Robert Scheer SI Podcast SI: Politics SI: Race, Class & Gender

Dennis Kucinich on the Real Reason the Blue Wave Never Materialized

On this week's "Scheer Intelligence," the former Ohio congressman and mayor of Cleveland weighs in on what the Democratic Party keeps getting wrong.
Dennis Kucinich speaking at CPAC 2015 in Washington, DC.
Dennis Kucinich speaking at CPAC 2015 in Washington, DC. [Gage Skidmore / Flickr]

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The 2020 U.S. general election has come and gone, and while Joe Biden has won the presidential race, the “blue wave” that Democrats were expecting in the Senate and House of Representatives doesn’t seem to have materialized. On this week’s installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” former congress member and 53rd mayor of Cleveland Dennis Kucinich joins Robert Scheer to discuss the election results and the future of the Democratic Party. The lifelong progressive, whose new book, The Division of Light and Power, is forthcoming, explains what he witnessed happening over his past several decades in politics and why he thinks Donald Trump won Ohio, a state that voted twice for Barack Obama. 

“We have to analyze the election on one level, which is economic–the impact of trade policies,” says Kucinich. “And beyond that, the fact that when there was this bailout on Wall Street in 2008, 2009 after the subprime meltdown, there are parts of Cleveland that never recovered from that period. There were thousands and thousands of homes that were lost; there were people who have very bitter memories of that period, and they don’t feel that the Democratic Party was representing them.

“So that’s what accounts for this difference in the vote that President Obama received in 2008 and then again in ’12 [and] the strength that President Trump had among working-class Democrats, many of whom switched parties,” Kucinich said. “These are part of my own constituents, so you know, as a Democrat I look at that and I say, ‘Whoa! Somebody better start paying attention to this.’” 

While Kucinich is critical of the Democratic Party, which he reveals was behind the re-districting that led to his losing his congressional seat, the Democrat believes in the need for the country to look forward to the Biden Administration with hopes that the president-elect will recognize how the betrayal of working class Americans spells disaster for the future of the nation. One of the main policies the progressive believes could create a radical shift in American politics is one that he campaigned for throughout his career in one form or another: Medicare for All. 

“In this election, Joe Biden did say that he would come out for a public option [for healthcare],” says Kucinich. “Let’s see if that happens. If he does, that’s progress. But I think that the Democratic Party could rebuild the party by taking a strong stand on Medicare for All. After all, we’re in a pandemic! If you can’t stand for Medicare for All in the middle of a pandemic, when in the world can you do that? 

“I’m cautiously optimistic that the president-elect, soon to be the president, will stand behind the pledge that he made and rally the Congressional Democrats to get it through, and see what kind of negotiations can be obtained in the Senate.”

Listen to the full conversation between Kucinich and Scheer as they discuss the pitfalls of lesser-evilism, the dangers of money in politics, and the economic reasons that are quickly and alarmingly turning the Republican Party into the party of the American working class.


Robert Scheer

Joshua Scheer

Natasha Hakimi Zapata 

Lucy Berbeo 

RS: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case it’s Dennis Kucinich. He needs no introduction. He was–people may not know, but he started out as a city councilman and the mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, where I first met him. I interviewed him when I was working at the L.A. Times, and I was very impressed with what he was doing there. We’ll get back to that in a bit, because he’s written a book about his time in Cleveland as mayor, and his populist tradition that’s important to our discussion. But he spent 16 years in Congress; he ran for the presidency, or for the Democratic nomination. 

And Dennis, I want to begin–the reason I called you, the reason we’re doing the podcast now–it’s [Monday], a week after the election. But last Monday, the day before the election, I was talking with you. And you predicted that Trump would certainly carry Ohio, and you thought, you know, it was going to be a much closer–you certainly did not talk about a blue wave overwhelming, and it turned out to be quite tight, particularly in that region that you’re in. And [Biden] lost Ohio, as you predicted, and I think you even predicted he would lose your old Congressional district. So tell us why you thought Trump would be difficult to beat, and what you think is really the lesson of this election.

DK: I think you have to analyze this on a number of different levels. First of all, you have to look at the economics of northern Ohio. And you know, from Lorain County along the lake all the way to Ashtabula and the Youngstown, Mahoning County area, Trumbull, Columbiana County–this at one point was one of the economic engines of America. It was a center for massive production of steel, automotive, aerospace, large shipping business. And what’s happened over the years is there’s been a decline, and there’s been a decline of population as well. But the people who were most affected by it were working-class people who worked in the mills, who worked in the factories that made these goods. And so I think when you start with the trade policies, which created a–where NAFTA and China trade created a profound economic shift in the Midwest, and particularly in Ohio, you know, what I began to see four years ago was working-class Democrats starting to move over to the Republicans. In particular, they were ready to support Donald Trump’s candidacy, because they felt there was a breach of faith. 

And so I think that right now, we have to analyze the election on one level, which is economic–the impact of trade policies. And beyond that, the fact that when there was this bailout on Wall Street in 2008, 2009 after the subprime meltdown, there are parts of Cleveland that never recovered from that period. There were thousands and thousands of homes that were lost; there were people who have very bitter memories of that period. And they don’t feel that the Democratic Party was representing them. So that’s what accounts for this difference in the vote that President Obama received in 2008 and then again in ’12, and the vote that Joe Biden received in these areas, and the strength that President Trump had among working-class Democrats, many of whom switched parties. And these are part of my own constituents, so you know, as a Democrat I look at that and I say, whoa! Somebody better start paying attention to this. You know, how does that translate into the Biden administration?

RS: Well, it goes back to Hillary as well, in the ’16 election. And you know, this trade policy, Bill Clinton had a lot to do with that trade policy. NAFTA was on his watch, after all. And you know, one could argue that in the rewrite of NAFTA, there’s actually some concessions to labor. I would argue it’s actually a better agreement that Trump negotiated than Clinton did. I don’t think that has registered on much of the media that has covered this.

DK: Well, you know, traditionally, with the exception of some of the trades, unions have gone with Democrats, but the Democrats haven’t always delivered. And so it’s–the rank-and-file, in some of the unions there’s been a disconnect between the leadership and the rank-and-file, based on economics. Not–you know, some people will say it’s social issues–not so much. It’s based on economics. Because that, the economic issues, if you go back to the old New Deal coalition where FDR brought in this big Democratic Congress in 1932, you understand that he had a mandate to create tremendous change–most of which, you know, was about job creation and about rebuilding America. The victory by Joe Biden does not carry with it this kind of mandate. As a matter of fact, we have a country that’s more polarized than ever. I think it’s very important in his remarks in Delaware the other day that he talked about healing, but he’s laboring under the policies of the Congressional Democrats who created this investigation of Russia’s alleged interference in the election, that was not legitimate from the start, and who pushed an impeachment. 

And so these are the kinds of things that are very difficult to be able to find a way to bring people together, because the memories are very bitter. Just the same way that Mitch McConnell’s treatment of Barack Obama was not aimed at reconciliation; it was hard-nosed politics. And you know, this is part of what’s going on in our country right now. The divisions remain. It’s good that President-elect Biden is trying to set the right tone. The Democratic Party must pay close attention to what happened in Ohio as a potential harbinger of what could happen in 2022 and ’24, if it doesn’t get back on the economic issues–notwithstanding the pandemic. 

RS: So let’s talk about the economic issues. Because when you watch MSNBC, you know, or even read some of the so-called progressive media in general, it’s not about that. The Trump vote–which is, you know, 72 million people, or 71 and change, as compared to I guess 76 for Biden–you know, it’s supposed to be rural, it’s supposed to be racist, it’s supposed to be alienated people, the deplorables that Hillary Clinton referred to. But you’re really talking about the base of the Democratic Party for decades in places like Ohio, even in Wisconsin and Michigan, that Biden managed to win, it was by small margins. And you know, in Wisconsin, I think it was just a flip of less than 30,000 votes or something that changed it. But the normal blue wall that they used to refer to–including even that it should be as close as it was in Pennsylvania–is an indication that this is not just, you know, what, rural people who don’t have enough education, et cetera. But this really was the heart of the Democratic Party, in the north. And you’re suggesting that it’s kind of, what, permanently lost, or dismayed? I mean, we’re talking about your–the reason this conversation is important, as far as I’m concerned, these are your people. These are the people who put you in as mayor of Cleveland. These are the people who sent you to Congress for 16 years. You only lost your seat because your district was gerrymandered, in order to drive you out. But you know, we’re talking about really what used to be the base of the Democratic Party. And so put it in–give us the nuts and bolts of it. I mean, what do people tell you when you talk to these Democrats who could turn to Trump? 

DK: Well, that they didn’t leave the party, the party left them. And I see this as, you know, this is something I warned about over the years, if the party didn’t adequately address the underlying changes in the economy that were occurring because of trade. And the knock-on effect, not only in the big industries, but the small machine shops and smaller businesses, which created also a substantial number of jobs. That what happened is there was a hollowing-out that occurred. And it’s reflected also in the shift of Congressional districts, you know, out of Ohio and towards the south and west, and most of the northeast is–the growth in the country is in the south, in the west and the south. And so what’s happening is that the party made book with corporations, more than 30 years ago–

RS: You’re saying that about the Democratic Party?

DK: Yeah, the Democratic Party made book with corporations, and the differences began to be blurred. The policy considerations were similarly blurred. And the constituency which really built the Democratic Party, which was the people who came out of the industrial areas across the country, notably in the Midwest where I’m from, you know, they started to see the quality of their lives slipping. And they either saw rising unemployment or falling wages, or pension benefits begin to slip away. The inability to be able to send their kids to school, their kids ending up in massive debt to be able to complete a college education. Not having any opening in the economy once they completed a college education. People look at that and they go, wait a minute–why is this happening? And the burden, for the most part, has fallen on the Democratic Party. When President Obama took office, he had an opportunity where he had a Democratic House and Senate for at least two years, and the potential of being able to change the trade agreements to put worker’s rights, human rights, environmental quality principles in there. That didn’t happen. The other thing is the Democratic Party not presenting an effective opposition on foreign policy. And you know, we were dragged into one war after another, which claimed, you know, hundreds of billions of dollars in resources, actually trillions of dollars in resources. 

And the sacrifice was felt in city after city. We don’t have an urban policy to speak of. You’ve rarely heard cities mentioned in this election; the emphasis was on the suburbs. You know, that was a good political strategy in one way, but it was bad for the long-term health of the Democratic Party, which is you have to rebuild the urban areas where the vote started. And the only way you can do that is looking at the economics of the country and the people who are just hanging on by their fingernails right now, Bob. It’s a very difficult period for many people, you know, in the face of the economic–before the pandemic it seemed to be coming back, but the pandemic dealt a body-blow to not just the American economy, but to those places where people make things, and they create things and they distribute things all over the country. I had the head of one of the biggest corporations in America tell me that his company was looking at 2020 as being literally a lost year. And so you think of how many people are taking a hit right now–whatever Congress was able to do in terms of a stimulus or support was miniscule. And check this out–I was, frankly, very surprised that the Democrats didn’t come through before the election and stalled on any kind of a stimulus, because it’s the Democratic constituency that really needed help the most. I suppose that Congressional Democratic leaders didn’t want Trump to have any credit for that; I can understand the politics, but I do not understand the policy. Because it actually hurt the very people that Democrats rely on. 

So this is a–you know, we’re at a moment right now, an inflection point where we’ve got to pay attention to what happened in this election, what it tells us about where the Democratic Party has been, where it’s going. I’ll tell you, you know, being able to pick up–like in suburban Cleveland, areas that were traditionally Republican in presidential races, like towns with the names of Bay Village, Rocky River, even Westlake, Ohio, which has a pretty big population–they voted for Biden, surprisingly. However, down ballot, it went Republican. So you’ve got a–so anybody who thinks that this is some kind of a big shift that occurred toward the Democratic Party is misreading the results. You’ve got to look at, where’s been the fall-off? I’ll give you an example. In the city of Cleveland, the vote in the city of Cleveland, on the predominantly–in the city of Cleveland overall, the turnout was only 53%. That’s abysmally low. There was really not much of a campaign to begin with. They didn’t try to inspire people to come out. You know, the Democrats lost Ohio by eight points in 2016, and lost Ohio by eight points again in 2020. And the city of Cleveland on the eastside, which is predominantly Black, the turnout was only 55%, and on the westside, which is a little more Caucasian and mixed, the turnout was 56%. So what you get is an indication that at least with respect to Cleveland, which at one time was one of the leading cities in bringing Democratic turnout–you carry Cleveland, Cuyahoga County by a few hundred thousand votes, you’re on your way to winning Ohio. Well, that doesn’t exist anymore. And there ought to be real concern about it, because the knock-on–there is political fallout from these policies. And every four years, we get to do a kind of an audit to see how the party’s doing. And in Ohio, Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, state of Ohio–bad shape. 

RS: So let me ask you, because the argument you hear if you talk to people who thought this is really, the Democrats stand for the working people–the first thing they bring up is the Affordable Care Act. And you know, that was at stake, and that’s why–and then the Supreme Court now might overturn it, and that’s the most important thing for working people. And I know you were on the fence about it, because you didn’t feel there was–when you were in Congress, your vote–why don’t you tell us about that? You were invited on the presidential plane. Your vote was critical. It was that close in getting the Affordable Care Act passed. And you had reservations, but you went along with it.

DK: Well, I–right. And I, if I may, I introduced legislation–John Conyers and I introduced legislation to create Medicare for All, in a program that would cover everyone in the country. And you know, at the time, such a program would have cost over $3 trillion, but it’s about economic stimulus, it’s about a healthy workforce, about a healthy economy, it’s about everything that translates into having a country that takes care of its people, and the people then take care of the country. That was, you know, that was my proposal. I campaigned across America on it. And we had about 90 cosponsors in the House, almost all of them Democrats. And by the time that President Obama came into office, he was looking for the Affordable Care Act, and I was the last holdout. I didn’t like it; my concern was that it didn’t even have a public option. I argued for that strongly; I had three meetings at the White House with the president, with increasingly smaller groups. And then I still wasn’t sold, because what I saw is there was a chance for the insurance companies to make out like bandits with this, and also the same could be said of the pharmaceutical companies. 

And you know, my constituents in the end wanted to–they wanted the benefits of being able to put their children on their policy, to have preexisting conditions covered, and some of the other benefits that went with the Affordable Care Act. And in the end, notwithstanding my own personal misgivings, I, you know, based on the appeal of my own constituents, I said OK. You know, I’m a representative, I’m going to represent the people who sent me to Congress. But I had a lot of misgivings, and I expressed them to President Obama, and we flew to Cleveland on Air Force One. You know, it was a lovely meeting, except he didn’t convince me, because he was ready to take the whole bill down if he didn’t get it exactly as he wanted it. I saw that–I thought it would–you know, he put so much capital in his position that it could have hurt his presidency. But in the end, the Affordable Care Act was insufficient to meet the health care needs of the American people. There were still millions of people who weren’t being covered. 

Now, in this election, Joe Biden did say that he would come out for a public option. Let’s see if that happens. If he does, that’s progress. But I think that the Democratic Party could rebuild the party by taking a strong stand on Medicare for All. After all–think about this, Bob–we’re in a pandemic! If you can’t stand for Medicare for All in the middle of a pandemic, when in the world can you do that? And so I’m cautiously optimistic that the president-elect, soon to be the president, will stand behind the pledge that he made and rally the Congressional Democrats to get it through, and see what kind of negotiations can be obtained in the Senate.

RS: But just to set the historical record straight, on that airplane trip with the president–you know, and they needed your vote, I remember. Henry Waxman, who was head of the most critical committee in pushing it, he actually asked me [Laughs] about your thinking. And I said, you should talk to Dennis. You got on a plane–didn’t President Obama suggest he would go for some kind of public option?

DK: No. Absolutely not. He was opposed to it. And when I–you know, when I got off the plane, I hadn’t made any commitment at all. People thought there was some kind of a deal made–like, what did I get? Nothing. But–but, here’s the thing. That night, the next day, the president was trying to reach me on my cell phone. I didn’t take his call, because I heard everything I wanted to hear. I had to think about it; I had to weigh the interests of my constituents with my own concerns about the trajectory of health care in America. And you know–I mean, and I will tell you the story, Bob. I actually went early in the morning to my church on Capitol Hill, which is at the rotunda of the capitol. Sat down next to the Abe Lincoln statue, it was about 7:30 in the morning, the sun was streaming through. And I just sat there thinking about my vote. And you know, I was there for about a half hour, 45 minutes, and I decided that I would support it as taking a step in the direction–inevitably, the direction of Medicare for All, even though that’s not what it was about. That if I was the vote that sent it down, not only would it deny my constituents–who were appealing to me personally–but also it would make it ever more difficult to be able to achieve health care reform, because people would always point to a benchmark of a failed effort. So, you know, I knew it was a critical vote; the president did; I talked to him after I announced that I was going to support it. But you know, they had no idea how I was going to go in the White House until I actually announced it in a news conference on Capitol Hill. Because I wasn’t convinced. And the issues that I raised were still legitimate. I still believe this country is big enough, has enough resources to be able to cover health care for everyone. And I see this as–if the Democratic Party would have got that through, it would have been very difficult to be able to have Republican majorities anywhere for a long, long time. 

RS: Well, you know, the conservatives in the party are arguing oppositely. They’re saying now you’ve got these two races in Georgia for the Senate that can change the balance, and that the party should stop listening to all this, you know, what they call socialism, and–

DK: [Laughs]

RS: –and so forth. You’ve read that and seen that, and there’s a pushback by even a lot of Republicans coming over, or claiming they’re coming over. And that’s really the big battle. And I want to get at the guts of it. One of the things that’s not reported widely, or noticed–we always talked about election finance reform, we talked about the terrible role of money in destroying democracy. And in this particular election, particularly if you look at the last months, Biden outraised the campaign money by enormous amounts over Trump. And he got a lot of it from, you know, Larry Fink at BlackRock and people like that, from Wall Street, from Silicon Valley. Eric Schmidt, one of the PACs that he gives money to and so forth. And big money went for Biden. So are the Democrats really–I mean, they’re sort of now the party of the financial establishment, are they not?

DK: Well, the evidence points in that direction; the policies that issue forth from the new Congress and the new administration will give a chance to demonstrate that it’s not so. 

RS: Well, tell me more about that. I mean, are you optimistic? Isn’t the party–I mean, didn’t it really start with Bill Clinton when he did the financial so-called reform? First of all he ended the federal anti-poverty program, AFDC, the Aid to Families with Dependent Children. He put through the deregulation of Wall Street, he freed these people to do their housing swindles and mortgage-backed derivatives and so forth. You know, this has been going on now for four decades. And is there really any possibility that the Democrats are going to break? Particularly when they won this election against somebody who should have been a very weak candidate, given the pandemic, among other things. Is there really any chance they’re going to deliver on a progressive agenda, which in terms of income inequality would certainly have to face this new billionaire class, and the incredible centers of wealth in America? Is there really a snowball’s chance in hell that they would do that?

DK: Let me put it this way. It’s November 9th; I’ve seen times in Cleveland where on November 9th it was very, very cold, OK? Sub-zero, or close to zero. And other times, today, the temperature is 79 degrees, OK? So I think that, you know, it is possible that those inside the party can recognize, notwithstanding who supported them in the election, that there’s an opening here to remake the American compact. And let’s see if they do. If history repeats itself, and the Democrats will look to their contributors first to decide what the policies of the country should be, then what very well could happen is that you will see further decline of the party in 2022. I mean, this really is a turning point for the Democratic Party. Joe Biden must know that. You know, I’ve known the president-elect since 1972. We both were candidates for Congress then, and I lost by one and a half percent and he won his race in Delaware. And you know, we met then and have known each other over the years, and we’ve talked. I respect him. He’s one of the few people in American politics who can really look at a trajectory of where we’re at as a society. And I think that should be a good thing. He’s going to have to disappoint some people; I’m just hoping it won’t be the people who are living in neighborhoods in Cleveland and in Scranton and in Chicago and in other cities around the country. 

So I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t want to predict that there’s no way that the interests of those who are the working-class and middle-class people in this country–the shrinking middle class, I might add–I don’t want to say their interests are not going to be served, because it’s too cynical to say that. I think we have to provide the president-elect, and when he’s sworn in, the support that he needs to get an agenda passed. And all those progressives who are not particularly happy witnessing the landscape the way that you just described, Bob–I think the important thing is to get in there, organize on the floor of the House, and start moving votes. I will tell you this, my experience as a member of Congress has been that the floor of the House of Representatives is a very dynamic place. You actually can change things there, but you have to really be ready to reach across the aisle, to build relationships, to talk to your colleagues, to show them what the better approach and reason is. 

Democrats need to talk to Democrats, not just talk to Republicans. And it’s going to be very important for the Democratic majority to listen carefully to the progressives in their midst, particularly on the economic issues, because I think there’s still this concern that the Democratic Party won’t deliver for its constituency. If it does, in terms of wages, benefits, health care, trade policy, rebuilding the infrastructure, creating jobs that way, education, educational opportunities, giving young people a chance to get out of this incredible debt–I mean, these are all things that can reverse the losses that have occurred. Because you know, this thing isn’t set just yet. But it is a dangerous moment, and the party must make an assessment of why President Trump did so well in areas that have been part of America’s heartland.

RS: You know, Dennis, I have a lot of respect for you. But I’m going to push back big time right now, because this is the pie-in-the-sky stuff that has been deluding us for a long, long time. And I’ll take you back to your start. You were a young, idealistic guy in Cleveland, from a poor, working-class family. Your family had lived, you know, in a car; I checked out your whole background, I know it quite well. You know, you experienced it. And you came along with a progressive vision. And very early on, as mayor of Cleveland, you ran up against the banks, and whatever the banks said–and it involved public utility, it involved the people’s right to be able to get a decent rate on their electricity and so forth. And you’ve written a book, which I’ve read, which is going to come out soon. What’s the title of it?

DK: It’s called The Division of Light and Power.

RS: The Division of Light and Power. And what was the company? There was a public utility–

DK: Yeah, Muny Light was our public utility. It still exists; it’s now called Cleveland Public Power, which at that time, when I was starting my career, was called the Division of Light and Power. So–but you know, I know where you’re going. Let me jump ahead–

RS: But tell listeners–tell listeners where we’re going. Because you, a long time ago–and I was there in Cleveland, interviewing you and seeing this–you were fighting a fight to keep a public utility in business when the banks wanted to grab it, and they put the city of Cleveland into insolvency in order to grab it. And you fought them back. That was the launch of your political career. Now I’m talking to you four decades later more, and you’re telling me that the money that talked in Cleveland will not talk now nationally?

DK: No, not at all, Bob. I never said that. And let me just say that for me personally, my position, my sentiments haven’t changed. I’m the same person I was when I started my career 40, 50 years ago. But I’m giving you an assessment; the thing that I don’t want to do–and I think it’s really important for the country–is not to pass doom and gloom on the election of a Democratic president. I’m not going to do that. I think we have to give him a chance, see if it works, and if it doesn’t–if it doesn’t turn out, then you know, there’ll be a challenge. But I think this is the wrong time, absolutely the wrong time, to throw a pall over the election of President-elect Biden. Even understanding, as I do, as well as you do, how the party again and again has let down working people. You know, hope springs eternal, the poet says. And I think that the progressives, [among] whom I count myself, need to regroup, come up with an agenda, fight for it on the floor of the House. And there’ll be victories; I have no doubt about that. You’ve got some very strong presence in the Congress of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. I mean, they have their own director and policy person, and other staffers; it’s organized. So I don’t–let’s give Biden a chance to get started and see if he can do it. 

Now, do I have concerns? Of course I do. But right now, I don’t–you know, I don’t want to go there and tell my friend, who has just ascended to the highest office in the land, as a Democrat, that we can’t do something. Well, we’re going to have to try to make the changes. And it’s up to him to show the way, and it’s up to the Democrats in Congress to help him and come up with a better reason and a better policy than perhaps the administration would recommend. So, you know, I really think at this time, when there’s still a contested, a legally contested race, we don’t–to me it seems–and I’m talking as a Clevelander here, as somebody who’s talking to you from the same house that I’ve lived in since 1969. I’m telling you that I want to give our new president a chance, and to see if he can try to rework this American compact or consensus for the betterment of the American people. And if he doesn’t, there’ll be plenty of time to go over that, and I wouldn’t hesitate to make an assessment. But you’ve got to give him a chance. And I feel very strongly about that. To do it otherwise is–you know, there’s only so much–I’ve been in politics since ’67, and I refuse to be cynical. No matter how much I know, I refuse to be cynical. I still think that we’ve got to believe that the country will find a way to a better place as we change leaders.

RS: Well, you know, Dennis, ever since I’ve known you, we’ve worn different hats. And I’ll give you a lot of credit for trying to make the system work, and working within the Democratic Party and trying to move it in a progressive direction. And I agree with you, there’s a stronger progressive caucus than we’ve had for a long time. And I agree that there’s going to be a lot of pressure to try to get the Democrats to be a truly progressive party. But, you know, as a journalist, my job is to keep a critical eye. And I was fooled by Bill Clinton. I actually, I interviewed him before he became president, and I believed he was actually, you know, he got it, he came from a poor background in the South. That he, yes, he would take the money from wealthy people, but he would deliver. And the fact is that under Bill Clinton we had the biggest gifts to Wall Street, and the new rich and the new billionaire class, than any president has given. The total deregulation of Wall Street in any kind of serious way, and failure to use antitrust with the rise of the dot-coms and everything else. And that’s continued–we’re now talking about a 40-year history of betrayal of any idea of accountability. The Telecommunications Act, the so-called welfare reform, the Financial Services Modernization Act, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, all of this stuff. NAFTA, the different trade agreements. And so, yes, give the guy a chance, you know–but what does that mean? Where’s the pressure going to come from?

DK: Oh–

RS: Well, but let me ask you, and then I’ll give you all the time you want. There’s an element of cooption, you know? You have Trumpwashing–that guy was so bad, you know, you got to settle for whatever these people dish out. Well, I brought up something much earlier on NAFTA; actually, the trade agreement that Trump negotiated was an improvement over the one that the Democrats had. At least there is some guarantee of decent wages of $16 an hour in Mexico, there’s some restraints on what you can bring over, there’s some environmental protection. And you know, another thing–I mean, the point is, how far does lesser evil take you? 

DK: Well, here’s the thing. I don’t think you were fooled by Clinton as much as you wanted to believe that he would deliver on what he said. And I think that where a lot of people are with our new president-elect, Joe Biden, they want to believe that he’s going to deliver. Unfortunately, this kind of campaign, the chance for articulating a range of promises was lost, and the positions [have] become a little bit more cryptic than they were a few years ago. But you have to look at, you know, where Joe Biden comes from. And he does have, you know, working-class roots. I think that, hopefully, he’ll remember where he came from, as opposed to where he arrives at today. 

Now, I want to point out something to you, Bob, that I don’t think I’ve ever shared with anybody, but this conversation seems as good of a time as any to be able to reveal this. You know, my Congressional seat, which as you pointed out was redistricted–it was actually cut up in four pieces and made impossible for me to win–that redistricting was brought about not by the Republicans, but by the Democrats in Ohio, who insisted that my seat be the one that was lost. And you know, I don’t have any kind of warm and fuzzy feelings for the party per se; not at all. But I do have a commitment to the historic mission of the Democratic Party, which is to lift people’s lives up. You know, and we can point directly to the New Deal, to the New Frontier, to the Great Society. You know, these were benchmarks in my life, in the life of my family. And they are part of what defined it to be a Democrat. And within that realm was lifting up people who were infirm and aged, people of color, creating civil rights, responding affirmatively to the Civil Rights Movement. You know, this was–there was something about every–the idea that every American would have an opportunity. Well, you know, that’s out the window right now; we need to reclaim it. Will the party do it? We’ll see. Look, Bob, I’m going to be the first one–you know, nobody’s going to elbow me out, if this thing starts going in the wrong direction. But I don’t–again, you know, as a matter of the good of the country–

RS: Yeah, I got it. But before I let you go, let me just say something. You know, I just think we have to take a harder look at our history. And the fact of the matter is, yeah, you have a nice, you’ve painted a very nice picture of the Democrats; it was also the party of segregation in the South. I’m not going to revisit that whole history. And it was a party of, in many ways, racism in the North, and it was a party that got us into a lot of wars and so forth. But one thing about–you know, I’ll give it to you, they–generally, not always; it was Eisenhower who sent the troops to the South to enforce the Supreme Court decision about desegregation. But you know, there is a lot of this celebration of the Democratic Party, and it’s reinforced obviously a lesser-evilism regarding Trump and the route of the so-called moderates; they don’t seem to exist in the Republican Party. And there’s a lot at stake. But you know, there’s also a trap. 

And the trap is that one reason, by the way, that we may get some real progress on the treatment of Black people by the legal system in this country is not because Joe Biden will suddenly be true to his base. Because after all, he was responsible for the incarceration of a lot of Black people when he was in his tough law-and-order stance. But because we had the Black Lives Matter movement, and athletes and others joined in on it, and we’ve had an incredible protest in the streets and elsewhere. And you know, one reason why Democrats might have to pay attention to the growing economic misery in this country–I mean, there’s astounding class division, where now it’s not just some isolated families living in a car, as when your parents did it. But now, my goodness, there’s millions upon millions of people don’t know how they’re going to get through the next week, and the income division–yeah, and so what I’m saying is, if we keep playing this electoral game, and put all our eggs in that basket, and then wait for the lesser evil or the supposed good guys to do it, that’s where the money talks. 

I want to end on this note. The money talks, and what your book is about–I’m here actually trying to get people to read your book, you know, and I’ll do another podcast with you when it’s available for sale, which should be pretty soon. But the tale of your book, that got you into your real political career when you were the mayor of Cleveland, is that money controls the action in this society, in a capitalist society. And right now it’s the biggest money–you used to be upset with the Cleveland newspaper. My goodness, now we have to be thankful that billionaires bail out the newspapers. There’s no–where is journalism? We have to look for Comcast and other people to give us supposedly good journalism, or Apple News. We are in very big trouble on the very thing that seems to have motivated a lot of voters: this economy. And we don’t have a free market; we have cartel capitalism with a vengeance. And that’s what causes me to despair about the whole thing. 

Thank you, Dennis Kucinich, as always interesting. Again, I urge people to read your book. And not to lead them to cynicism, but to understand just how ruthless power and money is. Anyway, that’s it for this edition of Scheer Intelligence. The engineer at KCRW is Christopher Ho, who puts this show up. Natasha Hakimi Zapata writes the introduction. Lucy Berbeo does the transcription. And Joshua Scheer is the producer of Scheer Intelligence and keeps it all together. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence. 

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