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Kucinich Mistakenly Buys Into Defending the Obama Presidency

There’s a fascinating interview with Dennis Kucinich (and Ralph Nader) up over at Democracynow.org. Please read the entire transcript of it (or watch a video replay) because it shows the key reason why Kucinich flipped his vote to support the White House’s "insurance reform" bill. Obama and Rahm put intense pressure on Kucinich saying that his presidency was under threat: a defeat on the White House measure would completely undermine the presidency.

Shockingly, Kucinich (who should have used one of Oliver Hardy’s favorite lines to Stan: "it’s a pretty pickel you’ve gotten us into, Stanley") gave in to the guys (Obama and Rahm) who have created this fiasco of an administration.

Here are some key parts of the interview between Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now and Congressman Kucinich and Ralph Nader. Kucinich says:

Standing at the sidelines, I think, is not an option right now, because, you know, we have to try to reshape the Obama presidency.

How exactly, Congressman, is supporting this president who has sold out single payer, who sold out the public option, who sold out progressives, "going to reshape the Obama presidency"? What you did is going to enable the Obama presidency, to make it more right-wing than it is already, to make it more corporatist than it is.

Amy Goodman then puts the "crunch question" to Kucinich and he fumbles the ball:

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Kucinich, if your vote was that important—I think many progressives feel that the White House responds to conservatives who withhold their vote and changes, like on issues of choice, if that’s what it’s going to take to get the bill passed. What about having held out to the end and demanded—you know, put your demand on the table, since this is so critical to the White House?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Yeah, you know, I—I mean, I, frankly, was quite surprised that as we were approaching a moment of decision, people wouldn’t budge on the question of the public option and wouldn’t budge on the question of a ERISA waiver. Remember, I was one of seventy-seven Democrats who said—progressives who said, look, if the public option isn’t in the final bill—this was the bill that we passed last year—you know, I’m not going to vote for it. Well, there are only two members of Congress who actually kept that pledge. I was one of those two. So now—and, you know, the other one was Mr. Massa, who’s no longer in the Congress. So now I’m basically left standing alone with a position that I’ve held consistently.

And, Amy, I’ll tell you that one of the things that surprised me the most is that even though they said everything’s on the line and even though they said it could come down to one vote and pointed at me and said, “That could be your vote,” they still wouldn’t budge on it. So then, I’m—and I mean, I tested and probed and talked to everybody, all the way down the chain of leadership, to see if there’s any way, and frankly, it’s mystifying, except to say that they’re keeping a for-profit system intact. There’s no air in here to try to find a way to get to a not-for-profit system. So I have to make the decision within the context of where we are and to see if, you know, by making that decision, down the road that we can keep the healthcare debate going. But this is about a for-profit system, something I don’t endorse. But the opportunity to stay in the debate about single payer is still there, without anybody using it as an excuse to say, “Well, you took the whole thing over the cliff, and who wants to talk to you about anything anymore?”

Sorry, but I do not think that’s an answer to the question. To believe that the White House and the Democrats will be willing to REVISIT this issue any time soon is to believe in folly.

Here’s another section of the interview (which should be read in its entirety) that shows that Kucinich was brought to believe that the entire Obama presidency hangs on this issue (and his vote):

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Congress member Kucinich, do you think if President Obama had done the same arm twisting and enormous pressure and paying attention and speaking to legislator after legislator on this, if he had done this at the point where single—where public option was on the table, it would have made a difference, if he had weighed in like this before?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I think that right after the swearing in of President Obama, there was a climate for transformational change. I think it’s still there. And I think the President could really be instrumental in bringing about just about any kind of change that he wants. For whatever reason, he decided to carefully construct a plan that would admit no chance for any real challenge to the market structure of private, for-profit insurance companies. And, you know, and he’s worked very tightly within that system. That’s a choice that he made. And during the campaign, you know, he made it very clear that he wasn’t for single payer. He made it very clear that he was looking at reforms within the context of the for-profit system. I mean, that’s a choice that he made. And, you know, it’s not the choice that I would have made, but he’s the president. And if his presidency is on the line, he made the choice for that. But at the same time, we have to look at the consequences of what happens if it fails.

Excellent question by Amy Goodman and Kucinich again reiterates the view that the Obama presidency hinges on this issue ("we have to look at the consequences of what happens if it fails") and that doomsday would follow an administration defeat on this issue. Dennis K. bought into this dubious argument hook, line, and sinker!

Kucinich makes this clearer at another later point in the interview:

I think that with three years left in the Obama presidency, we have to continue to encourage him, but we’ve got to be careful that we don’t play into those who want to destroy his presidency and say—you know, the birthers and others who say that, you know, he should have never been president to begin with. This is—you know, there is a tension that exists, and I’ve—you know, I’ve been very critical of the administration on the war, on the so-called cap and trade, and on a whole range of other issues. But at the same time, we have to be just very careful about how much we attack this president, even as we disagree with him. We have to be careful about that, because we may play into those who just want to destroy his presidency.p>

And he’s—you know, like it or not, he’s the president, he’s what we have, and I’m going to continue whatever I can do, just as one person, to try to keep trying to influence a different direction. But, you know, it’s not easy. He’s made his position different than, you know, what many of us would go along with.

(emphasis added)

Here in short appears to be the key reason why DK flipped: he was convinced the Obama presidency would be destroyed if he held out and the White House bill fails. That’s a real misreading of the situation, in my opinion, and if there is a failure, it should be placed on the people who have gotten the administration into the mess it’s in now: Obama and Rahm.

Ralph Nader made a telling report to Kucinich:

We cannot give this president courtesy of words, of course, but we cannot give this president a pass.

(emphasis added)

Unfortunately, Congressman Kucinich gave Obama a free pass. It’s clear he got nothing in terms of concessions from the administration in exchange for his critical switch (at least Bernie Sanders got billions in the bill for public clinics; Kucinich got nothing). It’s clear that Kucinich doesn’t know how to play hardball. For starters, you do NOT visit your opponent’s lair (in this case Air Force One) and you do NOT sit beside him in Cleveland nor do you even attend the event because those are the first steps in capitulation.

Kucinich’s foolishness put him in the awkward position of having a plant from the audience say, "Vote yes" and Obama drubbed it when he called for Kucinich to follow the plant’s "advice". How stupid can you get, Congressman? Anyone who has done any negotiating learns this early–don’t put yourself in a position to lose and choose your venues carefully so they are neutral. Kucinich is far too old not to have learned this lesson.

It’s also clear that Kucinich believes in and will support the Democratic party and its leader til the bitter end, no matter how bad the measures are that are advanced by that leader. Kucinich’s argument that to act contrary to the administration would enable its distractors is really an argument against democracy: it means there can be no criticism of the leader. Kucinich put his leader and his party before the good of the people, in the myopic and mistaken view that somehow health care’s ailments will be revisted anytime soon by his own party and that to do otherwise would completely undermine Obama.

The way to work with Obama, Congressman, is not to cave in to him and get nothing in return. Your flip-flop was a sorry day for you and for America.

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