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Kucinich on Democracy Now! explaining his switch

Why did Kucinich decide to vote for this bill? Why is he whipping for it? I’m trying to figure this out myself.

(Watch the whole interview there, or read it, or listen to it.)

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Dennis Kucinich joins us now in Washington, DC.

Well, Congress member Kucinich, you did not get what you were asking for, yet you are now supporting this bill. Explain what happened and why you think this bill merits your support.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, first of all, I appreciate that you covered that part where I said that I don’t retract anything that I said before. I had taken the effort to put a public option into the bill and also to create an opportunity for states to have their right protected to pursue single payer. I took it all the way down to the line with the President, the Speaker of the House, Democratic leaders. And it became clear to me that, despite my best efforts, I wasn’t going to be able to get it in the bill and that I was going to inevitably be looking at a bill that—where I was a decisive vote and that I was basically, by virtue of circumstances, being put in a position where I could either kill the bill or let it go forward and—in the hopes that we could build something from the ruins of this bill.

I think that—you know, I mean, I can just tell you, it was a very tough decision. But I believe that now we need to look to support the efforts at the state level for single payer, to really jump over this debate and not have all those who want to see transformative change in healthcare be blamed for this bill going down. I think that really it’s a dangerous moment. You know, the Clinton healthcare reforms, which I thought were very weak, it’s been sixteen years since we’ve had a discussion about healthcare reform because of the experience of the political maelstrom that hit Washington. And I saw—I came to the conclusion, Amy, that it was going to—it would be impossible to start a serious healthcare discussion in Washington if this bill goes down, despite the fact that I don’t like it at all. And every criticism I made still stands.

I want to see this as a step. It’s not the step that I wanted to take, but a step so that after it passes, we can continue the discussion about comprehensive healthcare reform, about what needs to be done at the state level, because that’s really where we’re going to have to, I think, have a breakthrough in single payer, about diet, nutrition, comprehensive alternative medicine. There’s many things that we can do. But if the bill goes down and we get blamed for it, I think there’ll be hell to pay, and in the end, it’ll just be used as an excuse as to why Washington couldn’t get to anything in healthcare in the near future.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Congressman, I’d like to ask you, several other members of Congress who have had discussions with President Obama in recent days, as he sought their support, have said that he has essentially told them that this is—his presidency is riding on this, that to defeat the bill would severely hamper the remaining time in his presidency and also the election in November. Did he make that argument to you, as well? And did that have any impact on your decision?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: We talked about that. I mean, I have been thinking for quite awhile about, you know, what this means in terms of the Obama presidency. And frankly, you know, I’ve had differences with this president, on the economy, on environment, on war. And so, you know, I really hadn’t given them many votes at all. But he made—he did make the argument that there was a lot on the line. And frankly, there’s been such an effort to delegitimatize his presidency, right from the beginning, that, you know, in looking at the big picture here, we have to see if there’s a way to get into this administration with an argument that could possibly influence the President to take some new directions. Standing at the sidelines, I think, is not an option right now, because, you know, we have to try to reshape the Obama presidency. And I hope that, in some small way, through my participation in trying to take healthcare in a new direction, that I can help do that.

And, you know, I—look, I can’t give any kind of process a blessing. I don’t like much of anything of what’s happening here, except to say that I think that down the road we need to jump over this debate and go right to a bigger debate about how do we get healthcare that’s significant, how do we supplant the role of private insurers. We’re not going to be able to do it on this pass. I have done everything that I possibly can to try to take a position and stake out ground to say I’m not going to change, but there’s a point at which you say, you know, it’s my way or the highway. And if the highway shows a roadblock and you go over a cliff, I don’t know what good that does, when you take a detour and maybe we can still get to the destination, which, for me, remains single payer. Start at the state level, and do the work there. And if there’s ERISA implications and lawsuits, we’ll have to deal with that, and maybe that can force Congress to finally act on some of those issues.

I’m beginning to understand his decision, I believe. He thinks that if he plays the "Ralph Nader" role (who was actually on the same episode of DN! at the same time as Kucinich) then it will kill the chances of single payer in the future. He sees this bill as a detour – a bad one, but not the worst possible thing in the world.

Please watch the whole interview. Something else to consider is what David Swanson, who worked on Kucinich’s presidential campaign,

I don’t think Kucinich flipped because of money, either direct "contributions" or money through the Democratic Party. I think, on the contrary, he hurt himself financially by letting down his supporters across the country. I don’t think he caved into the power of party or presidency directly. I don’t think they threatened to back a challenger or strip his subcommittee chair or block his bills, although all of that might have followed. I think the corporate media has instilled in people the idea that presidents should make laws and that the current president is trying to make a law that can reasonably be called "healthcare reform" or at least "health insurance reform."

I’m not entirely satisfied. But I’m beginning to think about this in a more coherent way than yesterday. The interview helped me to understand Kucinich’s position. Even Nader said that he sympathizes with Kucinich’s position, and Kucinich did say that this is a "dark moment" for real health care reform, and that he’s very constrained by working within the system that he’s working in.

If you’ve decided to leave the Democrats, more power to you. I’m working for a Green’s election here in PA ( ). But please give this some thought before you condemn Kucinich himself.

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