On the Hill some call it being McKinney’d–the treatment Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney received when she was in Congress. Twice, rather than protecting the incumbent, the Democrats put up well funded challengers against her. Now, it looks like Dennis Kucinich may be facing the same treatment in Cleveland.
There is a report circulating the web that before the Nevada primary Kucinich was visited by representatives of Nancy Pelosi and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the right wing Israeli lobby. They told him that if he would drop his campaigns to impeach Cheney and Bush, they would guarantee his re-election to the House of Representatives. Kucinich threw them out of his office.
Kucinich has aggressively challenged the Democratic Party leadership in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail on the issues of war, civil liberties, impeachment and big business control of government. He’s even refused to pledge to endorse the party’s presidential nominee.
The Democratic leadership has insisted that impeachment was off the table since taking control of the House in 2006. Congressman Conyers, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, has even refused to investigate whether President Bush and Vice President Cheney have violated the law. But Kucinich pushed the issue. He introduced articles of impeachment against Cheney, then against Bush and he brought the issue up on the House floor. He pushed and pushed to try to make sure the president and vice president were not above the law.
On the campaign trail he didn’t let Senator Clinton or Obama get away with campaign peace rhetoric in the Democratic primary while they voted war funding with no strings attached in the senate. He pointed out that their rhetoric was not consistent with their actions. He pushed the issue of all troops being removed; while Obama and Clinton parse their words carefully making it clear they will withdraw only some of the troops and neither promising a complete troop withdrawal even by 2012.
And he pierced the veil of campaign rhetoric of Democrats who call for “universal health care” but put forward plans that will enrich their donors in the private health insurance industry.
On issue after issue Kucinich pushed against the Democratic Party leadership–now, it seems he is paying a price.
In Cleveland, Kucinich is being challenged by several candidates. The one that is getting the most attention and funding is City Councilman Joe Cimperman. He’s served on the council for ten years and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from real estate interests to challenge Kucinich. He’s been saying that Kucinich focuses too much on campaigning for president and not on the district. The Mayor of Cleveland and the Cleveland Plain Dealer has endorsed Cimperman.
Kucinich, who has been focused on the presidential campaign, has very little money in the bank (reportedly only about $30,000). He’s been putting out fundraising appeals (see, e.g., http://www.youtube.com/) and has a fundraiser planned with Sean Penn.
Back home the issue of right wing Israeli lobby funding is becoming an issue. Cimperman put out a press release that urges Kucinich to refute a report in the People’s Weekly World Newspaper that said the “Kucinich campaign charged” that Cimperman’s effort to unseat Kucinich was financed in large part from “a right-wing pro-Israel group.”
Cimperman has been somewhat theatrical in his campaign. He’s been putting up signs “Where’s Dennis?” and describing him as a “Missing Congressman.” Cimperman took the poster to Kucinch’s office and delivered a copy on videotape. Kucinich responded by asking Homeland Security to investigate the filming of government property. Cimperman responded with another video calling Kucinch a hypocrite for violating his privacy while railing against government intrusion into people’s lives.
No doubt if Kucinch had kow-towed to Nancy Pelosi, been less aggressive in his comments in the presidential debates and agreed to endorse the Democratic presidential nominee, the Democratic Party would be discouraging opponents and coming to the aid of an incumbent who has been in the House since 1996.
But elected officials like McKinney and Kucinch who challenge the Democratic Party line–who think for themselves and feel a responsibility to fight for their constituents and challenge corporate power–are a hindrance to the party leadership. They get in the way and let the public know what is really going on. So, they must be either tamed or made an example of. If Kucinich gets McKinney’d you can be sure the message will be received. Those, like Congressman Conyers, who’ve been around for awhile (Conyers has been in the House since 1965) know better than to step too far out of line. So, Conyers has remained silent on Bush’s law breaking–protecting his committee chairmanship by being afraid to use it. Conyers has been tamed but Kucinich hasn’t. So, Kucinich needs to be taught a lesson that other members will learn from. The growing revolt of the “Out of Iraq Caucus” needs to be kept impotent. Knocking out Kucinich will prevent others from too loudly disobeying leadership.
Kucinich has faced tough battles in Cleveland before. When he was mayor he stood up to corporate interests that wanted to take over Cleveland’s public utility and survived a recall election. And, Cimperman is not the only challenger, there are several, so the anti-Kucinich vote may be sufficiently divided for the congressman to retain his seat.
If he doesn’t Kucinich may find new political opportunities that give him a bigger platform. Perhaps he will leave the Democratic Party with whom he has had so much disagreement and join Cynthia McKinney in the Green Party (see -a party whose platform is consistent with his. If so a McKinney-Kucinich ticket could be an interesting development in the 2008 election year. The Democrats may regret their punishment of both McKinney and Kucinich.
Kevin Zeese is Executive Director of Voters for Peace.