Dennis Kucinich, the pint-sized congressman from unfortunate Cleveland, Ohio, has caused a sensation by switching his vote on healthcare today to favor the President’s agenda. Being somewhat cynically-inclined, many Americans tend to feel that Denny was in the President’s pocket all along – that his opposition was never sincere to begin with.
On a scale of liberal thought ranging from 1 to 10, Dennis hovers near 403. Why wouldn’t he support it? But more than likely, our little friend was just as avidly opposed to healthcare reform as he claimed to be. When he declared the reason he was withholding his support was because the bill wasn’t liberal enough, it was vintage Kucinich. As a long-time Dennis watcher, I could only shake my head fondly and indulgently, like June Cleaver, sighing at the Beaver’s antics.
Denny’s always been absurd, a national punchline, one might say. His resume includes bankrupting the City of Cleveland during a short stint as the “Boy Wonder” mayor, quixotic campaigning for a Department of Peace, and his 2008 presidential campaign that netted about 17 votes countrywide. He plays on the heartstrings of his district though, and never faces serious opposition at election time. I give you, as an example, Denny and the Case of the Efficiency Lightbulbs. The City of Cleveland recently came up with a genius plan to drop off an energy efficient lightbulb at every house – whether homeowners want it or not – and then bill the poor suckers for it. Little Denny flew into a rage when he learned of this: It was like the government mandating that its citizens buy a product. How very unconstitutional! So he courageously faced the powerful light bulb lobby of Cleveland head on, defying them to do such a thing. It was epic – David and Goliath – at least, in the sense that Denny wrote a letter asking them to reconsider, and the light bulb guys immediately backed down.
I guess most Democrats didn’t know about that story, because they seemed to think Denny’s opposition wasn’t an insurmountable obstacle. They kept in touch, but seemed certain he would come around. Pelosi, Steny, and other high-ranking Democrats alternately rained persuasion and abuse on him, but Denny stood firm for months, like a rock, or a tiny piece of gravel that had gotten lodged in the Democrats’ tire. Obama tried without success to persuade him to change his vote three times.
It was during this time, the guilt started. Speaking plainly, I haven’t been kind to Denny. Led astray by his physical features and senseless ramblings, I’ve failed to see his heart was in the right place. I’d misjudged him. When he made remarks like, “I cannot be intimidated by those who are trying to force this insurance industry give away down our throats”, a real twinge of regret surfaced, like after you make a short bus joke. (It really isn’t funny.) It didn’t matter if his convictions were right, wrong, or insane, he stood by them and that is admirable. He supported a measure to audit the Federal Reserve, a measure which was clearly seen as a blow for the people against big government. On March 14th, Denny further shamed me by writing what appeared to be a very heartfelt op-ed this past Sunday, condemning the reform bill, saying that it was a giveaway to the insurance industry. http://www.cleveland.com/opinion/index.ssf/2010/03/latest_health_care_reform_bill.html
On March 15th, Barack Obama, sensing the collapse of his bill, flew to Ohio to try to rally some support. At the President’s request, Denny met him there and beamed on the sidelines as Obama spoke. Like a fox, Barry sensed weakness and honed in on his prey; Denny was invited to go on an airplane ride. When Air Force One landed a short time later, Obama must have been feeling pretty good because although Denny was back on earth (as he knows it), he suddenly had a new perspective. His concern for “the consumer” was overshadowed by his need to attend to the President’s image, as evidenced by this quote: “We have to be very careful that the potential of President Obama’s presidency not be destroyed by this debate.”
Today was about redemption. It was our little guy’s finest hour. The Democrats needed Denny’s vote, and he knew it. But so did the Republicans, who mistakenly believed Denny would not vote for healthcare reform just because he vowed he wouldn’t, and made kind of a big deal out of it, campaigning and what not. They failed to sense the profound grasp of the issue Congressman Kucinich has. Americans would not understand the complexities of his mind, so he’s right in refusing to explain himself or say much about what he and Barry talked about while they were jet-setting around.
Denny, if you are reading this, I wish to agree wholeheartedly with the President that you are indeed courageous. Today, you stood before God and country, acknowledged that you felt the reform bill was wrong, but you were willing to vote for it anyway because the Democratic Party leadership said so. It’s humbling to be in your presence. A quick word of caution and then you can go frolic with your new friends who now accept you. Your political genius is unquestioned. Yet I must advise you to obtain some basic sales and marketing skills. Had the Republicans known your vote a) was for sale and b) secured with a mere airplane ride, I’m sure you could’ve worked the situation. You may have even been at the center of a bidding war! You should’ve let the GOP and Dems fight it out. No matter who ultimately won, I think you could have gotten an even better deal than you did. Who know, you may have scored a hot air balloon ride and a lollipop. Too late this time, but think it over. If there’s a big vote on euthanasia, you want to get all you can for your vote.