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January 4, 2008

Bill Moyers talks with Congressman Dennis Kucinich

BILL MOYERS: Earlier in the broadcast you heard Kathleen Hall Jamieson say the country loses when contrarian voices are excluded from the political debate. Well, if you were watching the presidential debate in Iowa before Christmas, you would be forgiven for thinking that one of the most persistent and prophetic insurgent voices among the Democrats had dropped out of the race.

BILL MOYERS: Dennis Kucinich was nowhere to be found on that stage. This former mayor of Cleveland, six-term member of Congress, and progressive champion was excluded by the sponsor, the DES MOINES REGISTER. So viewers were denied the voice of Dennis Kucinich. But he's a man with a lot to say about democracy and the media and he's with us now. Congressman Kucinich, thank you for coming down from New Hampshire for this broadcast.

DENNIS KUCINICH: Good to be here. Thank you, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: You know, you barely registered in Iowa. You don't have much money. And big media had pushed you off the stage. Are you staying in the race?

DENNIS KUCINICH: I am. But I didn't really contest in Iowa, Bill. And, you know, four years ago I spent more time in Iowa than almost any other state in the country. And I felt that my time would be better spent laying the groundwork for later primaries and caucuses. So I didn't, you know, I can't say that we made much of an effort in Iowa, although we did-- do have supporters there. And I'm grateful for their support. But the main thing about Iowa, the most noteworthy thing is how the Democratic Party there is so tightly controlled that any contrary voices that would challenge the status quo are not only-- there's an intentional attempt to exclude. I mean, I was--

BILL MOYERS: Controlled by?

DENNIS KUCINICH: I think the health insurance industry has an enormous impact in Iowa, particularly in Des Moines. And I think that has an effect on the decisions that are made.

BILL MOYERS: And you've been calling for a single payer insurance.

DENNIS KUCINICH: Think about this. I'm the only candidate in either party who's saying that with 47 million Americans uninsured, another 50 million Americans underinsured, it's time for us to go to a not-for-profit system. That would cost the for-profit system hundreds of billions of dollars. And so, you know, I'm the only voice on that. And, frankly, I think I'm the voice of the mainstream in America in asserting that. And that point was not given a chance to be expressed. As a matter of fact, the AARP--

BILL MOYERS: American Association of Retired Persons.

DENNIS KUCINICH: --which is an insurance business at its core, staged a debate in Iowa and got all the other candidates to testify that they wouldn't go for a single payer system. And essentially used their power to help keep that for-profit system, which they're selling insurance.

BILL MOYERS: There's a big Democratic debate Saturday night in New Hampshire. Are you in that ABC debate?

DENNIS KUCINICH: No, I'm not. And there again, you know, when you look at all the polls on the Internet I'm winning a number of them. I won a number of straw polls. In post debate analysis out of debates I have been in--

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, that August 22nd debate on ABC — when they did their post debate survey — you beat everybody. Obama by 5,000 or 6,000 votes. Clinton by 9,000 votes. And yet the mainstream media paid no attention to it, right?

DENNIS KUCINICH: Right. And I think that what's noteworthy is I think we have two cultures here. One which is the emerging culture of information technology that's Internet-based. And the other one is the more conventional TV technology which is coming to a clash. And I think they reflect some political trends in this country that maybe aren't getting too much attention. But they are going to have an impact.

BILL MOYERS: What rationale did ABC give you for not including you in Saturday night's debate?

DENNIS KUCINICH: Whatever their criteria was, they have no right to make the decision for the people of New Hampshire prior to the election being held. They have no right. As licensees, you know, the airwaves belong to the public, lest we forget. They don't belong to ABC. Disney, which owns ABC, has had executives contributing to some of the candidates in this race. It's a very serious matter here.

BILL MOYERS: But the editors of ABC say that, well, at some point, you know, as I do with this broadcast, they have to start making choices. And they have to start applying certain possibilities to the candidates.

DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, you know what, Bill? How can you have a debate if you don't have a voice that challenges all the others? Right now every other Democrat on that stage will be for keeping our troops in Iraq through at least 2013. Everyone else on the stage will be there for the continuation of NAFTA and the WTO. I mean, my position on the American political scene is to show people that there's a whole different direction that America can take here at home and in the world. And the Democratic Party in narrowing the choices and in the media, in trying to block the point of view that I represent, is really doing a disservice to the American people.

BILL MOYERS: Did you ever think the corporate media would give your message a full hearing?

DENNIS KUCINICH: No, it hasn't. But that's the point that I'm making is, look, we already know that the coverage of this election has been focusing on three candidates. Well, if you look at the records of those three candidates, they're not too much apart. The differences are stylistic, not substantive. And when there's a requirement for a substantive debate, which is all apart from the news coverage, a substantive debate, even the debates themselves have been remarkable for the effort to try to narrow the discussion within the context of the debate itself by apportioning more time to some candidates and less time to others. There are times that the only way I was able to get the question in debate was ask myself a question.

BILL MOYERS: I remember that. What's the most important thing that people would have heard about you and your message if you were in the debate in New Hampshire by ABC or had been in that DES MOINES REGISTER debate out in Iowa? What would people have heard? What question would you have asked yourself?

DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, first of all, I would have said that I'm the only real Democrat on the stage, that I reflect the mainstream of Democratic voters with aspirations for a full employment economy, healthcare for all, education for all, a new environmental approach ending carbon free, nuclear free. Ending the U.S. role in the world as an aggressor. Holding the administration accountable. You know, the president and vice president ought to be impeached. And they should be held accountable for war crimes because we attacked a nation that did not attack us. Now, these are things that need to be said.

BILL MOYERS: You know, as you speak out, I'm reminded of the lead editorial in THE NATIOn magazine this week, your friends at THE NATION saying that "Dennis Kucinich more closely embodies our ideals at THE NATION magazine than anybody else. And yet we have to admit that his inability to raise money, to organize grass-roots activism, and to create a mass, small "d," democratic core around him leads us to look elsewhere." What do you say to your friends at THE NATION?

DENNIS KUCINICH: I wish they would have been with me last night in Keene, New Hampshire, where 700 people showed up at the theater in downtown Keene to rally behind the campaign.

BILL MOYERS: You know, remember that you were the third-string quarterback on your high school football team, right?


BILL MOYERS: But you you never left the team. You — even though you had a slim chance of ever playing--

DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, I actually, I played and I lettered.


DENNIS KUCINICH: Yeah, I was four-foot-nine. I weighed 97 pounds. And you know, I--

BILL MOYERS: You don't seem to quit because you don't get in the game that often.

DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, you know, I have to tell you I think that people want a president who has not just determination but someone who is resilient, who can suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous political fortune and be able to be persistent. This is about the right of the American people to hear a real discussion on the issues that affect their lives and to see if there's anybody out there who relates to their practical aspirations. And so my candidacy gives people a chance to register how they feel about these things.

BILL MOYERS: True. But you have had less time in the debates and less news coverage than almost any of the other candidates.

DENNIS KUCINICH: That's true. But you know what?

BILL MOYERS: And what's your explanation for that?

DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, I think part of it is the media's attempt to be able to control an agenda that doesn't upset the status quo.

BILL MOYERS: You know, congressman, since you remind me that since the violence in Iraq has diminished, the story of Iraq has disappeared from the newspapers and from television. How do you explain that?

DENNIS KUCINICH: Yeah, we're told it's diminished. I mean, it's the agenda, again, has shifted elsewhere. What happened in Pakistan caused the attention to be shifted away from Iraq. And I think that we need to bring those troops home.

BILL MOYERS: Are you aware that you really upset some of your supporters by asking them to make Barack Obama their second choice in Iowa if they didn't vote for you? And I have had a score of e-mails since we announced that you were coming on the broadcast from your supporters who were quite upset. "Dennis Kucinich has urged us to do exactly what he spent the last year telling them not to do: skip over a candidate with more progressive politics in order to support a candidate with less progressive politics." Even Michael Moore wrote a letter suggesting that progressives should go for John Edwards. Why did you do it?

DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, first of all, you know that in 2004 I made a recommendation and it's an Iowa-only recommendation, it wasn't an endorsement, to go with John Edwards. And in 2008 I told my supporters that if I didn't reach the delegate threshold they should go-- I would recommend that they go with Barack Obama in the second ballot. And, again, it wasn't endorsed and it's Iowa-only specific. Now you know, I know these candidates. And I gave my best judgment as to a recommendation. The why of it would probably require more time than we have.

BILL MOYERS: I know. But John Edwards talks more like you-- John Edwards has said, quote, I absolutely believe to my soul that this corporate greed and corporate power has an iron-clad hold on our democracy. I thought, "He must have lifted that right out of Dennis Kucinich's speeches." You say that all the time. And yet you said go for Obama, not for Edwards.

DENNIS KUCINICH: You know, I thought Senator Obama offered an approach and has the kind of sincerity that deserved recommendation only on that second ballot. Because when he comes to New Hampshire, I'm sincerely trying to get more votes than him.

BILL MOYERS: But is the Democratic Party any longer your party?

DENNIS KUCINICH: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I'm the Democrats' Democrat. I'm the kind of Democrat who resonates with the New Frontier, with The Great Society, and with the New Deal. And I think that people are waiting for a Democrats' Democrat to come forward.

BILL MOYERS: What do you think was the message of the results in Iowa?

DENNIS KUCINICH: I think the message is that people do want change. The question is what are their options? And what kind of change will occur? That's not been defined. This is-- change is very nebulous--

BILL MOYERS: The word "change" over and over again--

DENNIS KUCINICH: People say you want change, I can give you change for a dollar, you know, if I have it. But the point is real change, transformational change in our society means looking at the engines of our society which has caused wealth to accelerate upwards such as, you know, the military spending, $500 billion budget, borrowing money from China to keep a war going, our trade deficit which is driven by a desire to shift jobs out of this country seeking low wages in places where there are no human rights and environment quality principles or workers' rights, and by energy policies which accelerate the wealth upwards. I think that a more equitable distribution of the wealth ought to be consistent with the message of the Democratic Party. Yet twice, Bill, in two- party platform meetings, I wasn't able to get a not-for-profit healthcare system in the Democratic Party platform in 2000, 2004 because of the hold these insurance companies have on the process.

BILL MOYERS: What would you do about the strong hold that the media has on our political discourse?

DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, you have to realize that the media, you know, first of all, the media's not a monolith. I mean, we're here. You're part of the media. And I'm glad for it to have this opportunity. But I think that we have to, first of all, cause media corporations to divest of any other interests. Media ought to just be media.

Media shouldn't be Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Media shouldn't be defense contractors, okay? Media should be media. And when the media has the responsibility, it has to adhere to the principles outlined in the Federal Communication Act of 1934. They should serve in the public interest, convenience, and necessity. And that measure has often been lost.

BILL MOYERS: So is media reform just as important to you now as campaign finance reform used to be?

DENNIS KUCINICH: Of course it is. Of course it is. I mean, this is something I taught years ago at Case Western Reserve. I understand the role--

BILL MOYERS: You've got your master's in communications.

DENNIS KUCINICH: I do. And I understand the role of the media. I respect the role. But I -

BILL MOYERS: Yet all your career you've been up against the mainstream media.

DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, you know, - Bill, I could have chosen a role a long time ago to support the status quo and take the fast route to political success. And I was mayor of Cleveland 30 years ago. I could have sold a city's municipal electronic system and been on a fast track to a governorship at age 32, 33. But you know what? I represent the public interest. And the media often, you know, is supporting private interest groups which are also called-- sometimes called advertisers and also called other corporate connections. And you know what? We've got to have media reform in this country because, otherwise, we're never going to really feel the full expression of the power of the First Amendment.

The electronic broadcast media is licensed to, you know, and to operate the airwaves in a public trust for the public. They don't own those airwaves. And we have an obligation to expect that they're going to function in the public interest. And when they don't, there has to be some changes.

BILL MOYERS: Congressman Kucinich, thank you for joining me. You're on your way back to New Hampshire.

DENNIS KUCINICH: Yes, I am. Manchester, to join my wife. And we're going to keep campaigning all the way to the election.

BILL MOYERS: Good to see you.

That's it for THE JOURNAL this week. We'll see you again this time next week. I'm Bill Moyers.

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