'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Goodbye, Dennis the Menace (Part 3) 

Kucinich, out of Congress after being redistricted into a tough primary fight with Marcy Kaptur that he lost. Good riddance, although Russell Simmons is no doubt heartbroken. It is tempting to say that he was thrown onto the trash heap of political has-beens despite providing a progressive fig leak for the neoliberal policies of Obama and Pelosi when the Democrats controlled Congress during the 2009-2010 session. But a has-been is defined as: A person, especially one formerly popular or influential, whose popularity or effectiveness has peaked and is now in decline. It is typically said of professionals and celebrities whose prime is behind them.

Given that Kucinich was never especially popular, at least as defined by the national electoral process, and that he was never effective legislatively, it would, strictly speaking, be inaccurate to even describe him as a has-been. Would it be more precise, using baseball lingo, to call him a never was? Well, not exactly, that's a little too harsh. Merriam-Webster defines never was as one that has attained no rank, success, or eminence. He did, it must be conceded, wins elections to become the mayor of Cleveland and a congressional representative, and he did attain a sort of avant-garde eminence amongst a small group of progressives, for whom he singularly represented their political impotence.

Kucinich was, in effect, a reed by which these progressives clung to the hope that the US could be moved in a more socially responsible direction through the electoral process. In this, his presidential campaigns anticipated the enthusiastic, pragmatic embrace of Obama in 2008 by a much larger progressive constituency. In both instances, progressives underestimated the extent to which the electoral process had degenerated into a duopoly where the two major parties competed for the privilege of which one could better serve the interests of capital. If Kucinich really wanted to perform a public service, he would expose this in relation to his experiences in Congress by writing and publishing his memoirs. Somehow, I doubt that will happen. At heart, he's a team player, as he showed when he voted for health care reform in 2010.

His defenders might contend that Kucinich was in the tradition of Peter Camejo, a revolutionary political figure who, unlike Camejo, actually got elected to office. Camejo, formerly a highly respected leadership figure in the Socialist Workers Party, subsequently participated in the creation of the Green Party and ran for the governorship and the Senate here in California as a third party candidate. It is, of course, a strained comparison. Kucinich was obviously no revolutionary, and, as many have observed, he performed the function of keeping purportedly rebellious progressives inside the Democratic Party, especially during presidential election years. He would run in the primaries, garner a small, enthusiastic vote from progressives that might otherwise be tempted to support a third party effort, and then dutifully support the nominee, no matter how far removed from his own perspective. Not surprisingly, the other, more mainstream, better financed candidates generally ignored him.

Camejo put the people first and the party second, while Kucinich invariably did the opposite. That's why he was expelled from the Socialist Workers Party. Beyond this, he participated in the electoral process as a means of educating people about the urgency of a radical, revolutionary transformation of the US. His efforts can therefore be paradoxically characterized as one of many foreshadowings of Occupy, a marked contrast to Kucinich's facilitation of the cooption of progressives by Obama. Kucinich yet again revealed the importance of his need to remain part of the congressional club when he voted for a bill on February 27th that would criminalize protest at many federal buildings and facilities, the Federal Restricted Grounds and Improvement Act. As with his vote for health care reform, he must have known that it was an act of desperation because of the contempt that those who run the Democratic Party have for him. Sadly, by trying to split the difference, he also earned the contempt of those for whom he sought to represent.

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