Kucinich's health-care vote could be Obama's lucky charm

Liberal Rep. Dennis Kucinich says he will reverse an earlier vote and support President Barack Obama's health care overhaul bill when the House considers it in coming days. The Ohio Democrat had been lobbied hard by the president himself.
By Dana Milbank
Thursday, March 18, 2010

According to legend, if you catch a leprechaun in the forest, the little creature must grant you three wishes. Our Kenyan Hawaiian commander in chief evidently has the luck of the Irish, because, just in time for St. Patrick's Day, President Obama bagged himself a leprechaun -- in Cleveland, of all places -- and on Wednesday his first wish was granted.

Obama accomplished this by inviting the diminutive figure, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, to join him for a Monday trip to Cleveland. When he got the invitation to fly aboard Air Force One, the far-left Democrat figured that -- given his opposition to the president on the budget, climate legislation, financial regulations and health-care reform -- "proper attire would include a parachute."

But Kucinich was persuaded by Obama to switch his vote on the health-care bill -- not because he likes anything about the measure, but because of the same sentiment often voiced by Obama's foes: A defeat on the legislation would destroy Obama's presidency.

"One of the things that has bothered me is the attempt to try to delegitimize his presidency. That hurts the nation when that happens," Kucinich reasoned at a news conference Wednesday. "We have to be very careful," he continued, that "President Obama's presidency not be destroyed by this debate. . . . Even though I have many differences with him on policy, there's something much bigger at stake here for America."

Those were big words from the little man -- and a lucky charm for the administration on issues beyond health care. Obama, sporting a green tie and hosting the taoiseach of Ireland for a St. Patrick's Day celebration at the White House, told reporters that he had called Kucinich to thank him for granting his wish.

Kucinich, the leading congressional champion of government-run health care, had vowed to oppose any measure that doesn't include a public option. His capitulation was the clearest sign that the left, after 15 months of antagonizing Obama because of his compromises, is now ready to cooperate.

"If I can vote for this bill," Kucinich said, "there's not many people who shouldn't be able to support it."

The reporters laughed at his acknowledgment of his place on the fringe. "Pause for laughter," Kucinich narrated.

The announcement, made in the House TV studio, was in the same style that characterized his two quixotic runs for the presidency: It was all about him. Before announcing his vote on health-care reform, Kucinich made the following points:

-- "I lived in 21 different places by the time I was 17, including a couple cars."

-- "I understand a connection between poverty and poor health care, the deeper meaning of what Native Americans call 'hole in the body, hole in the spirit.' "

-- "I struggled with Crohn's disease most of my adult life, to discover 16 years ago a near cure in alternative medicine and through following a plant-based diet."

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