Dennis Kucinich and the National
Democratic Party’s Future
Text of remarks prepared
2003 Chet Culver Fall Festival
Blank Golf Course Clubhouse
Des Moines, Iowa
October 25, 2003
1. References for some of the statistics used in this text are provided below.
2. If you are interested in this piece you will probably also be interested in Nicholas Johnson's "Another Iowan for Kucinich" Web site, and his op ed, "Kucinich Backers Aren't Kidding," Des Moines Register, July 21, 2003. A prior version of this text, presented by Nicholas Johnson to the Muscatine Democrats Dinner, October 11, 2003, is also available.
Yes, I am supporting Dennis Kucinich as our Party’s presidential nominee and I am here to encourage you to take a serious look at him as well.
But believe it or not, I am one candidate's surrogate who wants to wrap up these talks with something I think is even more important than my candidate.
It is nothing less than the future of our National Democratic Party -- not Iowa Democratic Party candidates and office holders, but the national Party.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news on this festive occasion, but nothing is more directly related to victory -- whether sports, war or politics -- than a firm sense of reality.
And the reality is that the National Democratic Party has been on a downward slide for the last 25 years.
Just look at the decline in voter participation in presidential elections. It's gone from 63% in 1960, to 62% in 1964, to 61% in 1968, to 55.2% in 1972 -- and has never gone above the 1972 percentage in any of the years since. During the 1960s registered voters' participation in off-year congressional elections was nearly 50%. Since then it's been around 36-39%.
It's true that voter anger and apathy have not been limited to any one party. The decline reflects the failures of Republicans as well as Democrats.
But we Democrats have taken the biggest hit. Voters identifying themselves as Democrats have decreased from about 48% in 1978 to 34% today -- from roughly one-half of the electorate to one-third. Not coincidentally, Democratic members of Congress have steadily declined over the same period from nearly 300 to just over 200.
Meanwhile, voters identifying themselves as Republicans have actually increased from 22% to 32% -- from about one-fifth up to one-third.
How could this have happened? Our natural base of support is as large as ever and growing larger.
It would be inaccurate as well as overly simplistic to credit our losses to a single factor. And it would take far longer than I have on this occasion to identify and analyze all the factors.
But here is one I would like you to think about as you decide which Democratic Party candidate, and platform, you believe has the best chance of beating President Bush.
We are dealing with a widespread, and growing, level of voter apathy and anger. Polls reveal that as many as 70% of voters and non-voters alike believe that Washington politicians care more about the large corporations and wealthy individuals that fund their campaigns than about the "little guy." Of course, there are some differences between the parties. But many potential voters think that when it comes to the economic interests of corporations -- defense contractors, oil and pharmaceutical companies and other large corporations -- there is very little difference between Democrats and Republicans.
Are they wrong? Or do you sometimes kind of feel that way, too?
• Most of our Party's presidential candidates supported President Bush’s war for oil in Iraq. Some are still defending it. One actually wrote the resolution.Please note that each of these positions promotes the interests of corporate executives and other wealthy Americans at the expense of you and me, our children and grandchildren.
• Most of our Party's candidates are advocating that we continue to provide health care in this country through a private system of profit-maximizing pharmaceutical and insurance companies. These candidates' proposals maintain the high administrative overhead and multi-million-dollar executive salaries for campaign contributors.
• Most of our Party's candidates want to keep defense spending at the current inflated levels, or actually increase it.
• Most of our Party's candidates want to continue to support GATT, NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, notwithstanding the devastating impact on America's workers. (And who among our leading candidates has expressed even any awareness, let alone concern, about the impact on America's workers and their families of the more than 50,000 deaths and 6 million injuries and illnesses annually from unsafe workplaces?)
• Most of our candidates -- whatever they may say about the evils of our present campaign finance system -- are continuing to accept the money of the special interests and wealthy.
Consider what Jesse Jackson did during the late 1980s. Reverend Jackson’s progressive agenda in his 1984 presidential campaign resulted in his registering over one million new voters who, in turn, helped the Democratic Party regain control of the Senate in 1986. His 1988 campaign registered an additional two million new voters, helped boost hundreds of state and local elected officials into office and inspired millions to join the political process.
It can be done, because it has been done.
And what does all of this have to do with Congressman Dennis Kucinich?
Dennis can do more than talk the talk of our centrist and conservative presidential candidates who are misrepresenting their records in a desperate effort to court liberals and progressives. Dennis has walked the progressive walk -- and won.
Every election Dennis has won has involved beating a supposedly "unbeatable" Republican.
Dennis took a conservative congressional district with only 34% of the voters registered as Democrats and won it with a progressive platform. First time out he won with 49% of the vote. In subsequent elections he has driven those percentages up to 65% and now 74% of his constituents.
That's why he's still in a race from which five of our original ten candidates have either dropped out of Iowa, or the race altogether, or fail to register in the polls. He's worked his way from tenth to fifth and is still climbing. Not bad for a candidate with little money, the overt opposition of the corporate media, and who is simultaneously fulfilling his obligations to his constituents in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Whether our nominee ends up being Dennis Kucinich or not, I think 25 years has been long enough to try, and fail, at offering the nation’s poor, working poor, working class and middle class warmed over Republicanism, compromises and capitulation to corporate interests.
I may be wrong. A year from now Bush may be sufficiently unpopular that any Democrat can win with the same old-same old strategies, corporate money, and capitulation to the Democratic Leadership Council's fuzzy pro-corporate positions.
Even if it would work, it would be a victory of which no Democrat could be proud; a victory that would only accelerate the disenfranchised's enthusiasm for a third party. Have we already forgotten the 2000 election?
But what should be decisive for those who want to rid our nation of what Jim Hightower calls Bush's "kleptocrats," I don't even think we can count on corporate capitulation winning for us this time.
If we are serious about reversing our quarter-century slide as a Party, I think we need to do a little thinking outside the box to get inside the White House.
I'm tired of singing "It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want To." I've always preferred "Happy Days Are Here Again."
That's why I'm supporting Dennis Kucinich and urging you to do so as well.
Household income. See U.S. Census Bureau, "Historical Income Tables - Households," http://www.census.gov/hhes/income/histinc/h01.html.
Voter turnout. See Information Please, "National Voter Turnout in Federal Elections: 1960-2000," http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0781453.html and This Nation, "Table 1: Percent of Eligible Voters Voting in Presidential & Midterm Elections 1960-98," http://thisnation.com/question/048.html.
Working poor. See U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Report 957: "A Profile of the Working Poor, 2000," http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpswp2000.htm.
Minimum wage workers. See U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers: 2002," http://www.bls.gov/cps/minwage2002.htm.
Health insurance. See U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Health Insurance Coverage," http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/hinsure.htm.
Voters' dissatisfaction. Jennifer Barrett, "Newsweek Poll: A Growing Dissatisfaction," Oct. 11, 2003, http://stacks.msnbc.com/news/978672.asp?0cv=CB20 ("There are signs, however, that Americans are increasingly dissatisfied with the current political establishment. Seventy percent of those polled say the country’s political system is so controlled by special interests and partisanship that it cannot respond to the country’s real needs; 25 percent disagree. And more than half of respondents (54 percent) say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States . . ..").
Jesse Jackson's voter registration. See Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, http://www.rainbowpush.org/founder.
Workplace injuries and deaths. See Essential.Org, "Death on the Job," http://lists.essential.org/corp-focus/msg00019.html. ("There were more than 6,200 deaths on the job due to traumatic injuries in the United States in 1997. The death toll from work-related disease is nearly 10 times higher. There were more than 6 million workplace-related injuries and illnesses recorded in 1997, with more than 1.8 million of them causing time lost from the job.") For more detailed and updated data see U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Current Injury, Illness, and Fatality Data," http://www.bls.gov/iif/, and "Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries," http://stats.bls.gov/iif/oshcfoi1.htm.
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