By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“Well, you know,” begins Kucinich, hunching forward with the melancholy of somebody who has just been handed cotton candy and asked to knit a cake, “you can talk about the 20th century and look at the writings of Erich Fromm, the work of Carl Rogers, [Abraham] Maslow, the humanistic psychologists. You can look at the English Romantic poets from centuries ago who had a sense of the perfectibility of humankind, of our deep connection to nature, of the importance of upholding a natural world. You can come back to Walden Pond, to Thoreau, to Emerson, to their understanding of intellectual integrity and of freedom. But you could go back thousands of years, too, to the basic structure of moral law that’s reflected in the teachings of all the great religions.” He stops. I wait. He stays stopped.
“What about more-modern influences?” I say. “Are you in touch with any of the artistic or cultural movements that are contemporary; ideas and artistic trends that excite and motivate people, particularly young people, to view humanity as a whole rather than as incongruent pieces, which is more what politics tends to do? I don’t guess that all the values that inform your political identity are as antiquated or esoteric as Thoreau or the Bible — you were a product of the ’60s, right?”
“Look,” he says, “my philosophical underpinnings relate to concepts that are really timeless, that go back to 2,000 years of Christianity, thousands of years of the Hindu religion, that go to the tradition of Buddhism, to the moral teachings of Judaism, to the peaceful expressions of Islam. All of these are tributaries of a spiritual understanding that I have.”
“Well, I guess what I’m wondering is, What connection do you have with contemporary culture that isn’t politically grounded? The reason I ask is because it seems to me that most people don’t trust politicians very much. People want to interact with ideas that are hipper and deeper than those narrowly defined by politicians and the political agendas of either party. I would figure that if you wanted to build a sizable movement that inspired people to get involved with politics and to participate in democracy — to vote for you! — you’d want to offer them something that has some artistic integrity to it. Isn’t that what made the counterculture so powerful [in the middle of the last century], the fact that it was an artistic political movement?”
“Well, the social conscience of the ’60s percolated powerfully from what was called the counterculture, which actually was more than that, expressing mainstream articulations which had been suppressed.” He stops, confused by the broken crockery of his last sentence. He looks at me for some response, but I don’t know what the hell he was talking about either. He looks at his watch.
“Nixon’s silent majority,” he finally says, perhaps with a little too much authority, as though he were trying to explain the virtues of Internet pornography to an Amish family, “was actually a larger establishment unwilling to listen to what the mainstream had to say, and what the mainstream had to say was powerfully at odds with what Nixon was doing. So my analysis would be a little bit different. What I want to do right now,” he says, standing up and sending my side of the picnic table thudding into the ground, “is, I want to get started over here, then you and I can talk more in the car.”
“Oh, okay,” I say, watching him walk away. I recap my pen and close my notebook, when Jimenez appears behind me.
“Make sure you’re close when Dennis finishes,” she says, “because we’re going to move fast, and you’ll miss getting into the car with him if we can’t find you.”
“Don’t worry,” I say, “I’ll find you.”
I sit down in the grass and open my notebook to try streamlining my list of questions, while blasts of excruciating oratory emit from the stage behind me, beginning with the obligatory song sung by a child about the Earth being like a marble and humanity being like a rainbow and the future being like a bright and smiling sun, images whose crayon equivalents are studied in mental hospitals to determine the severity of a patient’s inability to cope with the real world. Then an African-American woman tells a horribly sad and horribly unsurprising story about being fucked over by the health-care industry.
The candidate is up next. Before pulling the miniaturized version of the Constitution from his pocket and waving it around like a tiny recipe book capable of transforming the republic into something that the Forefathers promised would be both yummy and nutritious if followed precisely, Kucinich recites “The Star-Spangled Banner” as if it were Keats and does five minutes on courage, providing no more insight into the subject than Bert Lahr was able to as the Cowardly Lion by asking, What makes the Hottentot so hot? and What puts the “ape” in ape-ricot?
I wonder if this is what is starting to bother me most about Kucinich’s candidacy — his willingness to name all the most pressing problems facing the world without demonstrating the ability to deepen the conversation beyond the most sophomoric pandering to the worst elements of patriotism and false hope and sentimentality. Listening to him speak, after being so moved by his reputation as a fearless David in disdainful pursuit of every despicable Goliath currently threatening our continued survival as a species, is as heartbreaking as I imagine it must have been for an audience forced to listen, for the first time, to Bob Dylan going ecclesiastic, much worse than going electric.
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