Dover, NH -
Quaint downtown Dover was the site of 3Q's latest campaign stop, this time for the low-polling but high-rolling Congressman from Cleveland, Dennis Kucinich. I arrived at the newly-opened New Hampshire campaign HQ just before 2pm on a brilliantly sunny day greeted by one flustered staffer who distractedly answered that "he'd be here any minute" when I asked if this was the site of today's event. Instantly I noticed there were a couple of signs on the wall advertising a Meet and Greet with the Candidate from 2-3pm in the 2nd floor campaign office. Sure enough, moments after I had sidled over to the wall, the candidate walked up the stairs and into the door.
In some respects it was a blogger's dream. Kucinich was rolling with an entourage of three - his wife, Elizabeth, a journalist and a staffer with a video camera. In others it was a blogger's nightmare. He stayed for fifteen minutes, only took three or four questions and left without any fanfare or handshakes citing a commitment to "business pertaining to the campaign".
Just as expected, the candidate with the three-man entourage entered without fanfare. There was no introduction, there wasn't even a gathering up of the dozen and a half spectators to greet him in unison. Exacerbating the problem, Kucinich walked into the room and immediately started talking. Half the people weren't even sure he was there and by the time the crowd had arranged itself into a proper semi-circle, or at least as much of a semi-circle as the long skinny office would permit, Dennis was off and running with a time-crimped stump speech.
His message was clear, that he was a leader who could present his motto of "strength through peace" to America and change the way we see our problems. Instead of the current premise of inevitable war, Kucinich proposed that only he was confident enough to show the country a new direction. All the while, he would get the world "to love America, to believe in America again." We are entrenched in an era, he said, where "we must take a new direction." Clearly.
The only domestic issue he mentioned was health care. Health care, health care, health care. It is at the top of every Dem's stump list, and even some Republicans. Kucinich, as you know, is the only candidate embracing a not-for-profit universal health care system and when he mentions it to the Kooch-base, it seems for granted. Of course I'm advocating this! Duhhh (emphasis and commentary added by the blogger)! He touched on the massive costs of the current system, claimed that nearly half of all bankruptcy cases in America were due to excessive health care bills, and that the only solution was to get rid of the premiums and deductibles and the insurer's profit margins.
He closed by comparing himself to "Roosevelt in 1932", solving big problems and putting millions of people to work with high wage jobs. He called attention to his thrilling turns in the latest debates, for AFL-CIO and HRC, and cited the latest media characterization of him as the "darling of the Democratic base."
At that point he took a few questions, first allowing Elizabeth to answer a question about Uganda, where she had just been. They quarreled a little over whether Dennis or the audience member should repeat the question. Liz won the battle and answered her question eloquently with a smooth British accent. So eloquently that I wondered if the girl was a plant. It didn't make any sense to plant a question about Uganda, but in this topsy-turvy world of summer 2007, where young kids wearing "One" t-shirts are making laser noises that nearly distract Presidential candidates, anything is possible. Speaking of anything being possible, the rumours are true - Liz Kucinich does have a tongue ring. I repeat, does have a tongue ring. No matter what your political views are, that has to be respected.
There was another question about health care from the audience, and Dennis spent his entire answer discussing the government's role in bargaining with the drug companies for lower costs that would allow for subsidized free prescription drugs for all. Marijuana, too? Hmmm. He also cited prescription drug prices as another reason for us to get out of the WTO. Unfortunately my area of expertise lies in political bullshit and not in international economics so I still don't have a good grip on how that is, but any loyal readers who want to comment on it - proceed.
Again Kucinich firmly and (slightly) apologetically mentioned that he needed to leave early. He took one final question whose answer he spun into re-stating his mission, that he had the courage, patience and judgment to lead the country in a new direction. He mentioned the ease of communication in today's shrinking world, with cell phones, e-mail and fast jets, and how we need to start using the science to enhance peaceful human relationships. Most leaders think war is inevitable, he said, "but I reject that thinking." I respect that rejection, and in terms of peace and civil rights Kucinich really is a true leader.
Unfortunately, he isn't worth the sum of his parts on the campaign trail, at least at first sight. He slinked out of the office without so much as a handshake. He frequently paused in his words. His command of the issues was impressive, but at times he seemed confused, disinterested or just not very focused. Maybe that is why he cut the event short. Maybe something bad happened away from Dover. I surely can't know. But what is clear is that Kucinich will need to shift his leadership beyond mere issues of civil liberties and peace toward the leadership of actual people if he wants to work his way out of the fringe. We're talking simple things like making a grand entrance, shaking hands and asking for votes. Those can all be done even on a shoestring budget. In other words he has a lot of work to do to convince all those straight men out there that they are actually Koochie Men.