Daniel Patrick Welch: Still Talking
Kucinich Supporters are Mad
as hell and they won't take it anymore
By Daniel Patrick Welch
I get a lot of feedback from my columns: the best is probably along the lines of the woman who suggested one of my pieces "deserved a Pulitzer prize, or some sort of literary award." But those comments, like the awards themselves, are rare. There is a whole category of comments in which the correspondent just launches into a thought or series of thoughts, as if I were free associating with them. Items of interest on our site range from commentary on the Iraq war to translations in 19 languages to handmade paper, as well as support for Dennis Kucinich. But every respondent has a singular point, and expects you to be on the same wavelength. This is why store-and-retrieval technology is so great: if someone came up to me out of the blue in person, I would be hard pressed to give thoughtful, complete answers to a blindsiding. In print, of course, I can mull it over. I got this feedback recently, although I'm not sure in response to what:
"The reason a Kucinich candidacy would be a disaster is the same reason any candidate who accepts federal matching funds will fail. Spending limits. Gore ran out of money a month before the 2000 convention. That was more important than Florida in giving Bush the White House. Kucinich would face a spending cap of $40 million against Bush's $200 million. It is a pipe dream to think that in this media driven electoral process K could win. Pure fantasy.
I trust you will enthusiastically support the nominee, whoever it is. We must defeat Bush. "
It was signed, thankfully, and though I thought it a bit hostile and pissy, I thought I should respond. Of course, before I thought of it as a potential column, I was naturally tempted to respond in kind:
At the time Gore was "out of money," as you say, he was something like 17 points behind Bush. The reason Gore won (both the popular vote and any legitimate florida recount) was because, as any observer can attest, he sharply changed his focus after the convention, running a populist, left-leaning campaign which steadily chipped away at Bush's lead--his lead and his bravado about a 300-electoral vote victory were not helped by his money--although his lawyers in Florida clearly were, where he outspent Gore 10-1 after the votes were cast. You have your own "pipe dream" (using your words): that a media driven candidate with one-quarter of Bush's money can win playing the same game. Pure fantasy.
Maybe because of my quick response, and despite my equally pissy tone, my tormentor continued the dialogue:
Well, my candidate, as it happens, is the only one who has reached the people in a meaningful way. I have been engaged in grassroots campaigns for 30 years and have never seen anything to touch what Dean has ignited. I agree with Kucinich on more issues, but he hasn't connected with the mass of voters. Here in NC the Dean campaign is swamping Edwards, the home boy.
Dean's is not a media-driven candidacy. It is person-to-person. He is convincing people that people matter, that the little folks can take back the country again and pitch the corporate overlords. Unfortunately, Kucinich's appeal is limited to progressives. He isn't polling above single digits.
Furthermore, we need to turn over Congress too, and the millions of people who will have given to Dean by the convention time will be on tap to contribute to the most critical congressional races as well. Again, K has shown no coattails. Dean is already raising money for congressional races.
He even signed it "Best Regards," which I took as a step toward non-pissiness. Still, there's an unwritten rule about these things, and two volleys is usually the standard fare. But I just couldn't help myself, and besides, in my own columns I always get the last word:
Obviously I will have to beg to differ, again. Since you leapt immediately into the populist argument, I assume you concede my point that the last election was not won on money, but on a tough, progressive appeal. That being said, coattails are no more about money than the big picture--they had better not be. The longest coattails of all were FDRs, who, unless I am missing something, didn't appreciably outspend Hoover. The appeal you mention is genuine, but it is narrow. And your contention that Dean's candidacy is not media-driven is simply disingenuous. It must be nice, many of us have mused, to go door-to-door with a 100 mile an hour tailwind at your back. The anger is genuine, the solution comes second. The former can be tapped by any brave soul who dares to speak out: Gore, Kennedy, Byrd, and on and on.
The idea of "new people" is also not new, as McCain and Perot and Anderson and so on have shown. The new people are not significant unless they represent a reliably progressive bent. They are more ready because of their misery and their failed choices in the past. But middle class white voters will not vote reliably democratic; there is as much to lose as to gain by tying your wagon to this star. Dean needs former Bush voters to win; Kucinich does not. I guarantee you that 3 million Nader votes are not all Dean's for the asking, although they and more could be Kucinich's. Many of them were also "new people." Come to think of it, I'm a new person--I haven't been involved in the Democratic primaries in 16 years. I can also think of over a dozen "new people" in the realist sense--new citizens, actually--among my family and friends who are excited at the opportunity of voting for a real people's candidate.
These "new people" are also in the cities of Ohio, Florida, Texas, Missouri, even South Carolina. I don't think I need to guarantee you that Dean's chances of winning North Carolina are not ones I would bet on. And let's remember that Ohio is hardly North Dakota (McGovern) or Tennessee (Gore). Nor for that matter is it Vermont, Massachusetts, or Arkansas. If Kucinich can win his home state--a swing state with 21 electoral votes--then we win hands down, something no other candidate can say.
You speak of coattails as something "shown," as if it were in the past. If the past is any guide, however, your boy is hardly batting .1000. Every office Dennis Kucinich has won from a republican is still held by a Democrat, and his formerly republican congressional seat gave him a 74% reelect this time around. The Doctor, on the other, inherited the office when the Governor died. He never unseated a Republican, and all the offices he has held are no longer in Democratic hands. The coattails argument is a pure crock.
The Democratic party in Vermont is in its current anemic state--squeezed between expanded Republicans and Greens--precisely because of this self-marginalizing focus Dean projects. The reason Clark is running up Dean's ass is because the "for the people" gag doesn't ring true on closer inspection (not, as the pundits might have you believe, because he's "too liberal.") real populists are stronger on NAFTA; those who really want to "pitch the corporate overlords" don't soft-pedal single payer health care. Candidates from a working class background understand that more poor kids get killed as the war drags on, and occupation is just as deadly.
It's not that these votes aren't out there: we agree on that. But Nader's voters have to choose Senate and Congressional candidates as well; so does an expanded black electorate. You are certainly right: we need the coattails. We must defeat not just Bush, but the notion of permanent war, the stranglehold of corporations, the soul-sucking dependency on the arms merchants and death peddlers. If history is any guide, change comes in larger waves. Coattails will come from raising the left percentage in the voting population as a whole, not on outspending Republicans in "critical districts."
Being more vocal about DC voting rights, the death penalty, NAFTA, corporate strangulation, the drug war, etc. will tap into a base which votes 90% democratic. Don't get me wrong, Clark isn't the guy--he's just capitalizing on Doubts about Dean, and Clark's electoral strategy repeats the same losing formula we reject in Dean. But saying that Kucinich "hasn't connected" when you and the press have been working for Dean since before "K" (is he a spy or something?) announced is selling our (apparently mutual) agenda a little short.
Reaching out to the untapped left electorate is our key to success, not the mushy middle the Republicans would trap us into. The last election was a center-left election, and there's potential that this one will be as well. Kucinich could easily be where Dean is now if misplaced fear didn't keep progressive activists clinging to his alleged 'coattails.' You have us mistaken as pie-eyed idealists and your own crowd as tough pragmatists. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's not that we refuse to suck it up and get on board with "someone who can win." We're sick of being bullied and patronized in that way. While you are entitled to your characterizations, we have our own. We think you are misreading history, misrepresenting Dean, and missing the greatest opportunity in a generation. We don't think Dean has a chance because he's running as something he's not-and enough people will see through it to skew the election. Shape-shifters play a dangerous game, and by definition have no coattails--where would you pin them?
© 2003 Daniel Patrick Welch. Reprint permission granted with credit and link to danielpwelch.com. Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, USA, with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The Greenhouse School. A writer, singer, linguist and activist, he has appeared on radio [interview available here] and can be available for further interviews. Past articles, translations are available at danielpwelch.com. Links to the website appreciated.
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