Is Kucinich the "black candidate?"
by Bruce Dixon
If 2008 presidential candidate, Ohio's Dennis Kucinich were a member of the Congressional Black Caucus he would have scored 100% on the CBC Monitor's report card, while Barack Obama only scored 70%. If Kucinich stands where black voters do, and others don't, just who IS the 'black candidate' in 2008?
Kucinich: A ‘Blacker’ Candidate Than Obama
by BAR Managing Editor Bruce Dixon
By now, most of us have seen a Congressional hearing or two on TV and can reconstruct the familiar scene in our minds. A continuous row of desks on a raised platform, complete with nameplates and microphones occupies one wall. Opposite them are chairs for spectators and in the middle you'll see tables at which those testifying can face the members of Congress, with space between those tables and the members for cameras and recording devices. But when Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland, Ohio convened what may have been the first ever Congressional hearings into the civilian death toll of the three-year-old Iraq war, the room's layout was dramatically different.
Kucinich was the lone member of Congress present at the hearing. The imposing row of raised desks, nameplates and microphones against one wall was vacant. Kucinich sat at the same table with Middle East scholar Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, and with two authors of the peer-reviewed Lancet study which fixed the number of excess deaths produced by the US invasion of that unhappy land at about 650,000 to date, more than 200 dead Iraqis for each American. The four men at the table faced a small number of media and spectators.
Not a single one of the 75-strong member Congressional Progressive Caucus was in attendance. Not one member of the Congressional Black Caucus was present. Three days earlier, Congressman Kucinich had declared himself a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008.
There's not nearly as much polling done of black public opinion as we at Black Agenda Report would like to see, but what there is indicates that a major fault line dividing white from black America is belief in America's right to impose its will by military force on the rest of humanity. Most African Americans don't buy it. Most of our white neighbors do. In 2003, polling on the eve of the Iraq invasion showed that while seven of ten whites endorsed the coming war of choice, the same percentage of African Americans opposed it.
Establishment pundits deal with this in two ways. The Gallup organization explained the 2003 poll results by ascribing African American opposition to the war purely to the overwhelming black antipathy toward President Bush himself, as though the nuances of foreign policy were too deep for black minds to grasp, or perhaps we could only hold one idea at a time in our tiny heads. The Wall Street Journal's online editorial page takes a different, but equally racist tack, simply pronouncing black opinion irrelevant because it disagrees with white opinion.
But the truth is that we do exist, not just as an audience to be marketed to, but as a coherent political and moral force in American life. There is in fact, a black polity and a black consensus in which the discernible breadth of opinion is well to the left of much of white America in many areas. This is the black polity Martin Luther King and the early SCLC belonged to when they chose as their motto "To Save The Soul of America." This is the political reality and moral vision the Congressional Black Caucus of the 1970s and 80s appealed to when they styled themselves "the Conscience of the Congress." And it's the tradition in which Dennis Kucinich was operating when he convened the December hearing on Iraqi civilian casualties. That day, Dennis Kucinich was where the CBC should have been. He was definitely where most black voters have been all along.
Like Cynthia McKinney, and unlike most Democrats in the Congress, Kucinich has acted the part of an opposition legislator. And like McKinney, he often seems to stand alone because Democrats have long ceased to be an opposition party.
The potential appeal of Dennis Kucinich to black voters is not limited to his stands on foreign policy. Whether it's health care, Social Security, the environment, the record of the congressman from Cleveland matches the best of the Congressional Black Caucus across the board. In an October 2003 article for Black Commentator, BAR Executive Editor Glen Ford called Al Sharpton and Kucinich, at a gathering of Democratic presidential candidates, "the only two civilized men in the room."
"Kucinich... is labeled a kook when he argues for ‘health care for people, not for profit' - although this is the premise on which all the other wealthy societies begin their discussions of health matters.
"Kucinich...points out that U.S. government policy is facilitating the impoverishment of America. 'We need to cancel NAFTA, cancel the WTO, which makes any changes in NAFTA...illegal.' ...even 'staunchly' pro-union Rep. Dick Gephardt cannot bring himself to 'challenge the underlying structure of our trade,' as Kucinich puts it."
The 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns of the Rev. Jesse Jackson were breakthrough moments not because the candidate's face was black, but because Jackson brought to the American table the real and pertinent concerns of the era's black consensus - poverty, joblessness, education, and in foreign policy, opposition to the apartheid regime in South Africa. Twenty years down the road, black Democrats in presidential primaries are nothing new. Even Republicans now throw up their own black candidates to try to peel off ten, twenty or thirty percent of the black vote. It didn't work in Pennsylvania or Ohio. It almost succeeded in Maryland, and will be attempted again.
A lot has changed in twenty years. A whole cohort of corporate black Democrats, trained to evoke the sizzle of black aspirations without calling for the steak of real change are being unleashed upon us. The only credentials Barack Obama, this season's black Democratic presidential candidate can show black America are the color of his skin, his insider status, and the love corporate media have for him. How or whether this translates into addressing joblessness, mass incarceration, health care and the other issues black voters care about is uncertain. The awesome power of corporate media is however, not to be discounted. Most Bush voters in 2000 thought the man was an environmentalist, and most Bush voters in 2004 believed Saddam possessed nukes and committed 9-11.
It was ultimately corporate media and not Democratic voters that put an end to Kucinich's last presidential campaign. With a full 11 months till the election, ABC News exec Ted Koppel, in his role as "moderator" of a New Hampshire presidential debate labeled the candidacies of Carole Moseley-Braun, Sharpton and Kucinich "vanity" operations and called for them to fold their campaigns. The next day ABC News withdrew its reporters from all three operations. For the rest of the campaign, a corporate media whiteout rendered the Ohio Democrat's candidacy virtually invisible to voters.
While there is no reason to expect the media to behave any differently this time, there is plenty of cause for African American voters to take a long look at Dennis Kucinich. For our money right now, he's the blackest candidate in the ring.