JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, in our ongoing series of conversations with Democratic and Republican presidential nomination candidates who are competing in the primary contests, tonight, Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich, who is serving his sixth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is the former mayor of Cleveland, and he ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 2004. I spoke with Dennis Kucinich earlier today.
Congressman Kucinich, thank you very much for talking with us.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), Ohio: Thank you very much. Good to be here, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You were the only 2008 presidential candidate who, five years ago this week, voted against giving the president the authorization to go to war in Iraq. Now, Barack Obama was also against the war at that time. Right now, it’s also Bill Richardson and Mike Gravel who want to get U.S. troops out of there right away, just like you do.
So how do you distinguish your position today from the other candidates?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, it’s very easy, Judy. I not only voted against it, but I did an analysis five years ago that totally debunked the Bush case for war.
As a matter of fact, the analysis that I did was 100 percent spot-on in asserting that there was no proof that Iraq had the intention or capability of attacking the United States, that they had anything to do with 9/11 or al-Qaida’s role in 9/11, and certainly there was no proof that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
My analysis was chapter and verse. And furthermore, it isn’t — you know, to me it’s not sufficient to say that you said something against the war, but when you get to the Senate — as Senator Obama did — and voted 100 percent of the time, up until recently, to fund the war, there’s a contradiction there.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But what about today? How is your position different?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: But today what’s different is this, that not only did I reflect the capacity for judgment and wisdom at the moment of crisis when it really counts, but also today I have a plan that would bring our troops home and stabilize Iraq at the same time, and also leave Iraq in control of their oil.
It’s embodied in H.R. 1234. It’s a plan to end the Iraq war. I submitted versions of that plan immediately after the invasion, but today there are many people who talk about ending the war, but I have the plan to do it and a way to stabilize Iraq at the same time.
There’s no one else who really has presented that awareness or who is saying, look, the privatization of Iraq’s oil or the partition of Iraq is a path to continued war.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you think Iraq will look like after U.S. troops are out of there?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, you have to keep in mind that my plan calls for a parallel process. We end the occupation, close the bases, bring the troops home in parallel with an international security and peacekeeping force that moves in as our troops leave. I mean, that’s the way you bring an end to the U.S. involvement in Iraq.
Otherwise, you have the plans of Senators Clinton, Obama, and Edwards, all of which will leave a U.S. presence in the region. And, frankly, we have to get out of there. We have to bring our troops home.
So, you know, I’ve been consistent on this. And I’m the only one running for president who’s been right from the start on this issue and has demonstrated a quality of judgment that people have a right to expect in a president of the United States about matters of international security.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You have described yourself, I think, as a committed pacifist. Help us understand what that means. I mean, for example, after 9/11, the terrorist attack on the United States, if you had been president, what would you have done?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, I think that we had a right to strike at the training camps. As a matter of fact, I voted for the resolution that gave the president the ability to do that.
But, you know, the response has to be measured. What we’ve done in this search for top people in al-Qaida, we’ve destroyed a lot of villages along the border of Pakistan. You know, these missile strikes in places like Damadola killed a lot of innocent villagers under the pretext that somehow we were getting top-ranking people in al-Qaida.
You know, we have done this all wrong. This administration has been wrong with every aspect of their international policy, beginning with the response to 9/11, continuing with the war against Iraq, and up to this moment planning for an attack on Iran. This administration’s policy of peace through strength, the neoconservative policy, which endorsed preemption, unilateralism, first strike, I reject totally.
I’m talking about strength through peace. No unilateralism, no preemption, no first strike, adherence to international law, and working with diplomacy, direct engagement, leader talking to leader in order to create security for our nation and for the world. I mean, that’s the approach that a Kucinich presidency would bring.
Kucinich's Department of Peace
JUDY WOODRUFF: You're the only candidate, I think, who's talking about a Department of Peace. How would that work? And what would it mean for the Defense Department?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, first of all, the idea of a Department of Peace has both domestic and international criteria.
On a domestic level, everyone watching this understands that American families are beset by a lot of problems that result in domestic violence, spousal abuse, and child abuse. I'm talking about creating programs that would help families get out of that really deep rut that creates a lot of emotional problems and strife inside families.
But also, when you look at the issues of gang violence, violence in the schools, racial violence, violence against gays, the Department of Peace would also supply help to deal with that.
On an international level, we'd look at those areas that help conflict percolate and get involved before they develop into something that requires troops. It's really a very wise approach that uses the principles of Gandhi, of Christ, of Dr. King, and others to try to lift us out of this idea that war is inevitable. War is not inevitable. Violence is learned, and non-violence can be learned, as well.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So you'd still have the Defense Department? This would be in addition?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Of course you'd have the Defense Department.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You've also said that you admire the foreign policies of Jimmy Carter, President Jimmy Carter. Tell us about why. What is it that you admire about him?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: He's been the one president who has shown a real capacity to reach out, and deeply, into the Middle East to understand that America must take an even-handed approach.
Look, I've been to Israel, and I've met with the Israelis, and I've met with the Palestinian people, and I've met with people throughout the region. My wife and I have been to the region twice in the last year and two months. And there is a deep desire for peace on all sides.
But the United States must take an even-handed approach. We have to do everything we can to help Israel survive. And Israelis perceive this existential threat; we must be attuned to that. At the same time, the Palestinians are crying for justice that they can't receive with walls and fences and losing their property.
There has to be a United States presence that assures the survival of the Israelis and the rights of the Palestinians. And, frankly, here again, I'm the only one running for president who's even talking about this.
And this is really -- the door to peace in the Middle East going right through Jerusalem. And anyone who would be president of the United States has to have the capacity to talk not only to the Israelis and the Palestinians, but the Syrians, the Iranians, the Iraqis, the Jordanians, and all of the others in the region. And I have that capacity.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me turn you to a couple of domestic questions, the current subprime mortgage crisis. What do you think the cause of it is? And what would you do about it? Who would you go after, or whom or what?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, there's a number of different areas that needed to be looked at initially. The Fed has not had proper oversight of banks. The Securities and Exchange Commission has not had proper oversight of hedge funds. So you take those two conditions, and you see what's burst forward now, which is hedge funds in trouble because of their investment in subprime mortgages, and you see millions of Americans losing their homes because there wasn't a cop on the beat.
So, obviously, what needs to happen is there needs to be a financial mechanism that basically creates a wraparound mortgage that would help protect the people who are in danger of losing their homes, that's number one. But, number two, we have to get to the underlying issue of predatory lending here.
There are many areas in our cities that have basically been red-lined, cannot get access to credit. And that is a violation of the Community Reinvestment Act, Judy. During the Carter administration, the Community Reinvestment Act was put forth so that inner-city areas would have access to credit.
And what's happened is that the credit for homes has dried up. Minorities in particular were offered these subprime products, no-document loans. As chairman of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee, I was the first one to put my finger on this and identify it and begin to ask the questions.
But this is a broader issue that deals with: Can Americans have a dream of homeownership? Can the government form a role in protecting that? Can we get these banks to be honest with their credit policies? Do they have a responsibility to provide capital to people who happen to be minorities? What about these adjusted prime rates that are going to start coming in and forcing people's mortgages up on a monthly level? There's going to be more people losing their homes.
This is a profound economic crisis and a moral crisis in this country.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned the Federal Reserve. Do you think it should not be independent, that it should be answerable to...
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, of course it should be answerable. This idea of an independent Federal Reserve, what actually happened from 1913 on is a privatization of the money supply. Now, you know, right now, we have to look at the Federal Reserve, with two cuts in the interest rates recently, they're creating winners and losers. People have to look at the implications of this for Wall Street.
I think that the Federal Reserve -- they have to be accountable. And I'm one of the few people who have been able to bring someone from the Federal Reserve to talk about the crisis in subprime loans, to ask about their responsibility. The Fed has a responsibility here.
And, frankly, another area that I'm the only one running for president who's raising this issue is: What about our monetary policy? What about government's role here? Should it be a hands-off? Should the Fed be a law unto itself? There are serious questions that need to be raised, and I'm raising them.
Dealing with income inequality
JUDY WOODRUFF: I'm going to tick off a couple of other issues that I know people are interested in. Income inequality seems to be growing in this country. The other candidates are talking about rolling back the Bush tax cuts, doing away with those. Would you go further than that? Do you think taxes need to be raised on some Americans?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: To me, income inequality comes from a couple things, first of all, the fact that there are many people who don't have jobs. That creates inequality. Secondly, the people need a living wage. And in many communities, people are not making the kind of money they should be making for the work they're doing. So we need to raise the level of wages in our society.
We also need to have more competition in our economy. You have more jobs when you have more competition. We need to break up the monopolies. Teddy Roosevelt understood this more than a hundred years ago. We have too many monopolies governing our economy, and that is creating less competition, and actually it's shaking out a lot of jobs.
So, in addition to that, one of the ways that you help lift up people's economic standing is to have health care for all. I'm the only one running for president -- it's pretty shocking, actually, that no other Democrat is ready to take a firm stand to say it's time to end the for-profit health care system with a universal, not-for-profit system, Medicare for all. And, Judy, I'm the co-author of that bill. And I've helped organize about 83 members of Congress in support of that bill.
JUDY WOODRUFF: For most people, single-payer health care system, most people, their image of that is what Great Britain has, what Canada has. Would it be something like what's in those countries?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Yes, it would, and we'd have the quality, as well. You know, the problem is that people are trapped into premiums, co-pays, and deductibles. Everyone watching this knows that there's no control over these insurance companies, that the insurance companies make money not providing health care. They tell doctors what they can and cannot do.
Under my plan, people have the doctor of their choice, and they're also able to get the care they need. They don't have to worry about losing their homes or going bankrupt as, frankly, half the bankruptcies in America are connected directly to people not being able to pay their hospital bills.
So my plan, which is Medicare for all, where you recognize that the money is already there to provide the care that's needed for people, plus vision care, dental care, mental health care, prescription drugs, and long-term care.
See, what's happened is the Democratic Party, we're forgetting who we're supposed to be. We're supposed to be the party of the people. We've become the party of the insurance companies. We've become the party of the oil companies. We've become the party of the arms merchants. And somebody has to stand up and say, "Hey, where are the Democrats? Where are the real Democrats?" And I'm a real Democrat running for president.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You've also said you would have the United States pull out of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the World Trade Organization. You've been a vocal critic of globalization. How do you see the United States shifting if none of those trade agreements were in place?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, I mean, actually, before NAFTA, we had trade. Before NAFTA, we weren't in the rut that we're in now, which is close to a $850 billion to $900 billion imbalance in our trade.
What I envision is this: Cancel NAFTA and the WTO and have trade that's based on workers' rights, human rights, and environmental quality principles. You lift up the wage levels in the United States and in other countries. You assure that workers have the right to organize, the right to collective bargaining, the right to strike, and all the other rights. No child labor, no prison labor, no slave labor, protection of the air and water.
And this is much more desirable than the conditions we have right now. Judy, I've been all over this country, and I've seen grass growing in parking lots where they used to make steel, where they used to make cars, and washing machines, and bicycles. And now there's grass growing in the parking lots, padlocks on the plant gates.
I'm saying: NAFTA is directly responsible for the decline of American manufacturing. I want to restore American manufacturing, actually have an American manufacturing policy where the maintenance of steel, automotive, aerospace, and shipping is seen as vital to our national economic security.
JUDY WOODRUFF: This is a different subject area. Just this week, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of St. Louis said that he would deny communion to any presidential candidate who is Catholic who favors abortion rights, as you do. Does this in any way make you rethink your position on abortion or rethink the Catholic Church?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, no. And let me just tell you something. Much of my public policy comes from what I've learned as growing up Catholic. My economic policies were deeply informed by Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum, by encyclicals of Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio. And so I have a deep respect for the Catholic Church.
On the issue of abortion, I think that we need to do everything we can to make abortion less necessary. And I think you can do that through promoting birth control, through making sure that you have prenatal care, postnatal care, child care, universal health care, a living wage.
I think I'm the one candidate for president who can help heal this nation in this intense divide over abortion by recognizing the concerns that people have, including in the Catholic Church, about abortions, but by creating circumstances where abortions are less likely to occur. So I think it's time for a president who brings a healing hand to this country on this issue.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Four years ago, you changed your position, is that right, on abortion?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, you know what? It was long before I ran for president the first time that I came to an understanding of how this issue was tearing America apart and how it's possible to simultaneously stand for a woman's right to choose and, at the same time, work to make abortions less likely. I think it's possible to do both.
We're called upon, those of us who run for president, to have a kind of wisdom which comes from understanding what people go through, not that I'm smarter than anyone else, but I understand the kind of difficulties that people have, how complicated life can be for people.
So when you come with the intention of not rejecting the teachings of the church, but of trying to create a society where the concerns of the church are given full effect and, at the same time, make sure that women have this right to choose so that they can -- and create a society where women can choose what is best not only for themselves, but for the society, as well.
I think a president who takes that approach is someone who can heal this great divide which the issue of abortion has created.
Kucinich's career in journalism
JUDY WOODRUFF: I read that you once worked for the Wall Street Journal. Is that right?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Oh, yes, I was a copy editor at the Wall Street Journal in 1968. I was the person who helped to make sure that the copy -- that page one, all the copy was in order, had to read it all, check the stock quotations, make sure the numbers were right, yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But you chose -- you thought journalism was the wrong way to go?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, actually, it's an interesting story. I wanted to actually be a reporter at the Plain Dealer. And I was getting great grades at Cleveland State University at the time. I was going to school full-time and working full-time.
And the editors expressed some concern about somebody who would be working full-time and go to school full-time, so they wanted me to finish school. But, also, after I ran for city council in 1967, it was communicated to me by one of the editors' assistants that Mr. Vale (ph) felt that politics and journalism do not mix.
JUDY WOODRUFF: One other quick thing I read, commentary from -- I guess it's the editorial page editor of your hometown paper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He says he's been covering you for 37 years. He says, "Dennis Kucinich made his point in 2004. Now it's gotten a little bit old." And he said people are embarrassed by you. Have you talked to him about this column?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Can you imagine what a burden he's had, having to cover me for 37 years? He ought to take a break.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But is that the view in your hometown?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: No, of course...
JUDY WOODRUFF: What's your sense?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I ran the last time, and I was re-elected to Congress. You have to remember something. The people in Cleveland, they know me as someone who will stand up and speak out when no other person will.
I saved the municipal electric system years ago in Cleveland. It saved the people of Cleveland hundreds of millions of dollars, because I took a stand that no one else would. I helped save a steel mill in Cleveland with close to 2,000 jobs because I took a stand after the mill had already been closed. I made sure we saved the mill and saved a hospital. I'm the one who takes a stand.
And on the war, all these other candidates were either quiet or they went the wrong way or, if they spoke up, they voted to fund the war later. People know me as being someone who's not afraid, and it's because I come from Cleveland. That's what I represent: the kind of person who will stand up and speak out when others are quiet and who's not afraid to take on big challenges.
I mean, frankly, that's the kind of spirit that the Cleveland Indians have. That's why they're in the playoffs. You know, that's why I'm in this race for president, because I have that kind of Cleveland spirit that's tough and, at the same time, informed.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Dennis Kucinich, we thank you very much for talking with us. Thank you.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Thank you. Appreciate it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Appreciate it.
For more on Dennis Kucinich, you can visit our Vote 2008 Web site at PBS.org. All of our candidate interviews and campaign updates are available there.
In addition, on our Insider Forum, Democratic and Republican strategists will answer your questions about the new fundraising numbers and the presidential campaign so far.