Most people have never heard of Kucinich. The one thing "everybody knows" about him is that he cannot win the Democratic presidential nomination. That's the angle from which Big Media have been covering -- or not covering -- his campaign at any rate.
Before an ABC-produced debate in New Hampshire late last year, co-moderator and Nightline anchor Ted Koppel, on whose program an edited version of the proceedings aired, put it bluntly: "How did Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun get into this thing? Nobody seems to know. Some candidates who are perceived as serious are gasping for air, and what little oxygen there is on the stage will be taken up by one-third of the people who do not have a snowball's chance in hell of winning the nomination."
What most people don't know about Kucinich is, well, everything. Here's the short version. When the people of Cleveland elected him mayor in 1977 at the age of 31, he was the youngest person ever voted into the executive office of a major American city.
He campaigned on a promise to reject the privatization of the city's Municipal Light System.
Once in office, he kept his promise, refusing to sell the public utility to Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co., despite the threat of defaulting on the city's bank loans if the deal fell through. He lost his job over the ensuing defaults. But according to a Cleveland Magazine article, his stand saved Cleveland taxpayers almost $200 million from 1985-1995, by which time he had resurrected his political career and reached the State Senate.
Kucinich returned to national prominence in 1996, winning election to the U.S. House of Representatives for the first of three terms to date.
If he isn't moving into the White House early next year, he plans on a fourth.
"One way or another, I expect to be sworn in at the Capitol in January of 2005," he told Congressional Quarterly last year, explaining his decision to campaign concurrently for both the presidency and re-election to the House.
Some pundits justify ignoring Kucinich by claiming that he is unelectable, but his political history begs differing with this analysis. He represents the 10th Congressional District, which encompasses part of the Greater Cleveland area. His district is fairly conservative for an unabashed populist, but he wins big there, even when Republicans try to use "wedge" issues to drive his supporters away.
One could argue that Kucinich has the best chance of any of the Democratic candidates to beat Bush in November, precisely because he is so unlike the current president and he strongly attracts the type of voters who stayed home or voted Green in 2000.
Kucinich's recent poll numbers also belie assertions about his inability to win. In the Maine caucuses earlier this month, he received a campaign-best 16 percent of the vote, beating U.S. Sen. John Edwards, retired Gen. Wesley Clark and the Rev. Al Sharpton, despite negative or, more often, non-existent media coverage. This third place victory, albeit in a small state, shows his ability to win at the grassroots. More recently, Kucinich lost the race for third place to Edwards but improved over some previous showings to score 7 percent of the delegates in last week's caucuses in Nevada.
While chances seem slim that he will emerge from Super Tuesday as the odds-on favorite, the potential remains that Kucinich and the few remaining candidates could carry enough delegates into the convention in Boston in July to make things interesting.
Kucinich's politics are proletarian and, frankly, somewhat radical. But his more drastic ideas resonate with the traditional base of the Democratic Party. He has said that his first act as president would be to pull the United States out of the World Trade Organization and North American Free Trade Agreement. He and others blame the headlong rush into free trade for costing America the millions of manufacturing jobs we have lost over the past several years.
He is also the anti-war candidate. He is the only one who voted no at the time of the initial vote authorizing President Bush to go to war in Iraq in late 2002. U.S. Sen. John Kerry voted for the resolution, though he now campaigns as being anti-war, complaining that Bush misled him and his colleagues and has mishandled the war effort.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean didn't have the opportunity to vote yes or no on the resolution, although he has mercilessly attacked Kerry for his yes vote and often claims to be the only candidate to have opposed the invasion from the beginning. Kerry has counterattacked by bringing up statements from 2002 that call into doubt Dean's stance on the war at that time.
Beyond railing against the war, Kucinich has a plan to end it. Upon taking office, he would begin the process of turning over control of Iraq to the United Nations. Ninety days after UN approval, U.S. troops would leave Iraq. The UN would control oil revenues, reconstruction contracts and help the Iraqi people move toward self-rule.
Under his plan, the U.S. responsibility would be limited to paying reparations for everything we blew up and all the innocent civilians killed because of the war, as well as funding the UN's efforts.
While these are two of his main platform planks, he also has progressive ideas on health care, the environment, corporations and drug policy, among other topics. Like the man, his ideas are somewhat ahead of their time. Let's just hope it isn't too late when the rest of us catch up.
Joshua C. Robinson writes monthly about the presidential campaign for CityBeat.