Nearly four years after the 2016 primaries, tensions that arose within the Democratic Party during the last presidential election cycle remain largely unresolved. Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is partly to blame, as she recently opened old wounds with comments about Bernie Sanders, one of the Democrats’ current front-runners. Telling the Hollywood Reporter that “nobody likes” her former opponent, she also criticized his supporters and refused to commit to backing him were he to win the nomination. The comments led to a much-needed conversation about the Democratic Party’s direction and whether it’s possible for the progressive wing of the party, led by Sanders, to reform a party that’s largely controlled by an elitist establishment.
In the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a lifelong progressive, speaks with Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer about the conflicts tearing at the Democrats as they enter the final months in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.
“I want to begin with sort of a basic question,” says Scheer. “Is this battle between Hillary and Bernie Sanders — which of course was the subject of the last Democratic primary, in 2016 — is this really the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party?”
“Well, that assumes that the Democratic Party has a soul,” responds Kucinich, who has himself run for president as a Democrat twice. “I don’t know if we could grant that. But I would say it is certainly a battle for what the Democratic Party ought to stand for.
“Bernie Sanders has been able to delineate some very progressive points of view and policies during his time as a member of the House and as a member of the Senate. His campaign would take the Democratic Party in a new direction with respect to health care and education, hopefully a new direction in foreign policy. And Hillary Clinton, you have to remember, has been a singular spokeswoman for the national security state and for war.”
To the former congressman, who served alongside many of the Democrats currently running for president, his party began to lose its direction quite a long time ago.
“At its apex, [the Democratic Party has] been, for the last 30 years, the party of plutocracy,” he asserts. Kucinich goes on to highlight policy failings that have spanned recent decades, including the Financial Services Modernization Act, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, NAFTA and perhaps most important, the bailout of banks after the 2008 financial crash, all of which left communities across the U.S. economically devastated.
“You know, I’m talking to you from Cleveland, Ohio, which was the epicenter of the subprime meltdown, where no-doc and low-doc loans were circulated primarily in African American communities and in poor white neighborhoods,” Kucinich says. “And the whole place looks like a bomb hit it, because you have neighborhoods that are just destroyed. And this was a bipartisan effort, by the way. So the Democratic Party has failed to distinguish itself since the days of, since the policies of FDR.”
Pointing to a controversial point in Kucinich’s career, Scheer asks about his decision to support President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, despite being an avid supporter of universal health care.
“I remember a moment when you had a kind of decisive vote on Obamacare, and that had to do with a public option,” says the Truthdig editor in chief. “Do you want to discuss that a little bit? Because that really goes to what the party can do when it demands loyalty.”
“Though I had many misgivings about the bill that President Obama was supporting,” Kucinich explains, “and I made it very clear it was not in any way to be confused with single-payer health care, I voted for it — not only because of my constituents but also because I saw it as holding a space, at least, for health care reform on a much larger scale, for the reform that I continue to push for, which is single-payer, not-for-profit.
“But look, I never had any illusions about what was going to happen once that passed, and that the insurance companies would cash in, and that the pharmaceutical companies would continue to cash in, as they had under [George W.] Bush.”
“I think health care ought to be a defining issue in this election,” Kucinich concludes. Despite his progressive credentials, however, the Democrat seems to agree with Noam Chomsky’s statement in a recent episode of “Scheer Intelligence” regarding the 2020 election and the lesser of two evils.
In the media player above, listen to the full discussion between Scheer and Kucinich as the former congressman offers an insider’s view of the Democratic Party he’s worked in for much of life. You can also read a transcript of the interview below the credits.
Natasha Hakimi Zapata
Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case an old friend, Dennis Kucinich, I’m sure well-known to people listening to this program. I first met Dennis when he was the mayor of Cleveland and called out the big financial interests and had big battles over the rights of people to control their resources, very early on in the environmental movement. And I’ve known him through a career on City Council and, obviously, in the U.S. Congress and as a congressional candidate. I believe, Dennis, it’s been about 40 years, has it not? When were you mayor?
Dennis Kucinich: Well, we have known each other for, to be exact, 41 years.
RS: Oh, OK. [Laughs] So the reason I tracked down Dennis today is because it’s the day on which I read a story from The Hollywood Reporter — carried elsewhere, and there’s a documentary also connected with it — in which Hillary Clinton takes down Bernie Sanders. And she takes him down, she says that he had no friends in Congress, he could get nothing done, no one liked him. And then she did [what] I thought was the unpardonable thing — in, you know, given the Democratic Party and the loyalty and everything–she didn’t even indicate whether she would support Bernie Sanders. She hesitated, and would not say that she would support him if he is the Democratic candidate. And I just thought, there’s one person that would be able to help me understand this situation, and that would be Dennis Kucinich, who knew both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the U.S. Congress. And I want to begin with sort of a basic question: is this battle between Hillary and Bernie Sanders — which of course was the subject of the last Democratic primary, in 2016 — is this really the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party?
DK: Well, that assumes that the Democratic Party has a soul. I don’t know if we could grant that. But I would say it is certainly a battle for what the Democratic Party ought to stand for. Bernie Sanders has been able to delineate some very progressive points of view and policies during his time as a member of the House and as a member of the Senate. His campaign has — it would take the Democratic Party in a new direction with respect to health care and education, hopefully a new direction in foreign policy. And Hillary Clinton, you have to remember, has been a singular spokeswoman for the national security state and for war. She was on board for regime-change wars in Iraq and Libya, and in Syria. Ukraine — as her assistant Victoria Nuland said, “Yats is the guy;” they wanted to throw out the leader of Ukraine at that point. And finally, Bob, the response of the Clinton campaign to the 2016 election results brought Russia into a whole new role as, allegedly, the agent provocateur of the 2016 election, and blamed — the Clinton campaign blamed Russia for the defeat. So what you have when you look at Hillary Clinton, you have her as being central to the activities of the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon over a period of time, that puts her really as being the singular figure in democratic politics today who stands for interventionism, regime change and the primacy of the American military-industrial complex. And so Bernie — and Bernie Sanders does not stand for that.
RS: So let me — that’s right, but let me take it away from that a bit. Because when I talked about the, mentioned the soul of the Democratic Party — and it’s a party that’s had great contradictions. You know, after all, it was also the party of Southern racist Dixiecrats who defended segregation and, you know, opposed the progress of people of color in this world. And so I know all the failings. But when I think of the soul of the Democratic Party, at the very least, it should be the party of working people, of poor people, of dispossessed people. And I think of the tradition of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And I think of that set of issues, which now, at the time of billionaire power — you have the Oxfam report, where 2,200 billionaires have as much wealth as 4.3 billion people in this world. We’ve had very sharp class division within the United States since Bill Clinton was president. And what I really had in mind was elitism and plutocracy, and that what Bernie Sanders clearly stands for is the concern of the average person, the working person. And Hillary Clinton seems to embody the elitism, going back to her husband’s administration, where it’s the opening to Wall Street, to financial deregulation — that’s really what I meant. Is this the party of the billionaire class, or is it the party of the working class?
DK: Well you know, since you frame it that way, you’ve drawn, I think, and delineated very sharply, the differences between Hillary Clinton’s view of the political economy and the role of the Democratic Party, and Bernie Sanders’. If the party, if the Democratic Party had a soul, when it started to take corporate contributions from the same interests the republicans were taking contributions from about 30 years ago, that soul was put on auction. The fact is that you cannot separate foreign policy, which has resulted in the transfer of trillions of dollars of wealth out of this country, and for destructive purposes, but also to — you know, defense contractors have cashed in handsomely — that’s part of the equation, and it needs to be part of every discussion when you’re talking about domestic priorities. Because you cannot talk about health care for all while you’re spending trillions abroad on war; you cannot talk about free education for all when you’re spending trillions abroad for war. And so I think, generally speaking — it’s not true in every regard, but generally speaking, there is a sharp contrast with what Hillary has traditionally stood for and what Bernie Sanders stands for.
And I think you have to give some credit to another candidate in this race who has taken a strong position against interventionism, and that’s Tulsi Gabbard, who also — to the ire of Hillary Clinton, when Hillary smeared her as a Russian asset, Hillary’s campaign having tidily built the case, falsely built the case about Russia manipulating the 2016 election against Hillary. And then later on, having built that sand Kremlin, goes ahead and accuses Tulsi Gabbard of being part of it. And this all happens in the last month, which raises questions as to whether or not Secretary Clinton’s experience in the 2016 election was so traumatic that it’s made her — it’s caused her to lose her perspective.
RS: Well, let me push on this question of the soul. Because I think at least — or if not the soul, the mythology of the party is that it’s the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And I’m talking to Dennis Kucinich, who started life living in a car, right? With a bunch of brothers and sisters.
DK: Well, my — you know, that was one of the places that my parents and our family lived, out of 21.
RS: Yeah. So you come from — you come from the hard-knocks school of American life. And as mayor and as a congressman, I think you have an impeccable record of showing a concern for the victims of rampant monopoly capitalism. And so what I’m trying to get at here is because I understand the Democratic Party has often been a warmongering party. I mean Lyndon Johnson, you know, gave us the Vietnam War, and we can go right down the line. But you would have thought–and given the appeal to minority voters, given the language of the party, and you’ve been at these conventions and so forth — you would think that this issue of economic justice and fairness would be critical. And I do think, I mean, whenever–and we’ll get to the personal in a minute. And as I said, you were in Congress, you were in the House of Representatives with Bernie Sanders; you were in Congress where Hillary Clinton was a senator from New York. You’ve watched, you know something about — a great deal about the legislative process.
But what I think is so odd here is that the issue that is drawn between these two is really the plutocrat versus the common interest. And in the case of Hillary Clinton, I admire her chutzpah in a sense, because here’s somebody whose husband released Wall Street greed, enabled it, overturned the basic legislation that came out of the New Deal controlling Wall Street, that gave us the Great Depression. And because of that legislation — the Financial Services Modernization Act, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act–we had the Great Recession. And I use the word chutzpah — or arrogance, if you like a more Anglo term — and here is Bernie Sanders she’s denouncing, who has actually made these issues of economic fairness, and the concerns of the average person, front and center to the political debate. And she’s now taking that away from him. I don’t get it, frankly.
DK: But she’s not the one to take that away. Because since that was not the ground that she worked during her career as a senator, and certainly during her career as a secretary of state.
RS: Well, let me combine the two, because — let me, I’m sorry, I won’t interrupt after this. But there is a real connection here, because you brought up the Russian interference and so forth, OK? And the great crime of Russian interference is supposed to be, you know, WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, who is rotting in jail. You know, so there’s bipartisan support for destroying whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and publishers like Julian Assange, who dare print their work. But the big crime of Russian interference is not manipulating technical detail out on the internet. It was two specific things: it was getting the documents on how the Democratic — this is the alleged thing, that the Podesta files showing how the Democratic National Committee had sided with Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders. And more important, really, revealing what it was that Hillary Clinton said in those speeches, for which she got three quarters of a million dollars, to Goldman Sachs. And what she said in those speeches was that she was going to bring these financial geniuses from Wall Street with her to Washington to straighten out the economy. And that was explosive, because these are the people who messed up the economy. So it does get back to this basic issue of: is this the party of plutocracy, or is this the party of working people?
DK: At its apex it’s been, for the last 30 years, the party of plutocracy. With the — you cited the Financial Services Modernization Act, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act — you also have to look at the trade deals, NAFTA and the Democrats who went along with trying to trade. We have sold out working-class people in this country. And we — and Obama came in and basically blessed the bailout of Wall Street while millions of Americans lost their homes. And that was well known it was going to happen, because Tim Geithner came to a caucus of Democrats and said, “Yeah, we’re going to straighten this out, but millions of people are going to lose their homes.” Not that “We will save millions of people’s homes,” but “They’re going to lose their homes.”
And you know, I’m talking to you from Cleveland, Ohio, which was the epicenter of the subprime meltdown, where no-doc and low-doc loans were circulated primarily in African American communities and in poor white neighborhoods. And the whole place looks like a bomb hit it, because you have neighborhoods that are just destroyed. And this was a bipartisan effort, by the way. So the Democratic Party has failed to distinguish itself since the days of, since the policies of FDR. Kennedy didn’t have enough time to do something, and Johnson got tied up in the war. Johnson had the Great Society; there were some good things that he tried to do. But the archetypal role of a political party — as was described in the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt starting with the ’32 election, and then put into place in ’33 and on — all that has melted away like some insubstantial pageant faded, leaving less than a rack behind.
And you would think that the Democrats would rally under a platform that would say “health care for all.” In the year 2000, I went to the Democratic Convention platform committee in Cleveland, where I was there with Laila Garrett from Southern California, Tom Hayden, Gloria Allred and myself. And we pushed for a universal health care program, and I was told by the Gore campaign, don’t do this, because you know, this — we’re not going in this direction. And we know that Democrats as well as Republicans have sold the American people’s health interests out. So you know, we now are at a divide. And this 2020 election will show us whether or not a political party is capable of bringing about the kind of economic and political reforms which are so needed in this country right now to raise up the standard of living for people, to raise wages, to raise — to give everyone access to quality healthcare, to give everyone access to a quality education. We’re going to find out if that Democratic Party, once the nominee is known, if the Democratic Party actually has it in them, or if we’re in for another same old, same old. But the American people are getting impatient, and they’re not going to continue to be slow-walked into an economic hardship while the titans of the party line their pockets.
RS: Well, but you know, Dennis — and for people who don’t know the full history of your political journey, you’ve been fighting this battle for your whole life. And when I went and I interviewed you for both the L.A. Times and for Playboy magazine, when you were mayor of Cleveland — and there you have all the ingredients that are at stake now. You were in favor of public power and the wise use of power; you were against the big-power interests, you were against the big banks that were in bed with them. You were trying to protect a public interest in how we use utilities, how we use energy. You were very early to the conservation and environmental concerns, and attacking the waste society and talking about economic justice. And as was pointed out in a recent terrific interview with you at Rolling Stone magazine, you are the guy who was way ahead of your time. And you were a Democrat; they can’t say, hey, he’s like Bernie Sanders, was an independent — you’re a Democrat, you’ve been a loyal Democrat. And in fact, I think it’s fair to say you lost your congressional seat, not because voters rejected you in your old district; they supported you — but you were gerrymandered out in a deal that the Democratic Party brokered.
DK: By the Democrats, right. That’s exactly right. The Democratic Party was responsible for a redistricting that eliminated a congressional district in Cleveland, which I held. Now, think about that. Why? Because I’m not the guy who was here for the plutocrats. I’m, you know, I understand that the shift of wealth that’s been going on — think about this, Bob. The U.S. government admits it’s spent at least $80,000 per average family of four since 2001 on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. That’s, like, over $6.4 trillion. And then the actual figure is much higher; it’s closer, I think, closer to $150,000 per family, for just our regime-change wars in those two countries. And you know Chris Hedges; well, I’ve read some of his stuff. He’s pointed out that our society is going to crumble, lives will be lost, disease and despair will rise to keep the Empire afloat and the world in fear if we keep these wars going on. So we’ve got — what we’re experiencing now is the cost of a plutocratic approach blessed by both political parties, which accelerates wealth to the top, and an economic pyramid, top of the economic pyramid. And it’ll be catastrophic for our economy and our democracy unless we reverse it.
RS: OK, but I want to get it back to Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Because I do think that this is a clarifying, a decisive moment that cuts through a lot of illusions. Because, yes, Donald Trump is a center of evil disruption and cynicism and what have you. But the problem is that he is effective in harnessing anger and fear and concern out there of decent, ordinary people who feel betrayed by the economy. And then he talks a tough game on trade, and maybe even on NAFTA; he might have improved NAFTA, there are some better things in the new trade agreement than were there before. But the fact is, we have right-wing populism not just here, but throughout the world. We have right-wing populism. And populism is important not because populism is a bad thing, but because people have real concerns that are not being addressed by their establishment of these different societies. Now, what happened in the ’16 election, the democrats had a populist candidate in Bernie Sanders who could have had the debate with Donald Trump that this country has to have. And instead you got Hillary Clinton, got the nomination with a lot of Wall Street establishment support, and that debate didn’t happen. We had a populism of the right, and we had a plutocracy and an establishment view from the Democrats.
DK: I would agree with that.
RS: Well, I’m wondering now — now, here is Hillary Clinton, who says she would not — she would not commit to supporting Bernie Sanders against Donald Trump. Noam Chomsky, in my last podcast, he says he’s going to go for the lesser evil, you got to stop Trump. Hillary Clinton wasn’t willing to take that position, right, with The Hollywood Reporter or in that documentary that’s going to be shown. She hesitated; she would not back Bernie Sanders against Donald Trump. So for all the talk about party loyalty, the need to stop Trump, where she evidently draws the line is a serious progressive populist who wants to take on the banks.
DK: Yeah, I would say that that says more about Secretary Clinton than it does about Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders has very clearly laid out a program for economic reform. He has talked about it almost to the exclusion of foreign policy, I might add, but nevertheless he has laid out a platform that — look, essentially, on the economic side, I agree with him. You know, I actually wrote the bill in I think it was 2007, for universal single-payer, not-for-profit health care, H.R. 676. And Bernie and I worked together on that, as we worked together to try to avert war in Iraq. And so you know, I — and I’ve known him, you know, full disclosure, I’ve known him since 1979, when he was the mayor of Burlington. I’ve known Secretary Clinton since the time that she was the first lady of Arkansas. You know, and there’s a lot to be said about her earlier career, and particularly in the areas of education and children’s care. But I think that something has happened in her ascent, which caused her to basically throw in her lot with the interest groups who control the country for their own benefit, and not for the benefit of the American people.
RS: Well, this is not new. After all, we had welfare reform. I mean, I’m assuming Hillary Clinton supported Bill Clinton; she was an active member of his administration. She was working on healthcare, and you had these programs — the imprisonment of a large number of people, the crime bill; you had the welfare reform, which basically ended the poverty program, the national poverty program, social welfare program. You had many of these things that happened, so it’s not just recently. But what I wanted to ask you about in particular, since you keep bringing up health care, I remember a moment when you had a kind of decisive vote on Obamacare, and that had to do with a public option. Do you want to discuss that a little bit? Because that really goes to what the party can do when it demands loyalty.
DK: I was part of about five meetings that took place with President Obama with increasingly smaller groups of people, until finally I had a chance to talk to him on Air Force One on a flight from Washington to Cleveland. And what was astonishing to me is that President Obama was prepared to take the entire health care bill down unless it went through without any changes whatsoever. I pushed for a public option, had 75 Democrats agree, and I was the last man left standing, along with a member of Congress from New York. And basically, the moment of decision came, where I had to decide based on the pleas of my constituents, who were adamant about having a healthcare plan which treated pre-existing conditions, which took care of children who lived at home, age 25 and under. And though I had many misgivings about the bill that President Obama was supporting, and I made it very clear it was not in any way to be confused with single-payer healthcare, I voted for it — not only because of my constituents, please, but also because I saw it as holding a space, at least, for healthcare reform on a much larger scale, for the reform that I continue to push for, which is single-payer, not-for-profit. But look, I never had any illusions about what was going to happen once that passed, and that the insurance companies would cash in, and that the pharmaceutical companies would continue to cash in, as they had under Bush.
So, you know, health care, again, we’re led to believe that Obamacare, as it’s termed, is the sine qua non of health care, and we can’t do any better. And that’s baloney. We can and should have a single-payer, not-for-profit system. People — you know, Bernie Sanders was trapped initially on the discussions about, well, you know, you’re going to take away people’s health care that they get from their jobs. But the basic question is, if you’re paying over $15,000 to $20,000 a year on your present health insurance policies for your family, and you can get the same coverage for a fraction of that, what would you take? That’s really the question that needs to be posed to the American people. And I think health care ought to be a defining issue. In this election, it ought to be a defining issue.
RS: But let me — the reason I’m pushing this is because Hillary Clinton, in her attack on Bernie Sanders, raised the question of effectiveness. She said Bernie Sanders had no friends, had no support in Congress and couldn’t get anything done. And then there’s two questions. One, of course, is what are you getting done? If you’re getting support for wars that make no sense, then you don’t want that kind of effectiveness. If you’re getting support for programs like increasing the prison population or deregulating Wall Street, then that’s negative. And so you’re a person of great experience within the belly of the beast, if you like. You’ve been there. You’ve been in the negotiations, you’ve been on the committees, you’ve worked through Congress. What do you make of her attack on Bernie Sanders as someone who is just, you know, had no positive impact at all?
DK: Well, you know, first of all, if the measure of effectiveness is being an interventionist and using the resources of the United States to push for regime change which resulted in the deaths of over a million innocent people in the last two decades — then, you know, Hillary Clinton’s very effective. But if you talk about effectiveness in terms of a real commitment to people who are trying to survive, who are concerned about what they pay for health care, who are concerned about access to healthcare, who are concerned about their children being able to afford school — you know, that’s a measure of effectiveness. You know, the average — think about this, Bob — the average American family of four pays about $30,000 a year for health care, and $15,000 a year for keeping our 800 bases open around the world. I mean, what are our priorities? So effectiveness, in Secretary Clinton’s view, is a statement that her priorities are firmly aligned with a political establishment which is denying the practical aspirations of hundreds of millions of Americans while an elite profits from the activities of established figures inside the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA and all the groups that surround them in the various foundations.
RS: But let me — I mean, just you know, because people — we don’t know, most people don’t know how the sausage is made. And so they get very impressed when people like Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton say they get things done. After all, Joe Biden’s still the front-runner for the Democratic Party, and that’s going to be his claim. And then — so then, but how is the sausage made? And is it good for us? Is it good for us?
DK: Well, Bob — Bob, it’s a good question to put to me. Because I know how the sausage is made, and that’s why I’m a vegan. I’m a non-interventionist, because I know wars are based on lies. I believe in peace, not coercive diplomacy that Secretary Clinton has championed, but strength through peace, peace as the primary purpose of the instruments of government. The country has a right to defend itself, but we’ve seen that twisted and used over and over and over. So when we talk about the diet of the nation, the people are getting skinny while certain cats are getting fat. And we need to change the priorities of the country, to realign them with the sensibilities and the spirit of FDR and that New Deal. And to come forward with a restoration of the American polity, to make sure people have decent roofs over their heads, and a place for their children to go to school in a safe neighborhood, and never have to worry about losing what they’ve worked a lifetime for because somebody in the family gets ill, and a secure retirement. And I mean, all those things ought to be birth rights to every American, but they are certainly not today. And frankly, that is not just because of a Republican Party — no way. It’s also because a Democratic Party has failed to provide true choices for the American people. And it remains to be seen whether in 2020 the Democratic Party will provide such choices. And finally, if it doesn’t, Bob, I think that 2024 we’ll see a realignment in American politics, where people will be fed up with both political parties, and they will truly be ready to look at something different that aligns more closely with their aspirations.
RS: But I want to go back to the sausage, and I appreciate that you’re a vegan, but you’ve been involved with the sausage-making of legislation. You’ve been on committees, you’ve been in the debates. And you know, most of us who are sympathetic to your progressive outlook haven’t been there. You know, I watched you in Congress; I witnessed it. I interviewed people in different legislative — I remember the Financial Services Modernization Act, which is what repealed Glass-Steagall and freed Wall Street, you know, to run wild. And I remember Barney Frank was pushing that; he was head of the banking committee, and he was supposedly a good progressive. I remember even members of the Black Caucus supported it. And the fact of the matter is, as a result of the Great Recession, which was ushered in by that legislation, black people in America lost 70% of their wealth; brown people lost 60% of their wealth. So I’m interested in the sausage-making, and I got you here, because you’ve been the witness to it, and you’ve been a well-intentioned person. And yet, you know what the lobbyists do; you know — I remember Barney Frank telling me, oh, it’s complicated, go talk to so-and-so. And so-and-so turned out to be a lobbyist. You know, but he’s a good guy, you know. And that’s what we need to know. Is this whole thing about to be — Bernie Sanders is not effective because he was an outsider. You know? Well, what did the insiders do? Democrat and Republican?
DK: Let me give you a story that can help put it in perspective. When I first came to Congress, I was escorted around the Capitol grounds by an old friend and somebody who had served the Cleveland seat that I took, ended up taking. And that was former Congressman Jim Stanton. And Jim took me around the campus, and we were between the Longworth and the Rayburn buildings, and he pointed to another member of Congress across the street. And he said, you see that guy there? I said yeah. He said, that guy thinks this place — he extended his hands to the whole of the campus — that guy thinks this place is on the level.
So you know, Washington has the pretense of serving the masses of American people. But in fact, it’s a machine that works for interest groups. And if the people are able to get some crumbs, well, that’s a surprise. And you know, we have a — I think it was [name unclear] who said that we have a winner-take-all society, with more and more being left behind. So you know, this is not the greatest economy ever; it’s a crumbling society where families sink deeper into debt, where most Americans have no wealth, where they function as indentured servants. Are we going to change that? Well, that ought to be the purpose of our politics. I’ve just been notified by the studio that we have all of — well, we just have a few minutes left here. So I just —
RS: So take the few minutes, Dennis. Is it better — let’s take even her characterization. Is it better to be a provocative truth-teller about the concentration of wealth and power in America, like Bernie Sanders? Or is it better to be an insider like Hillary Clinton, who works with the most powerful, and yet claims that she’s on the progressive side? Which path, if you had to choose between the two, do you think is more useful to the American public?
DK: Well, I mean, that’s easy —
RS: Well, it’s not easy, because the —
DK: Well, it is. Because it’s not — the way that you structure it, it’s an easy answer. But let me just say this, that you can actually understand how the system works, and make sure that the mass of the American people are, their interests are served. I mean, that’s what the New Deal was all about. We haven’t had the kind of organization of government power on behalf of the American people since then. And that’s what we need. We need a restructuring of our political economy, and a restructuring of our government, so we can focus on using the power and the leverage of government on behalf of all the people of the United States, not on just behalf of a 1%.
RS: But that’s what we’ve been saying for all this time. I mean, since Roosevelt was president. And the fact of the matter is, and particularly since the Reagan-Clinton years — that’s where it really started — we’ve had the most extreme redistribution of income back to the rich that we had since the roaring ’20s.
DK: Well, what’s going on is that the political system has been structured to continue that. That’s what Buckley v. Valeo was about; that’s what Citizens United’s about. They legalized the purchase of government. And, you know, he who pays the piper calls the tune. And I’ve just been told I have one minute for this tune.
RS: [Laughs] OK, Dennis, and you’re back there in Cleveland, I hope you’re going to consider a political future — or not, I don’t know, ah —
DK: Well, I’m actually thinking of a career in politics, but I, you know, I’m just mulling it over.
RS: Oh, OK. [Laughs]
DK: But listen, Bob, I appreciate being on. And, you know, people — we’re ginning up our website again at Kucinich.com, people can follow me on Facebook and a few other places. But I’m getting back in the mix. I took some time away, but let me tell you, I’m going to be involved in support of a candidate in the general election. Hopefully it’ll, you know, it’ll be someone who aligns with my values. And right now in the primary, I just came back from New Hampshire, where I was working for an unheralded non-interventionist by the name of Tulsi Gabbard.
RS: OK. Well, that’s a good promo. But would you have trouble supporting either or any of these candidates? I mean, Hillary Clinton hesitated to say whether she would support Bernie Sanders. I know you —
DK: I’m going to help the Democratic Party make whoever the candidate is the best candidate that can be, let’s say that. And that candidate, then, hopefully, will be able to serve the public. I’ve always been involved in the election, whether I agreed with who was getting the nomination or not.
RS: So you would support even a Biden.
DK: Yeah. Look, I’ve known Joe Biden since ’72. I don’t have any problem with Joe Biden except, you know, his foreign policy.
RS: Oh, OK. [Laughs] All right. And he did support the deregulation of Wall Street, and ah —
DK: I know what Joe — listen, I’ve known Biden since ’72. I like Joe Biden. If he gets the nomination, I’ll be happy to help him out and give him some advice on foreign policy.
RS: Oh, OK. So there’s a — Dennis Kucinich will support Joe Biden. Hillary Clinton couldn’t commit to supporting Bernie Sanders. Maybe that’s the tale of the party and how people line up. But thanks again, Dennis, it’s a pleasure having you here, and take care. And that’s it for this edition of Scheer Intelligence. Our producer here at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism has been Sebastian Grubaugh. Joshua Scheer is the overall producer of Scheer Intelligence, and truth be told, he actually worked in Dennis Kucinich’s office once as a young staff person. Christopher Ho at KCRW gets these things up on their site, which has been our host. And see you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.