Cynics may smile, but I, for one, sleep easier now that the president has announced his intention to send Americans to both the moon and Mars. Planting the flag in the Sea of Tranquility and other galactic hot spots sends an unambiguous message not only to al Qaeda, but also to those congressional liberals still praying for a peace dividend — or even for a year without war. One Democrat unlikely to be moved by the proposed lunar and Martian programs is presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich, who, weeks after 9/11, introduced a bill to ban weapons from the very same space that the White House dreams of militarizing.
Kucinich’s Space Preservation Act of 2002, along with his proposals to end capital punishment, decriminalize marijuana and create a Department of Peace, has consigned his candidacy to the outer rings of Saturn, as far as the mainstream media are concerned. Infrequent profiles by The New York Times and even some “alts” fairly brim with contempt and condescension, while the “practical” Left dismisses Kucinich as unelectable. Yet even detractors admit that the Ohio congressman’s largely young followers are fiercely devoted to his crusade. Last Saturday about 125 supporters rallied at Hollywood’s Club Lingerie to hear musical performances by Michelle Shocked and other Kucinich campaigners, and the word most often spoken from the stage and in private conversation was “heart.”
Yumi Kikuchi is a 41-year-old Japanese writer, environmentalist and peace activist who, last spring, began reading Kucinich’s speeches on her organic farm outside Tokyo. Intrigued by the candidate’s commitment to humanist values, she flew to California in May “to check him out and see if he was real, to see if his speeches came from the heart.” Kikuchi caught up with Kucinich in Stockton and was surprised when his car pulled up in front of a speaking hall and the congressman — who’d been told of her journey — jumped out and hugged her. She would spend three days following Kucinich on the hustings and now leads a small group of supporters in Japan. She, of course, cannot vote in any American election, but sees the outcome of the race for the Democratic nomination as critical to her country’s future.
“Our government doesn’t listen to its people,” she told me, “but it listens to the White House — especially after September 11, when Bush was asking countries if they were with America or not. I feel like my government is not in Tokyo but in Washington.”
Dennis Kucinich embodies everything American progressives say they admire but has been conspicuously ignored by them in favor of the safer, mainstream liberal, Howard Dean. In the end it’s all about winning, and to a desperate, anyone-but-Bush Left, Kucinich looks like a vegan Henry Wallace. Kucinich is easily the most candid and visionary of the Democratic pack, but in our PR-driven age candor is associated with Tourette’s syndrome and visions with hallucinations. His meditative spirituality makes progressives nervous, even though a man who says God told him to invade Iraq is president; worse, Kucinich is a politician who years ago reinvented himself after intense re-evaluation of his beliefs — which, in American politics, is on par with admitting you spent a few years locked in a padded cell.
Saturday’s fund-raiser’s music ranged from folk to rock to jazz, with Michelle Shocked providing the heartbeat. The rootsy singer quickly established a cozy rapport with her audience, although she admitted that supporting a Democrat “is going to get me kicked out of anarchist school.”
Later, Shocked told me she has an ingrained aversion to traditional party politics.
“I do tend to be partisan,” she said in an East Texas drawl, “but not as a Democrat or Republican — my heroes are Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Paul Krassner.”
Indeed, Kucinich’s considerable celebrity following tends to include people regarded as artistic and social mavericks — people like Willie Nelson, Ani DiFranco, Alice Walker and Dr. Patch Adams — and one couldn’t help wondering last Saturday how many of his passionate supporters will feel a connection to the November election if any Democrat but Kucinich is nominated.
Yumi Kikuchi, who will visit Iowa during its caucuses, sounded ambivalent about a Kucinich defeat at the Democratic convention.
“I will support any Democrat,” she told me, “even
Only a moment before, however, she had said, “Dean is a normal politician. He says beautiful words that don’t mean anything. I’m not going to support him.”
Still, as one singer said from the Club Lingerie stage, “The Democratic Party is the only dance we have. We’ll support whoever their candidate is against Bush.” Appealing to Green guilt, he asked for that party’s members to fall in line behind the inevitable “whoever.” But could young Democrats — let alone Greens and outsiders like Shocked — back a Dean or Clark in November? For now, at least, this question is not on the table for discussion.
“He’s gonna win,” said Shocked. “That’s my story and I’m stickin’ with it. He’s gonna come from behind because people don’t want to see all our domestic programs cut for some neocon agenda over in Iraq.”