“We should not be looking across the world for new dragons to fight.”
Pint-sized, a perfect miniature, congressman Dennis Kucinich (Koo-sin-ich) is on his feet in a coffee shop, Lorain. It’s (Saturday), and Kucinich is nearing the end of a month-long campaign that once again sees him fighting for his political life. The crowd are young, some very young, and enthusiastic — but how much of that is due to the presence of hip-hop star Russell Simmons, a Kucinich supporter, remains to be seen.
On the other hand, maybe it’s the middle-age liberal schlubs who are here for Simmons. I really have no idea who he is, and, being black, he could be anywhere between 20 and 60. Swings and roundabouts, I guess. This week a whole bunch of civil rights activists are repeating the ’60s march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to protest the latest wheeze to obstruct black voters — setting ridiculous ID conditions for voting enrolment (i.e. a gun permit counts, a student card doesn’t). Most of these guys — congressman John Lewis, leading the march among them — were beaten with truncheons in Selma before I was born, and they still look younger than me. And they are still marching.
And Kucinich is still fighting. Mayor of Cleveland in the ’70s, at the age of 31, he fought a wild and chaotic, but ultimately quixotically successful campaign to stop the city’s electricity service being privatised — an early skirmish in the war against civic America that would bloom forth in the Reagan years — but was thrown out by the voters, who didn’t yet realise what was going on. They eventually elected Kucinich to the state senate and then to Congress, representing Ohio’s 10th district, from which position he has made himself the loudest, most uncompromising voice of the mainstream Left. He’s run for the the Democratic candidacy for president twice, never getting more than 3-4%, and stood against the Iraq War and supported the Occupy Wall Street from the left, among other campaigns.
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The voters of the Ohio 10th would have been happy to keep voting him back forever. But in 2010, the Republicans gained control of state government in Ohio — and hence of the process of redistricting which, in any sane society, is managed by a separate non-political commission. Kucinich’s district was split between the 9th — to the west — and the 11th, to the east, both also represented by solid Democrats (the new 10th district is in the south-west corner of the state, go figure). The sole purpose of the redistricting was to create a cat-fight among the Democrats, and so it has proved — Kucinich is contesting the new expanded 9th district, which covers one side of Cleveland, along the lake shore to Toledo, currently held by Marcy Kaptur, a late middle-aged — OK, oldish — rep whose dowdy pants suit style conceals a fearsome committee operative, capable of getting stuff for her district.
Kucinich meanwhile has a national profile, and spends a lot more time campaigning on global issues — and hence has supporters such as Robert F Kennedy jnr, and Gore Vidal giving good words for him. Kucinich points out that Kaptur voted for the Iraq War, and the bailouts, while Kucinich voted against; Kaptur portrays Kucinich as an outsider in Congress who can’t pour the pork (politically speaking that is).
Kaptur’s supporters are working-class people who call themselves “middle-class” in the American fashion; Kucinich’s supporters still call themselves working class, have strong union ties, and combine with a leftish crowd, academics and design studio proprietors who read Marcuse in college. Kaptur and Kucinich have been allies and even friends before, but they are going for each other hammer and tongs.
Russell Simmons is on now: “I support Dennis for many reasons, but one of the most important is, we’re both vegans.”
Oh, thanks Russell.
The Kucinich-Kaptur match has been one of the only Democrat fixtures on the map, and has dominated discussions in northern Ohio, which remains a liberal stronghold — it’s the central and southern parts that balance it out to be the archetypal swing state. But the rest of the country is dominated by Super Tuesday, and the question as to whether Mitt Romney can get enough of a win to establish himself as the uncontested front runner.
There’s 10 states on offer and Romney is dead-set to win three of them: Massachusetts, Vermont and Virginia — the latter because only he and Ron Paul are on the ballot. Virginia will be his biggest score — because he will hit a 50%+1 result, the contest will revert from proportional to winner take all (it’s more complicated than that, but oy vey), giving him all 46 delegates. In his home state — his real home state — of Massachusetts, he’ll get 25+ of the 38 on offer, and another 10 or so from the eight people who are still Republicans in Vermont, (thus earning him his own Ben and Jerry’s flavour — Milk Wrongly, vanilla with the vanilla removed).
But that’s it in terms of Romney’s secure victories. His other possibilities for a clean pick up are Alaska — a spread-out middle-size state, which nevertheless has 24 delegates on offer (states are rewarded with extra delegates for voting GOP, providing reps, and, in Alaska’s case a Veep candidate — which is why Alaska has two-thirds the candidates of packed-to-the-rafters Massachusetts), and North Dakota, currently engaged in a fierce intergenerational war between stolid Lutherans and their children who have become lunatic fundamentalist Jesus-freaks, a shift worthy of a study in itself. Five victories — with Idaho providing an alternative venue to go 50/50 with the other candidates — would make the night Romney’s. Falling below that would be nightmare afresh for the GOP.
Should that occur it will break in two ways. Either Santorum will make a cleanish sweep, taking Ohio, Tennessee, and Oklahoma — and maybe even one of the northern states — leaving Gingrich with Georgia, or the Newt will take the southern bloc, leaving Santorum with only Ohio. As an outrider, there’s a chance that Ron Paul will grab a victory in Alaska or North Dakota. And of course, if Milk Wrongly can grab a coupla northern states and Ohio, then he has won the night, and the remainder of the primary season becomes a hideous death march.
But if Romney was hoping that a resounding victory on the day would give him a boost, he wasn’t counting on Obama’s new-found — or judiciously delayed — determination to take the fight to the Right. The One dropped da bomb Clinton-style (George, not Bill) today, with a mid-afternoon press conference, reproving the Republican candidates for their rush to war, and their posturing over it, announced mortgage relief for home owners, stated that he called Sandra Fluke, the betty noire of Rush Limbaugh, because he wanted to show his daughters that it was right to stand up for what you believed in, and finished by saying that it was time the Afghan War was wound up.
He sounded presidential, and he came bearing goodies. He knows, and the polls say, that Americans are tired of war, that the notion of some umbilical connection to Israel does not extend far beyond the base — and that the country has shifted its gaze very strongly from the Bush years, and turned inwards. But he knows also that the candidates have no choice but to try and outbid each other in bellicosity — and also that Ron Paul would have no hesitation in breaking ranks (which he duly did, saying he was “closer to Obama” than the other candidates on this issue), and thus giving the impression that the party as a whole was divided.
It was another pretty good performance, conducted at a time in which the President is putting in a strong bid to be a synthesising President — in the sense of taking conservative foreign policy themes, without the suicidal vainglory of the Bush years, while in no way getting trapped in liberal notion of rights. Thus, his Attorney-General Eric Holder — another black man in power — rather chillingly announced that the US was comfortable and relaxed about assassinating US citizens abroad if they were also terrorists. It’s part of the Obama team’s bid — fairly successful at this stage — to become the administration that does projection of power right. By right I mean modular, minimal, unfussy, that gives Americans a sense that they don’t need to think about it in an agonised fashion, and can refocus on their own lives and prospects.For by now, even hopeless fantasists such as Greg Sheridan cannot but have failed to notice that team Obama’s single military achievement — conducted with ruthless realpolitik — has been to quietly and in many places, eliminate al-Qaeda from the map, at a fraction of the cost in blood and treasure than the hapless Bush-Rumsfeld axis produced. Where did all these Al-Qaeda fighters come from? From the Kaos University that Bush made for them — Iraq 2003-2007, a finishing school for fanatics.
What is one to say about this, from the Left? It is one reason why it is important to keep someone like Dennis Kucinich in da House (if he misses out on Ohio 9th, he will probably go for a seat in Washington state, where there are several vacancies), to make the anti-war case from the left, and join it up to other things — rather than leave the field to Ron Paul.
But more importantly, what is one to feel about this? Conflicted is how I feel. The Obama administration’s record on civil liberties, power projection, and the like is simply appalling. The drone wars, and the targeting of populations is chilling. Yet it’s Obama who has quietly begun the process of standing down the US military from its “two-war” strategy, a process which — if continued — will have more far-reaching consequences for global affairs than anything than has recently happened — for the simple reason, that, no matter how bellicose subsequent presidents may be, if they only have a “one-war” army, they will lack the capacity. And to do that, he has to run the empire while he does it. It is not so easy to stand down an empire — and I don’t think Barack Obama has any intention of doing so.
But as the GOP candidates bluster and strut, and Obama quietly becomes the President, one’s thoughts go back to the bridge at Selma, crossed and recrossed this past half-century. No one knew, that day in 1965, walking into a certain beating, that it would prove the moment when civil rights and America turned on a dime, and the meaning of the country became, to a degree, the civil rights movement. And that is one lesson to take away from that, whether it is standing up on a bridge or talking about the pill at a congressional hearing — you never know what futile gesture will become its opposite and enter history.
But there is another lesson, too, and that is that, at some point, you have to cross the damn bridge, and power has to be taken, power with all its vicissitudes, and abasements, to stand up, and vanquish people who see no abasement in power. That, as far as I can tell, is what is happening now, and why one feels the blood flow again. All these things I thought, watching a slight man, talking to a half-interested, half-curious crowd, in one coffee shop, in one city, in one vast country.
STOP PRESS: Exit polls coming in as I write show that Gingrich has taken Georgia, the lead in Ohio is swapping between Santorum and Romney, Paul is showing strong in Vermont and Virginia, Santorum crushing in Tennessee and Oklahoma. But there’s only 10% of votes counted, and anything is possible.