Kucinich on Democracy Now! explaining his switch

Why did Kucinich decide to vote for this bill?  Why is he whipping for it?  I’m trying to figure this out myself.


(Watch the whole interview there, or read it, or listen to it.)

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Dennis Kucinich joins us now in Washington, DC.

Well, Congress member Kucinich, you did not get what you were asking for, yet you are now supporting this bill. Explain what happened and why you think this bill merits your support.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, first of all, I appreciate that you covered that part where I said that I don’t retract anything that I said before. I had taken the effort to put a public option into the bill and also to create an opportunity for states to have their right protected to pursue single payer. I took it all the way down to the line with the President, the Speaker of the House, Democratic leaders. And it became clear to me that, despite my best efforts, I wasn’t going to be able to get it in the bill and that I was going to inevitably be looking at a bill that-where I was a decisive vote and that I was basically, by virtue of circumstances, being put in a position where I could either kill the bill or let it go forward and-in the hopes that we could build something from the ruins of this bill.

I think that-you know, I mean, I can just tell you, it was a very tough decision. But I believe that now we need to look to support the efforts at the state level for single payer, to really jump over this debate and not have all those who want to see transformative change in healthcare be blamed for this bill going down. I think that really it’s a dangerous moment. You know, the Clinton healthcare reforms, which I thought were very weak, it’s been sixteen years since we’ve had a discussion about healthcare reform because of the experience of the political maelstrom that hit Washington. And I saw-I came to the conclusion, Amy, that it was going to-it would be impossible to start a serious healthcare discussion in Washington if this bill goes down, despite the fact that I don’t like it at all. And every criticism I made still stands.

I want to see this as a step. It’s not the step that I wanted to take, but a step so that after it passes, we can continue the discussion about comprehensive healthcare reform, about what needs to be done at the state level, because that’s really where we’re going to have to, I think, have a breakthrough in single payer, about diet, nutrition, comprehensive alternative medicine. There’s many things that we can do. But if the bill goes down and we get blamed for it, I think there’ll be hell to pay, and in the end, it’ll just be used as an excuse as to why Washington couldn’t get to anything in healthcare in the near future.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Congressman, I’d like to ask you, several other members of Congress who have had discussions with President Obama in recent days, as he sought their support, have said that he has essentially told them that this is-his presidency is riding on this, that to defeat the bill would severely hamper the remaining time in his presidency and also the election in November. Did he make that argument to you, as well? And did that have any impact on your decision?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: We talked about that. I mean, I have been thinking for quite awhile about, you know, what this means in terms of the Obama presidency. And frankly, you know, I’ve had differences with this president, on the economy, on environment, on war. And so, you know, I really hadn’t given them many votes at all. But he made-he did make the argument that there was a lot on the line. And frankly, there’s been such an effort to delegitimatize his presidency, right from the beginning, that, you know, in looking at the big picture here, we have to see if there’s a way to get into this administration with an argument that could possibly influence the President to take some new directions. Standing at the sidelines, I think, is not an option right now, because, you know, we have to try to reshape the Obama presidency. And I hope that, in some small way, through my participation in trying to take healthcare in a new direction, that I can help do that.

And, you know, I-look, I can’t give any kind of process a blessing. I don’t like much of anything of what’s happening here, except to say that I think that down the road we need to jump over this debate and go right to a bigger debate about how do we get healthcare that’s significant, how do we supplant the role of private insurers. We’re not going to be able to do it on this pass. I have done everything that I possibly can to try to take a position and stake out ground to say I’m not going to change, but there’s a point at which you say, you know, it’s my way or the highway. And if the highway shows a roadblock and you go over a cliff, I don’t know what good that does, when you take a detour and maybe we can still get to the destination, which, for me, remains single payer. Start at the state level, and do the work there. And if there’s ERISA implications and lawsuits, we’ll have to deal with that, and maybe that can force Congress to finally act on some of those issues.

I’m beginning to understand his decision, I believe.  He thinks that if he plays the “Ralph Nader” role (who was actually on the same episode of DN! at the same time as Kucinich) then it will kill the chances of single payer in the future.  He sees this bill as a detour – a bad one, but not the worst possible thing in the world.

Please watch the whole interview.  Something else to consider is what David Swanson, who worked on Kucinich’s presidential campaign, said:

I don’t think Kucinich flipped because of money, either direct “contributions” or money through the Democratic Party. I think, on the contrary, he hurt himself financially by letting down his supporters across the country. I don’t think he caved into the power of party or presidency directly. I don’t think they threatened to back a challenger or strip his subcommittee chair or block his bills, although all of that might have followed. I think the corporate media has instilled in people the idea that presidents should make laws and that the current president is trying to make a law that can reasonably be called “healthcare reform” or at least “health insurance reform.”

I’m not entirely satisfied.  But I’m beginning to think about this in a more coherent way than yesterday…


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    • rossl on March 18, 2010 at 21:18

    It’s helped me to understand Kucinich’s position.  Even Nader said that he sympathizes with Kucinich’s position, and Kucinich did say that this is a “dark moment” for real health care reform, and that he’s very constrained by working within the system that he’s working in.

    If you’ve decided to leave the Democrats, more power to you.  I’m working for a Green’s election here in PA ( http://hughgiordano.com ).  But please give this some thought before you condemn Kucinich himself.

    • dkmich on March 18, 2010 at 22:55

    If obama’s so concerned about his presidency, he should have thought of that before he escalated Afghanistan, looked forward on torture, and bailed out the banks with no strings attached.  Obama and this bill suck, and I don’t care what happens to either of them.  I had decided to only contribute to Dennis and Bernie, now I can save that money too.  Dennis sold out, and I told him so.  

  1. it’s so hard to fathom what really went down.  It’s also very hard to be the “lone wolf” surrounded by “hunters.”  My guess is that either it has to do with the notion that President Obama does not want to lose all the way around because of a health care bill that he couldn’t get passed and the further notion that it would be how many years before the business of the health care reform came up again, that Kucinich may have felt he had no other choice in making the decision that he did.  The other thought I have is that maybe he was threatened by many that he would lose his seat.  

    Yes, it’s disappointing, to say the least, and I truly find it hard to believe that he actually did what he did, were it not for the contingencies riding on him (well, not entirely, but partially).

    The other possibility may be, but then again, who knows,  what I have shown here, more toward the bottom, (and I believe to be your diary, at Alternet, included).

  2. we have to see if there’s a way to get into this administration with an argument that could possibly influence the President to take some new directions. Standing at the sidelines, I think, is not an option right now, because, you know, we have to try to reshape the Obama presidency. And I hope that, in some small way, through my participation in trying to take healthcare in a new direction, that I can help do that.

    So he thinks if the liberals vote for the bill there will be some slight chance that the President might start listening to them.  Sigh.

    No, the Republicans will just roll over you much easier on the next bill, because they see they can get the President to throw you off the bus, but some people never learn.  

  3. Stick a fork in it.  

    • banger on March 19, 2010 at 15:10

    … and that is Kucinich. I don’t “agree” with his position but his situation has to be understood. He is useful as a voice in his party and he doesn’t want to lose everything. Pelosi/Obama want this vote to turn out for them. It is not about the substance of the bill that doesn’t, in fact, take hold until 2014 by which time, in my view, it will be dropped for one reason or the other because, as a piece of legislation it is pathetic and laughable at the same time

    Kucinich owes something to the community he lives in. It is a make or break moment. I don’t support his community but then I don’t have to live in it. He has chosen to be a Democrat in the House and this is a point in history when that community must decide whether it favors any kind of legislation that even appears progressive or whether it will just roll into the all-around deliberate cruelty that is the Republican Party which represents about a third of the American people who are cruel, violent, and almost criminally insane as can be seen not only from politics but from popular culture.

  4. consortium that controls the rules and plays the percentages, may soon be given the dictatorial powers to completely manage the medical care of all Americans.

    What appears to be a 100 year battle for universal care, seems to have been cleverly hijacked by bankers right before our eyes; doctors, hospitals, patients all losers.

    Medical care should never be hostage to politics and economics. By now, it should be considered a basic human right in the spheres of philosophy and ethics, from where politics obtains its guidance.

    Waiting until 2014 is immoral, and IMHO if there is not a gigantic bureaucracy to respond to, interpret or enforce a 100,000,000 questions, complaints and policies, I don’t see how this thing can work. Kucinich is irrelevant, but he’s certainly a good guy.

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