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The Candidates: Rep. Dennis Kucinich

Rep. Dennis Kucinich
Democratic Candidate for President, U.S. Rep. (D-Ohio)
Thursday, October 18, 2007 8:30 AM

The Concord Monitor, Cedar Rapids Gazette and washingtonpost.com will host a series of live discussions with Republicans and Democrats running for president to give readers the opportunity to share thoughts and questions directly with the candidates.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich was online Thursday, Oct. 18 at 8:30 a.m. ET to take your questions on the campaign and his vision for the United States.

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Kucinich is a six-term Democratic U.S. Representative from Ohio. This is his second race for the presidency, following a run in 2004. Prior to being elected to the House, Kucinich was elected an Ohio State Senator, and before that the mayor of Cleveland.

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Rep. Dennis Kucinich: Good morning everyone, this is Dennis Kucinich. I'm looking forward to this chat and to explain why I alone out of all Democratic candidates I alone will lead to peace, prosperity, health care and jobs for all. I thank you very much for participating.

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Fort Worth, Texas: With your rock-solid positions on the war in Iraq and healthcare -- for example, your recent vote against the proposed government catastrophic health care coverage for children because as you said, it didn't go far enough-- you seem to represent, perhaps more than any other candidate, the idealistic bedrock of the Democratic Party. But given the complexity of governing the United States, if you become president, don't you think that you will have to show more ability to compromise than that?

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: In the Democratic Party, a democratic branch of the party hasn't been established firmly, to take a phrase from Paul Wellstone. What do you stand for? Democrats haven't shown much of a difference with Republicans -- it's all been the same note. I'm talking about a real and progressive approach to politics, showing how it's possible for a Democrat to stand for peace, for health care for all. I'm not inflexible, but unlike the rest of the candidates I'm not afraid to take a stand. If you can't take a stand, you get turned to mush by special interests, which is what we're facing with the rest of the other candidates.

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Seneca, S.C.: Would you grant telecom services immunity from being prosecuted for illegal wiretapping? And if so, why!?

washingtonpost.com: Senate and Bush Agree On Terms of Spying Bill (washingtonpost.com, Oct. 18)

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: No. The thing that amazes me about all this is that Verizon -- which, according to the information that I have -- provides services to Capitol Hill. You'd think members of Congress would be more interested in the kinds of information they've been providing, if only for the sake of their own privacy, if they don't care about the privacy of the American people.

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Elsmere, Ky.: In general, do you favor higher taxes on the public to further social goals? Or, do you prefer privatization of resources to accomplish this? Why?

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: First of all, I oppose privatization -- I stopped the privatization of an electric utility in Cleveland. It's nothing more than the theft of public assets.

As for taxes, I favor repeal of the Bush tax cuts, the ones that went to the top one percent. We need to make sure that each person pays a fair share -- the middle class is paying a disproportionate amount -- and we also need to see how we are spending money. We're borrowing money from China to attack Iraq, and if we attack Iran we'll be borrowing more from them. You also have to look at issues of improving productivity and generating a better economy, so that we can have more income tax revenues coming to the government.

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Raleigh, N.C.: How would you address this statement? The primary reason the Democrats relentlessly attack President George Bush and the Republican Party, from all directions and by distorting the truth, is not because they actually oppose the war in Iraq and other policies, but because they want a Democrat in the White House next year at any cost -- to include destroying a presidency, the Republican Party's image, and jeopardizing America's international reputation and our national security. Second question: If the American Civil Liberty Union and other extreme liberal organizations are successful in completely removing all mention of God from our government and our schools, will that have a negative affect on America -- a country that was founded and prospered under the beliefs of the Christian religion, as well as good and strong morals, values and principles?

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: I don't consider myself a partisan. I might be a Democrat, but I'm not a partisan person. I don't think the Democratic Party has held this administration accountable effectively  -- for the war in Iraq, for example. I think the vice president should be impeached for the lies on the path to war. This goes beyond partisanship -- lying to take us into war is a grave offense against our Constitution. More than the Democratic Party, I believe in the Constitution, and accountability, and that this president and vice president must be held accountable. The fact that the Speaker has taken impeachment off the table, to me raises questions as to what level of abuse would have to be attained before Congress should take action. What does it take to cause the Congress to hold this administration accountable? This is a war based on lies that has killed 3,800 American soldiers and thousands of Iraqis -- if that's not enough, what will it take? I'm not here as a Democratic cheerleader by any means, I'm here to address the party's shortcomings. I have a great deal of respect for the Republican Party, I just have another way of looking at the world.

With regard to your second question, I want it known that I don't speak to any interest group about matters of faith. I also want you to understand that unlike others, I believe in separation of church and state. At the same time, I do not believe that when our founders crafted a government that provided for separation of church and state that they meant to exclude spiritual principles from the governance of the United States. In the Declaration of Independence, with the words "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," that's not just a document of statecraft. There's a profound spiritual awareness there of the equality of all people, of a sense of transcendence, of the sanctity of life and liberty and of the importance of individual freedom.

So there is a place for spiritual values in the governance of our nation. Peace is a spiritual value. Health care and education for all are spiritual values. In Matthew 25 we see that we are encouraged to perform temporal acts of compassion and mercy. There is a constant intermingling of the spiritual and the material worlds in all expressions of government, and there should be -- you need look no further than the dollar bill, and the inscription "in God we trust," and the obverse side of the seal of the United States, with the eye of providence looking over the U.S. Anyone who is deeply spiritual understands that spiritual principles must not be decoupled from the purpose of our nation, and at the same time we can and must protect the cardinal principle of separation of church and state. There is no contradiction in this. It may seem a paradox but within the paradox there is great truth.

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Des Moines, Iowa: Why is it that we equate accountability in education with standardized tests? What about accountability on the part of lawmakers to provide funding, smaller class sizes? What about accountability for offering a rich, challenging curriculum?

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: I agree with the spirit of that question. No Child Left Behind ended up being a disaster for education in America. Firstly, it was woefully underfunded. Secondly, by making testing the end-all be-all of educational performance, we ignored the more qualitative dimensions of education, which help a child expand and become a whole person. This is why I favor substantial revisions of the No Child Left Behind approach of testing. This is why I have proposed legislation to create a universal prekindergarten program where all children 3-5 would have access to full-time, free day care. Children would learn reading skills, social skills, language, arts, music and more in a way that greatly would enhance their ability to learn. In crafting a new educational policy, I would invite teachers, parents, administrators, psychologists and child learning experts to help craft a policy that puts an emphasis on the total child and on the depth of the learning experience.

We know from the studies that children have exceptional learning abilities at the earliest ages. We know from studies of neurophysiology that brain plasticity at the earliest ages is such that it encompasses tremendous learning capacities and potentialities. We must do more to create an environment where our children can expand their learning capabilities. I intend to fund the universal pre-K program with a 15 percent cut in the bloated Pentagon budget, which will free up a minimum of $75 billion a year for a universal pre-K program and enhanced educational opportunities at the elementary and secondary levels. We need smaller class sizes, better-paid teachers. In sum I think that the obsession with testing, far from enhancing the experience of the child and the teacher, undermines it. I intend to work with all the groups I mentioned and more so that education becomes a qualitative expression, not simply a quantitative ditch.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: What role do you foresee your first lady taking in your administration? What would she like to accomplish?

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: Elizabeth Kucinich is exceptionally well-educated, very bright, and very committed to working to make this a better world. It's important to understand her background. She worked for a year and a half with villagers in rural Tanzania to enable them to gain access to housing, energy and education. She dedicated time to working with orphans and children of the Dalit in India in cooperation with the Missionaries of Charity, which were established by Mother of Theresa. She worked in London with the Missionaries of Seafarers, which helps the brave folks who work the high seas and have little or no support when a ship comes to port. She has worked on energy initiatives, she has worked to help women in Uganda who have virtually no rights in their marriages. And her academic background includes a master's in international conflict resolution.

On the campaign trail Elizabeth has demonstrated an understanding of complex international problems. She has personally participated in discussions with a number of chief executives of Middle Eastern countries. She has a deep understanding of principles of peace and social welfare. On the campaign trail she's been a joy, because she can articulate what a Kucinich presidency would mean in a way that expresses my own dreams for America. In an administration she would be an activist and would bring a sense of love and compassion to the White House, our nation and to the world. And not only that, I also love her deeply.

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Big Bear, Calif.: Your views, please regarding the single-most important issue in America: the apparent inability, incompetence or unwillingness to deport 100 percent of illegal aliens -- all, by definition, criminals.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: I have a different point of view. I think it's important for us to understand why so many people came to the United States in search of economic opportunities. When NAFTA was passed, people in Mexico were promised wages would go up. Wages went down, which caused a massive increase in migration north. Unfortunately those immigrants often have found themselves running into the waiting arms of corporations that provided work at low wages, long hours, in poor working conditions without any rights or basic protections of health or safety. What we have is an exploited class of workers, and conditions that were a form of slavery. I think America is much better than that. I think that while there is an obligation to regulate our borders, there's also a moral responsibility to those who labored in the service of the American economy. We must not reduce our country to the callous and cold inflexibilities of administrative punishment for those who were simply trying to help their families survive.Furthermore most people understand that it's grossly impractical to talk about sending 12 million people back across the border. Many of these individual have roots in communities, their children go to schools, they're involved in neighborhoods.

We have to take another approach, a path to legalization, a cancellation of NAFTA and our relationship with the WTO, and a new trade agreement with Mexico where workers would have the right to organize, collectively bargain or strike and the right to decent wages and benefits, among other rights. We need to create conditions that reduce the draw immigrants feel to risk lives to come to the U.S. for economic opportunity. We need to use our trade policies to protect workers both domestically and abroad. Our immigration policies have to reflect the longstanding tradition of the United States. The Statue of Liberty is the embodiment of America's welcoming spirit to the world. It reflects a deeper understanding of the country. When Emma Lazarus wrote her poem at the base of the statue, it wasn't a testament to past generations, it was a verse to welcome generations to come: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door." That expresses the heart of America. One could not possibly envision a statue at the southern border with an inflexible arm pointed south, while at the same time it's hard to envision a wall being built when we had President Reagan urging that the Berlin Wall be torn down. We have to remember who we are, where we come from. Yes, we have to have sound immigration policy, laws that control our border, but America cannot be about second-class citizenship or second-class humanity. We are about loftier things, better things.

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Weeki Wachee, Fla.: Hillary Clinton stated she wants good health insurance coverage for every American just like all the senators and congressmen. What she doesn't mention is that the taxpayers pay her health insurance. If you were elected president would you have our leaders pay for their own health coverage?

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: If I'm elected president I'll work so that every American has health coverage. Clinton's approach provides further subsidy for insurance companies. I favor Medicare for all and the end of for-profit medicine. I'm the coauthor of a bill, HR676. It establishes a single-payer not-for-profit health care system. It's supported by 83 congressmen, 14,000 physicians and hundreds of community and labor groups. It provides for using all the money for health spending -- currently between 16 percent and 17 percent of our gross domestic product, or about $2.3 trillion. According to a Harvard study, a third of that goes to corporate costs and profits, 15 percent to 30 percent of revenue as opposed to Medicare's 2 percent to 3 percent. That's $700 billion per year. All of that should be put into care. Here's what that will mean: 47 million Americans who have no health insurance, who can't afford it, will be covered; 50 million Americans who are underinsured no longer will have to worry about copays or deductables. My plan ends those. The government pays the bills with the tax dollars that are already in the system. America would join every other industrialized nation in the world with a single-payer system.

Health care is a right, not a privilege -- half of U.S. bankruptcies are related to health care. People put mortgages on homes, cash in on college savings plans and more for health care for loved ones. Why are Americans driven to financial desperation when it's not needed? My plan also provides fully paid vision care, dental care, mental health, long-term care and prescription drugs. We're already paying for a universal standard of care, we're just not getting it. The debate about universal health care in the primaries has been a smoke-screen, because every other candidate is talking about subsidies for the corporate health care systems to cover not all Americans, but more. Sen. Clinton's '90s health care plan called for more competition between private insurance entities. I'm talking about abolition of the entire system.

With my candidacy, voters can choose for doctors to practice medicine instead of insurance agencies. My party has consistently failed in this regard, rejecting this as part of their platform twice. It's time to stand up for people's health and against insurance companies. In early Democratic debates, the frontrunners revealed an unwillingness to challenge the insurance companies, which should give voters pause. If a candidate for president is unready or unwilling to challenge these companies in a substantive way, what will they do with the oil companies, the arms manufacturers or any other group strangling the public interest? I'm ready to be president, to take up the challenge, to rally the people in defense of their health care needs. Health care is not a privilege, it is a basic right, and it's time to have a president who will understand that and secure those rights.

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Washington: Although you have a rock star/cult following, you must admit that you have no real chance of becoming president. What is your ultimate goal in making this run?

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: I think the question isn't whether I have a chance. The question is whether peace, health care, jobs for all have a chance. Everyone participating in this chat, everyone reading it, needs to ask what this election means for them. If it means not staying in Iraq until 2013, then perhaps people should consider my plan to leave Iraq immediately and employ an international peacekeeping force. If you want peace in the world, consider that I'm the only candidate who rejects war as an instrument of foreign policy. This isn't just about Iraq or Iran, this is about a president wise enough to work with leaders in the world to avoid conflict. While I wouldn't hesitate to defend our country, I've shown more than any other candidate that I understand the difference between defense and offense. I led the charge against the Bush administration's war in Iraq, I did an analysis that totally discounted the call for war, and I'm the only candidate running who voted against the war and against funding for the war. To me it's inconceivable to say you oppose a war you've given hundreds of billions of dollars to.

If people are participating in this and are concerned that they have an outcome in this election that relates to their needs, they should know that I'm the only candidate who would create a not-for-profit health care system that would cover everyone. No other candidate is saying they would cancel NAFTA and the WTO -- I've seen the devastation wrought by these agreements. I've stood in front of the locked plant gates, with grass growing in the parking lots. I've seen the boarded-up nearby business communities, the neighborhoods where people had to leave because they couldn't pay their mortgages.

I'm the only candidate talking about a profoundly different energy policy, moving aggressively toward wind and solar and investing heavily in green energy, reorganizing the government along principles of sustainability. We have to challenge these oil companies -- we're in a war in Iraq because of oil, one of the principle reasons we'd attack Iran is because of oil, we continue to destabilize our relations with Russia because of oil. It's time for Washington to get control of our energy polices, and the only way we may be able to do that is to take control of the oil companies. We cannot sacrifice our young men and women on the altar of oil. We must regain control in the nation, of our ability to truly be a government of the people, by the people and for the people. That's why I'm running for president, and in the end if I win, the people of the United States will win.

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Rep. Dennis Kucinich: I appreciate very much this opportunity with washingtonpost.com, and I would encourage readers to go to our Web site, kucinich.us.

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