships with other countries.
“The world community is waiting for the United States to take a new direction,” he said. “We’ll get help if we take a new direction, we won’t get help if we don’t.”
“There’s always a chance to turn in a new direction. The question is, will we turn in a new direction when the casualties are 1,000? 5,000? 20,000?” Kucinich said. “My presence in the primary gives people a chance to voice their desire for a new direction in Iraq.”
The congressman likened the current situation in Iraq to the war in Vietnam during the 60s and 70s, and even expressed concern that there may be future legislation reinstating the draft – though not until after the November election.
“They don’t want to wake you up,” he said.
Kucinich was also harshly critical of the government’s high rate of defense spending in the face of problems like rising college tuition and health care costs. He urged colleges all over the country to hold teach-ins to get people more educated about the situation in Iraq and how it affects them.
The congressman also stressed the importance of having sensitivity to religious differences between America and Iraq, particularly criticizing yesterday’s deadly attack on a Shiite mosque by coalition forces.
“It sends the message that we don’t respect religious sites,” Kucinich said. “There has to be respect, and that doesn’t exist right now.
Kucinich also addressed the loss of American jobs to other countries and the struggling economy, particularly criticizing the United States’ high trade deficit, saying that the United States needs to encourage other countries to purchase more American goods.
The congressman discussed is opposition to globalizing trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization, claiming that they have lowered American workers’ wages and benefits while shifting more jobs oversees.
The Kucinich campaign is making the Oregon primary a focal point for their efforts, according to Oregon campaign coordinator Janell Jures, who is also a graduate student in Conflict Resolution at PSU.
With the Democratic nomination virtually decided in favor of Kerry, the Oregon primary provides a unique opportunity for voters to express their views without disrupting the effort to defeat President Bush in the November elections, according to Kucinich spokesman Matt Harris.
“I’ve met so many people during this campaign who have said, ‘we love your candidate, but we’re supporting [Howard] Dean or Kerry or [John] Edwards because we’re afraid they are more electable,” Harris said. “This is a chance for people to vote for what you like.”
Kucinich plans to spend most of the month of April campaigning in the state, returning from the 12-28. He will tour eastern and southern Oregon before returning to the Portland area.
The national campaign has devoted “serious resources” to its Oregon branch, according to Jures. The about 20 people on the Oregon campaign staff recently moved into a new and improved office, and their list of volunteers now tops 700, a number they hope to increase even more over the next few weeks, particularly by appealing to students.
“We want to identify every Kucinich supporter or leaner so that we can call them when the ballots come out,” Jures said.