Goodbye Dennis:


Barack Obama has excluded himself from the progressive coalition by the statements he’s made, unfortunately.  He’s a lot smarter than his public statements, which are extremely conciliatory  to concentrated power and big business…The people of Iowa and New Hampshire have to ask themselves: who is going to fight for you…Edwards raises the question of the concentration of wealth and power in a few hands that are working against the majority of people.



– Ralph Nader, MSNBC, December 17, 2007





For some time now, I’ve been giving a quiet and indirect sort of tribute to Dennis Kucinich.  I’ve been praising him for backing progressive policy proposals and initiatives that “mainstream” (corporate) Democrats refuse to embrace: single-payer health insurance, de-funding the illegal occupation of Iraq, investigating civilian Iraqi casualties, the impeachment of Cheney-Bush and so on. I’ve been mentioning him as the only truly Left candidate in the Democratic presidential race. 


And all the while a little voice in the back of my mind has been saying, “but you know he’s really kind of a pathetic jerk who helps make the Left look stupid.” 


I don’t know when the voice started.  Maybe it was when I heard about how he saw a UFO. Or when I heard him brag to a political audience that his vegan diet permitted him to be married to a woman half his age – a model he recruited through a truly bizarre public relations campaign.


At some point it started to sink in that Kucinich was a knucklehead who cares more about advancing his own goofy and grandiose personal agenda than about furthering the causes of  peace, democracy, and justice.  I also realized that Dennis helped corporate media discredit Left sentiments and values by associating them with clownish narcissism, cultish mysticism, and laughable irrelevance.   


And now I feel freer than ever to say all this for a very simple reason.  Dennis has done something truly and unforgivably pathetic, petty, and reactionary. He has told his admittedly small number of followers in Iowa to give their second-choice votes to the corporate media candidate and imperial war Democrat Barack Obama during the pivotal 2008 Democratic Party caucus to be held today. 


He has essentially lent his support to the class- and race-accommodator Obama, Dennis’ supposed fellow “change agent.”


The contrast with the much more principled and serious Left leader Ralph Nader is pronounced. Two weeks ago, Nader endorsed John Edwards as a real corporation-fighting progressive and rejected Obama in a fascinating MSNBC “Hardball” interview with Chris Mathews (see http://www.youtube. com/watch? v=CLzytK6A3Fc).


"The key phrase" in Edwards message, Nader said,  is "that he doesn’t want to replace a corporate Republican with a corporate Democrat. That’s very key." 


Nader noted that Edwards’ message of fighting corporate power is more stridently left than anything he’s seen from an electable Democratic politician in a very long time.  According to Nader, "people in Iowa and New Hampshire have to ask themselves a question: who’s going to fight for you?" The answer, for Nader, is Edwards.


At one point Mathews told Nader he’d “excluded Obama from the progressive coalition." Nader argued that Obama has “excluded himself with statements that he’s made, unfortunately. He’s a lot smarter than his public statements, which are extremely conciliatory to concentrated power and big business.”


Nader told Mathews that Edwards “raises the question of the concentration of power and wealth and power in a few hands that are working against the majority of people.”


Last Monday, in a Muscatine, Iowa press conference, Nader deepened his support for Edwards. “The issue is corporate power and who controls our political system,” Nader said, “and it’s not who has experience for six years or two years.”  This was an obvious allusion to the ongoing debate over “experience” between Clinton and Obama.


Nader called Edwards a Democratic “glimmer of hope.”  He issued a public statement ripping Mrs. Clinton as a “corporate Democrat,” mirroring the precise term Edwards uses to describe Hillary and Obama.


Nader praised Edwards’ more combative and populist posture of fighting corporate power as a heartening signal. “It’s the only time I’ve heard a Democrat talk that way in a long time,” claimed Nader, who rarely praises a leading Democrat.


“Iowa should decide which candidate stands for us,” Nader added, saying that “Edwards is at least highlighting day after day that the issue is who controls our country, big business or the people” (see David Paul Kuhne, “Nader Throws Support to Edwards, Blasts Clinton,” Common Dreams, January 1, 2008 at http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/01/01/6100/print/)


Nader is correct and Dennis is terribly wrong.


The admittedly imperfect (from a Left perspective) John Edwards is considerably better than Obama in ways that matter The unabashedly partisan, pro-labor, anti-poverty, and “”Jeffersonian” Edwards is running to the Hamiltonian Obama’s “populist” and democratic left.


It’s a bigger contrast than many progressives know or let on. Obama intones endlessly about “hope” and finding “common ground” and “consensus” with Republicans, evangelicals, and big business.  He decries the nation’s supposedly horrid legacy of factional and ideological conflict – an allegedly frightening heritage he pins on the purportedly scary (late) 1960s – and claims to represent a new generational politics seeking to “get things done” above nasty old divisions. He claims to represent the glories of an America where hard work is rewarded and anyone can rise from the bottom (where he supposedly originated) to the top. He tells Wall Street’s global investor class (during an oration last summer at NASDAQ’s headquarters) of his purported beliefs that “you are as open and willing to listen as anyone else in America ” and that “your work [is] be a part of building a stronger, more vibrant, and more just America. I think,” Obama absurdly adds, “the problem is that no one has asked you to play a part in the project of American renewal.”


Yeah, okay.


Sounding like a droning academic on many occasions, professor Obama has been known to put more than a few of his audience members to sleep.


Meanwhile, Edwards has been delivering a steady diet of red-hot orations against business rule. Deploying the best stump speech in the campaign, he refers repeatedly to the labor movement as “the greatest anti-poverty program in American history.”  He is willing to lose corporate sponsorship and media fancy in his determination to make “ending poverty” and fighting economic inequality and “corporate domination” of American politics and policy the rhetorical cornerstones of his campaign.


In the place of Obama’s tiresome feel-good homilies to togetherness and shared American values and empathy, Edwards declares that his mission as president would be to give privileged corporate and business elites “Hell.” He promises to battle and defeat big business to make policy in democratic accord with a popular consensus that already exists for things like universal health care and fair trade. He says it’s a “lie” that “any Democrat is better than any Republican,” arguing that replacing big money “corporate Republicans” with big money “corporate Democrats” is just a game of musical chairs. He (rightly in my opinion) mocks Obama’s great healing narrative as singing “Kumbaya” and makes no bones about disliking the Republican right. 


His generational narrative is that the next generation of Americans is about to be the first in U.S. history to be worse off than its immediate predecessor. Passive Democrats who refuse to fight “corporate greed” to “reclaim our democracy” should look their children in the eyes, Edwards says, and "admit that they  did nothing to stop the decline of opportunity and the growing inequality of wealth and power.”


Edwards’ autobiographical narrative skips the Horatio Alger claims of heroic upward mobility.  It simply states that he’s running for president on behalf of the working-class people he grew up with in rural North Carolina . Their hard work was not rewarded, he says, when their local textile mill closed so that its corporate owners could exploit cheaper labor abroad.


Edwards rejects the notion that any but a small minority of Americans can to rise from poverty to riches under current economic and political arrangements.  He takes little personal credit for his own ascendancy to wealth.


His campaign’s concept of the division that plagues America is different from Obama’s. Obama has hitched his quest for power on a pledge to save the virtuous (Alexander) Hamiltonian Republic by reaching out across the supposed great divide between “red state” (white-patriarchal and more rural, evangelical and militarist) Republicans and “blue state” (more multi-colored, feminist, gay-friendly and urban-cosmopolitan) Democrats. By sharp and relevant (for actual progressives) contrast, Edwards speaks in (Thomas) Jeffersonian terms about the more real and fundamental fissure in the U.S: the split between the public and the country’s corporate-based power centers. He advocates “fighting and beating” those power centers on behalf of working people and the cause of popular governance. 


He’s even better on race than Obama. As Obama’s fellow black Chicago South Sider Jesse Jackson, Sr. noted in the Chicago Sun Times last November: “The Democratic candidates – with the exception of John Edwards, who opened his campaign in New Orleans and has made addressing poverty central to his campaign – have virtually ignored the plight of African Americans in this country”. 


It’s not for nothing that volunteers from the Service Employers International Union (SEIU), UNITE-HERE, the United Steelworkers, the Carpenters, and other unions are working overtime for Edwards in Iowa between now and the Caucus.  And it’s not for nothing that Nader has endorsed Edwards and rejected Obama. 


For more details on the differences (and how remarkably conservative and corporate-friendly Obama is), please see my following articles:


 “ ‘Angry John’ and KumbayObama: Reflections on Iowa, Business Rule, and the Democratic Party’s Democratic Disconnect,” ZNet (December 20, 2007)(http://www.zcomm.org/znet/viewArticle/15969)


“Why I’ve Focused on Obama: Seven Points,” ZNet (December 29, 2007), read at http://www.zcomm.org/znet/viewArticle/16046


“Obama Speaks: ‘Oh Great White Masters, You Just Haven’t Been Asked to Help America,” ZNet (December 12, 2007), read at



“Obama’s Role: to Confuse and Divide the Progressive Base,” ZNet (October 19, 2007), read at http://www.zcomm.org/znet/viewArticle/15602


Why has the avowed left-progressive Dennis Kucinich embraced the corporate-centrist Obama (justly rejected in no uncertain terms by the iconic progressive Nader) over the labor-populist Edwards (embraced by Nader)?  My guess is that Edwards helped create this sorry episode by letting himself be overheard (last summer) agreeing with Hillary that lesser candidates (like Kucinich and Mike Gravel) were messing up the presidential debates. 


That was a bad and authoritarian thing to say – and think. It is corporate media (whose God-like power Edwards dares not criticize in an election season) that most relevantly poisons the debates and the campaigns overall and Left candidates need to be heard.


Still, it’s no reason for a left politician to jump into political bed with the deeply conservative Obama phenomenon. 


Dennis may perceive the corporate media BaRoackStar as an unstoppable political juggernaut and figure that he might as well jump on the Obama train while he can.


Maybe he thinks Barack will let him set up his cherished Department of Peace. No chance.


I can’t  believe Dennis actually thinks that “Obama, Inc.” is a progressive change agent. But then, when you believe in UFOs, all kinds of bizarre cognitions are possible.


Goodbye, Dennis. You seem to like fantasies, so you should have some good fun with your new best friend Barack Obama. Fantasy is what he’s all about.


Veteran radical historian Paul Street is a writer, speaker and activist based in Iowa City, IA and Chicago, IL.  He is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007); and Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in Post-Civil Rights America (New York: Routledge, 2005. Paul can be reached at paulstreet99@yahoo.com.

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