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Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH 10)
In Their Own Words

Remarks by Congressman Dennis Kucinich

Congressman Dennis Kucinich represents the 10th District of Ohio in the United States House of Representatives. His district includes most of western Cleveland, as well as some of the nearby suburbs From 1977 to 1979, Kucinich served as mayor of Cleveland, Ohio. Kucinich ran for President in 2004 and campaigned until just before the Democratic National Convention. In December 11, 2006, Kucinich announced his intention to seek the nomination again in 2008.

Kucinich spoke earlier this year to the National Jewish Democratic Council's Washington Policy Conference. Cleveland radio host Norman Wayne introduced Kucinich, calling him "a leading, progressive voice on issues ranging from health care, to social security to fair trade." In 1977, at the age of 31, Kucinich became the youngest person ever elected to lead a major American city, Cleveland, Ohio. As mayor, Kucinich was "known for standing up to the powerful and entrenched in order to protect ordinary citizens." In Congress, he has "been a leading voice against the Iraq war, and in favor of creating a unique, Cabinet-level department of peace." He has been cited by numerous organizations for his stand on the environment. He has demonstrated "that his principles are more than just a political statement; they are his way of life." A vegan, Kucinich believes in protecting life in all of its forms, whether it is soldiers on a battlefield or animals confined to miserable conditions on a factory farm.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich: I think when anyone appears before you and asks for your consideration to be the next president, it’s one thing to be specific on various issues, but it is another thing to try to discern what someone’s world view is, because once you really know a person’s world view, you can then predict how they are likely to address specific issues.

I look at the world as one. As an unbroken, integrated whole. I see the world as being interconnected and interdependent; that the decisions that any one of us makes affect all of us.

I see our responsibility really being to repair the world – all the divisions which exist, the disunities, the disharmonies – that it is our mission in life to repair the world. That is the essence of tikkun olam, to repair the world. So, my politics looks for ways to try to reconcile people who are at polar opposites. And coming from the City of Cleveland and going through politics in an era when I started my career 40 years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in the polarities, but also to see where polarized thinking, dichotomized thinking of us versus them, inevitably leads to war.

And so having had that experience, to be able to work out all the different combinations and possibilities in politics, I stand before you as someone who has a capacity to look at conditions and address them from a totally different perspective. It’s one I’ve honed through working years and years of working to achieve interfaith dialogues in the City of Cleveland. As a matter of fact, in my Congressional office, meeting on almost a weekly basis are members of the Jewish, Palestinian, Muslim communities who come together to share their common concerns – not simply about things here at home, but things in the homeland of their ancestors.

And in that bringing people together, you start to understand the deeper meaning of the work of the philosopher Martin Buber, "I and thou." Being able to see how much people really have in common when you can give people an opportunity to express not only their fears, but their highest aspirations.

This is and has been the work of Seeds of Peace, a program that I’ve been proud to participate in over the years. A program that brings young people together of diverse ethnic backgrounds and diverse states, primarily from the Middle East, who can share in that very human experience of what it’s mean to connect to another human being who you may have thought you don’t have anything in common with at all.

And because of the experience I had in the City of Cleveland, growing up in the City of Cleveland, living in many different neighborhoods, I came to understand at a very early age how much people really do have in common, and how much those who, in any of our lives, may extend a helping hand. That helping hand may have come from a place that you never believed would be possible.

Because I see the world as one, I feel particularly painful when I see the principle of war at work in the world, which is why in 1999, I challenged the President of my own party who determined that he, with the support of Democrats, would attack Serbia. I really looked at what happened at Rambouillet as being a lost opportunity, and perhaps we could have resolved things. Maybe we could have resolved things back to Dayton. But the thing is, the intention to use diplomacy is very powerful, the intention to find resolution is very powerful, because from our intention we create that external reality.

My intention is to create peace and to work for peace, which is why in 2002, I did a very thorough analysis of what happened with respect to Iraq, the developments, the context within which a war was being sought. And I thoroughly disproved any case for war and distributed that among members of Congress. I felt so strongly about it, I ran for President on a platform not just to end the war, but to end the use of wars as an instrument of diplomacy, because I believe that a world can be -- that we can find a way for the world to exist as one and for the claims of all people to be upheld.

In this past year, my wife, Elizabeth, was here. Elizabeth and I had the chance to go to the Middle East right after the war in Lebanon, and we met with leaders in Lebanon, we went south of the Litani River, we saw the destruction and then we went to Israel and we met with leaders in Israel who shared with us the concern about the survival of Israel and the existential threat that people felt, which, at all times, imposed a real concern about how do you protect Israel.

And we went over to the Palestinian areas and we saw the high walls and the checkpoints and the barbed wire, and we talked to people who were in their Assembly, and we talked to people who were citizens of the community and we talked to people who were forced out of their homes, and we saw this common humanity.

No one can tell me that the hearts of Palestinians or Arabs or Muslims are different than the hearts of Israelis. No one can tell me that. Because I have talked to people who live in circumstances where they want it to be different, they want it changed, they do not want to live in fear, they want to live under conditions where everyone’s rights are protected.

So how do you get that?

I think it is really important for the next President of the United States to be in a position where one understands with compassion the plight of all peoples. Where one can truly be an honest broker without in any way setting back the aspirations of Israel’s survival. That has to be a given. But with being able to open up in a compassionate way to people throughout the region in a way that is not unmindful of the difficulties that are there. But in a way that stresses that there must be a way to be able to address the concerns that all people have. It’s really about addressing the national expression of two peoples, the questions of viability, which are serious questions, and to look at the regional dimensions that are involved.

I think it is possible to have peace. But I don’t think you can ever impose peace. I do think that the United States can play an essential role, with a president who approaches it not out of fear, not out of favor, but with an open heart and an intention to work with all parties – and the ability to work with all parties.

I stand before you as the only person running for President who not only led the effort against the war in Iraq, but voted against each and every appropriation to continue the war. Not only having led the effort against the war in Iraq and voting against the appropriations, but also putting forth a workable peace plan. And the only person who raised the issue about opening up diplomatic relations with Iran.

Now I will tell you that any of the comments that Mr. Ahmadinejad made about Israel are repugnant, and at the same its important that American leaders have the capacity to reach out and to provide an alternative view, by just sheer presence and sheer conduct, that 28 years of no diplomacy and no answer, to be able to provide stability, that the United States must show leadership there and must provide a way that all can survive.

I don’t think it’s productive for our leaders to say that all options are on the table, which means that we would set the stage even for a nuclear strike against a country that everyone says doesn’t have the capability. Now some would say, well, what if some day…what if some day we had nuclear disarmament, what if someday the nonproliferation treaty were truly participated in, what if someday the United States President was ready to work with the nations of the world to start to build down tensions instead of ramping them up?

I’m not naïve to politics. I started my career 40 years ago and I’ve seen all kinds of possibilities achieved when other said it wouldn’t be possible, just because I came at it from a different point of view, because I came at it with an open heart, because I came at it without having the political constraints that come with fear.

The next president must be fearless if Israel is to have a real friend in that White House. The next president must be willing to go to Iran and Syria and to go to all the nations of the region and state the case for Israel; state the case for peace. I am prepared to do that.

Question and Answer Session


Q: You say that taking war as a tool of diplomacy off the table is critical, and I think in many cases being able to have an open dialogue is a precursor as part of diplomacy is necessary, but when there is no one to speak to – and now I’m talking about the case in Darfur – where we’ve heard a number of potential candidates say that we ought to impose no-fly zones and if necessary we should supply logistical support, what is our role in involving ourselves in the genocide there?

A: Well, first of all, any efforts in Darfur need to be multilateral. We need to find ways of seeing this rebels united so that they can speak with one voice. As you just pointed out – who do you talk to?

There also has to be a change in the United States’ treatment of Sudan, because what we’ve done with Sudan is basically the same, because they’re basically cooperating in the so-called war on terrorism that we basically give them a pass with their conduct, which I don’t think is correct. So, that’s where it starts.

Q: You were commenting about the war in Lebanon, I was wondering if you could comment on – with Hamas and Hezbollah attacking Israel with missiles off and on over the years – do you think that Israel has fundamentally the right to defend itself against those attacks?

A: Every nation, according to the U.N. Charter, Article 51, has a right of self-defense. Every nation. But I think a productive role for the United States would be to find ways of communicating with diverse groups to indicate that this approach to try to settle differences is a dead end, literally.

Now, when Elizabeth and I visited Lebanon and Israel, you know we had the opportunity to see the damage south of the Litani River, we also offered to look at the damaged areas in Israel – we were told by officials of the Israeli government that the damage was being repaired quickly and by the time we got out there, it might have been repaired – but I do want to say that I think that this is a time for a more creative approach toward diplomacy. This isn’t a question of whether Israel has a right to survive – that is a given – the question is how do United States policies contribute to Israel’s security or to Israel’s insecurity. That’s really the deeper question here.

Now, there are different thoughts about how you achieve security. Some believe you achieve security through overwhelming military superiority. I think that type of thinking has been mightily challenged by events of 9/11. And I also think that no matter how much military superiority the United States has, that will never make us secure if we have policies of unilateralism, preemption, first-strike.

So what I’m calling for is a revision of national security doctrines, which see diplomacy as one of those options that should always be on the table, but unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be a particular talent at the moment.

Q: I was wondering: a) how would one go about diplomacy with organizations like Hezbollah and, b) if you could go into more detail about how we would deal with some of these organizations that have no interest in diplomacy.

A: Well, this is one of the reasons I think we need to work with and open up full diplomatic relations and exchanges with Syria and Iran as a means of getting their influence. Because what happens is, the more we separate those states, the less communication we have and the more groups are likely to take it upon themselves to act in a way that is violent. And then we have no way of controlling it whatsoever.

Again, I’m talking about a different approach here, clearly. One that wouldn’t necessarily find itself popular in some quarters – I understand that. But I also know, human relations being what they are, there is such a hunger, not only in this country but around the world, for a new approach to diplomacy, because the old ones resting on force are just failing. And they lead to an escalation, inevitably. So, what I’m speaking of is simply pursuing what Franklin Roosevelt called many years ago "the science of human relations," and trying to really work diplomacy.

Norman mentioned in his introduction my support for a Cabinet-level department of peace and nonviolence. On an international level, this department would look at those areas of conflict that begin to percolate before they become a matter of bloodshed and try a way to intervene peacefully in a nonviolent way to resolve the conflicts.

And so I think we have to look at our capacities again. I don’t think we’ve even tapped the abilities that we have to try to transform conditions. I think our politics are so stuck on one-dimensional approaches, which involve the all-to-easy reach of violence. And then we wonder why we’re stuck with violence.

I think we have a responsibility in America to Israel to take a different approach than we have. I don’t think the approach being taken by this administration, while it may seem to be supportive, I don’t think it’s going to long-term provide for the kind of security that people from the Jewish community want for Israel and the people of Israel want for Israel. In may sound fine in the short-term, but Israel is not going to be secure with the United States pursing policies of unilateralism, first-strike, preemption – I do not see it.

Q: You talked about "us versus them" and creating intercommunity dialogue, and I was wondering, with Virginia Tech and generally the decline of community in the U.S., what you would do as President domestically to foster more intercommunity dialogue?

A: That is such an important question, because after 9/11, we held community meetings. I represent a community, by the way. The Cleveland area has a large Jewish community; it also has a large Arab community. In my district, there are probably about 70,000-80,000 Arab-Americans. So the community gathered right after 9/11 and one person stood up and said, "Israel’s to blame." And I immediately challenged that person and said that not only are you wrong, but it’s dangerous to go in that direction, that what we need to do is start talking to one another and ask, "how is it that we can reconnect as citizens of the world."

America lost a chance on 9/11 by immediately going into the political scheming in the White House to attack Iraq. It was a meeting of the National Security Council on the day after 9/11 where Donald Rumsfeld said, let’s use this as a chance to attack Iraq (that is in Bush at War, page 49, I think). By immediately doing that, we lost the opportunity to reconnect with the world community when people all over the world were grieving with the United States. We never had the chance to have the kind of national town hall meetings that we should have had to talk about how did 9/11 happen, what were some of the underlying grievances -- not to ever justify them for a heartbeat – but to try to come to a level of understanding. We never did that.

But what happened was we were led into a blind alley, and once we went down that blind alley, Americans still don’t know how it happened. Oh, they think they know a plane flew into the Trade Centers, but that is not it; it is deeper. And so what we need to do now -- Elizabeth is from the United Kingdom and we’ve talked about this a lot and she had this idea, and we are actually testing it out across the country, including what we call the 9/10 forums – to look at who we were before 9/11. Not about the mythologies, but who we were before 9/11, what our highest aspirations were. When did we really experience security in our own personal lives? When did we really experience courage in our own personal lives? And by sharing our own experience with each other in meetings, we validate the experience that each of us has as a pathway to achieving security in the broader culture, courage in the broader culture and all those things that mean something to us as individuals.

We need a whole new discussion in America. And from that can arise a powerful sense of community that can unite us not only as a nation but can unite us with the people of the world who have similar aspirations. Instead, what we have now is this widening gyre of conflict and this cycling of more and more violence, and what happened in Blacksburg, Virginia, was only a symptom of it. It’s what the poet Yeats talked about a hundred years ago: all things fall apart, the center cannot hold. We are experiencing that right now, but I tell you there is an underlying impulse for unity. I’ve seen it all around this country. People are hungering for it. They are hungering for it all over the world. But they are waiting for people to come forward who are not going to get trapped into the "us-versus-them," who are not hobbled by the dichotomized thinking. And so, I submit to you, that yes, there is a way to have a more peaceful America, a more peaceful world. One where we do not have believe that violence is inevitable or that war is inevitable.

Sometimes, we are not victims of the world we see, we are victims of the way we see the world. We have the creative ability to create a new world and that’s how I look at this.

Yes, we have to be mindful of history, we can not forget history. But we also have to know that we are making history right now.

Q: I have two questions. Should the Vice President of the United States be impeached? Are your articles of impeachment dead on arrival?

A: At five o’clock, I will be making an announcement to that effect and introducing House Resolution 333, which is, in fact, a resolution of impeachment.

I want to say that I do not take any great joy in doing this at all, that I have thought long and hard about this and I come to it not from a place of anger but from a sense of what kind of conduct is it that we have a right to expect from those who hold the highest office, and how does that conduct reflect on our Constitutional traditions. And so that is the kind of discussion I am going to have at five o’clock when I introduce the articles.

I’m hopeful that America will soon be able to return to a place where the deep love that we all have for our country will be able to be celebrated and that we will break free of this shroud of fear that dropped upon our nation after 9/11 and spread across the world. I am hopeful we will be able to take a new direction. But the only way we can do it is through truth and truth will lead to reconciliation.

Q: To end on a fun note – and by the way, I guess if he is impeached, then Nancy Pelosi would be next in line for the presidency...

A: Time out. That is interesting. But, I am not going to comment on that.

Elizabeth Kucinich
Q: ... tell us how you met your wife.

A: Talk about being one of the luckiest guys in the world. I was on the floor of the House one day getting a call from my office in Cleveland, saying you’ve got to get back there, there are people coming up, wanting to talk about monetary policy. And I said, well, you know, I am busy on the floor of the House, and I really don’t have time, have someone else take the meeting. But, personally, I was running my district office, just kept talking, you gotta get up here, the guy drove from Chicago to Cleveland to set up a meeting and now he’s coming to Washington.

So I said, "OK, OK, I’ll meet." So I ran into the office for the meeting, a fellow walks in, behind him is his assistant, and I have a statute of Gandhi on a shelf in my office and another picture that was given to me by Brahma Kumaris nuns. She looked at the picture of Gandhi and she looked at me and I looked at her… and count to three and that was it.

Now it did not always play out as fast because it was an eight minute meeting. We did not really talk to one another. As she was on the way out the door with her boss, I gave her a copy of my department of peace legislation and asked her to check it out if she had a chance. Two weeks later, I was sitting at my desk at about eight o’clock thinking about her, thinking this is an extraordinary person, I did not really even talk to her, but I have got to find out who she is, there is something here. So I dig into my email, thinking something is going on, I want to hear from you, and all of a sudden, "You’ve got mail," right on the computer. Holy smokes, it was a note from Elizabeth.

And it turns out in a series of email exchanges we find out we were going to be in New Mexico, where her boss was speaking and I was meeting a friend, and long story short, we met in New Mexico, spent a couple hours together and decided right then and there we’re going to get married. So, we did. And there is nothing greater in life. I am the luckiest guy in the world and I am loving it.

Previous Interviews

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