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“You’re right about that, but let’s go one step further,” he responds. “Let me take your awareness of that to a presidential election where candidates change their position every week so you don’t know anybody’s position on anything. It’s all polled to the point where it’s not the soul of the politician that becomes of interest; it’s the poll of the politician. There again, truth doesn’t matter. Stephen Colbert was absolutely right when he called it truthiness. That’s why half the people in this country still think that Iraq had something to do with 9/11. So, look, I am absolutely amazed that there is someone out there asking these questions, because I didn’t know there was anybody — I didn’t know there was anybody out there to talk to about this stuff.”
“Well, how frustrating is that for you,” I say, “to be in a profession that doesn’t typically invite the kind of conversation that matches your curiosity about the world? How slippery is the ground for you when you’re talking to people in public, or when you’re out in front of an audience? To maintain some level of popularity, do you sometimes feel you need to be as inoffensive as possible? How impossible is that given the state of the world nowadays? Some things really do require deep and sloppy conversation.”
“I think it’s important to approach things with an open heart and with clarity and courage — that’s it. Lincoln said it well when he said, ‘With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right.’ He was talking about binding up the wounds of a nation, but in a sense we have to continually work at binding up the wounds in our society and wounds to people’s physical, emotional and spiritual selves and wounds to the truth that provide the social reality where we live or refuse to live. Do I get frustrated by that? No. The real test of power is whether you can countenance the approval, disapproval, ups and downs, acceptance, rejection with a sense of equanimity. That’s how I proceed. I do my best to tell the truth the way I see it. The one advantage I’ve had through 40 years of being involved in public life is, I have a trained eye and it’s clear. So, listen, I’ve got to run, but I really appreciate your time and your patience.”
He gives me his e-mail address, then hangs up and disappears into the legislative branch like a monkey into a tree.
To say that all politicians are nothing but puppets whose many strings are haphazardly attached to a diverse network of competing special-interest groups is an oversimplification on par with saying that all cancers are bad. They aren’t. At least not when they’re compared to other cancers. So to say that Congressman Dennis Kucinich is less a puppet and more the living boy with no strings attached that Pinocchio became at the end of the fairy tale is not much of a compliment, since both have the same exact origins as tinder and, therefore, the same instinct to avoid exposure to too much heat.
I didn’t know this. Now I do.
Still, looking back on my brief encounters with Kucinich, I remember something that my grandmother once said while watching Larry King’s very famous and excruciatingly respectful 1992 interview with Richard Nixon, that given the choice between being a turd or a flower in life, I should consider being a turd. “Flowers are always getting trounced upon,” she said. “At least a turd commands enough respect to be stepped around.”
And perhaps that’s what I found to be the real tragedy about Dennis Kucinich: He is neither a turd nor a flower. But h0e may well be the best chance we have as a nation to save ourselves.