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Earlier this year we were sitting around a table with seven people talking politics. It was the aftermath of a funeral for a co-worker's mom, and, unlike the News Hits crew, the folks sitting around us weren't all flaming lefties. Nearly all of them, though, when asked about the presidential candidates, said they liked Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic U.S. representative from Ohio. But in almost the same breath, these same people expressed the view that Kucinich didn't have a chance.
We found it interesting that a somewhat random group of people could both embrace a candidate and yet, despite seeing that others felt the same, could also write that candidate off as being a lost cause. This was still early in the game, but already the front-runners had been identified. And by the time the debates began, Kucinich was already being shoved to the margins, receiving a fraction of the attention given to candidates leading in the polls.
Whenever it comes time to make endorsements, we here at Metro Times often find ourselves engaged in a vigorous debate: Do we go with the candidate who most closely holds the policies and positions we embrace — which, it often seems, is a candidate who has little chance of winning — or do we compromise and give our stamp of approval to a candidate that we might not wholly embrace, but at least seems to have a chance of being elected?
It is a debate that has merit on both sides: One is driven primarily by ideals, the other more pragmatic.
Because of the hopelessly messed-up nature of this year's Democratic primary, Metro Times isn't making an endorsement this time out. Two of the three candidates given a realistic chance at winning the nomination — former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois — took their names off the ballot after the national party objected to Michigan moving its primary date forward. And, as punishment for that maverick move, the national party has decided that Michigan delegates to the national convention won't have a say in selecting the Democratic candidate.
But that doesn't mean Tuesday's vote has to be a meaningless one for Michigan Democrats or, for that matter, progressives of all stripes (Greens, are you listening?).
Were Edwards and Obama on the ballot, we'd be having our most intense debate in memory around the offices of the Metro Times. Given the stranglehold white males have had on the nation's top office since America's founding, how do you not support either a woman or an African-American man for the presidency when there are two strong candidates in the running?
Unless you were being pragmatic and believed that this country still isn't evolved enough to elect a woman — especially one as hated by the right as Hillary Clinton — or a black man.
Certainly, Obama's victory in Iowa, a state that is 95 percent white, gives hope that we have advanced to the point where race doesn't define a candidate's viability. But winning a caucus — even winning the Democratic nomination — is not the same as winning a general election.
So, would the pragmatic choice for progressives be John Edwards, who has shown a commitment to addressing the issue of poverty and is unleashing lots of hard-hitting populist rhetoric regarding the need to pry loose corporate America's disastrous grip on our government?
Along with all this, we'd also be asking each other this question: Which candidate among the Democrats is truly the most progressive — not just in word, but also in deed? Which one has the record to match the rhetoric, and a platform that can be fully embraced by those of us who occupy a place along the left edge of the political spectrum?
Following Obama's awe-inspiring victory speech the night he won Iowa, one of our colleagues noted how he was thinking about shifting his support from Kucinich to Obama. The Illinois senator is touching people with a charisma that is rarely seen.
But when we asked our colleague what he thought about Obama's health care plan, or his position on NAFTA, we got a blank stare.
Is it enough that a candidate be able to move people with a compelling personal story, a message of hope and a promise of change?
In the short run, maybe. In the long run, we want to hear more.
But that's not the debate we have today.
There are four candidates on the Democratic ballot in Michigan: Clinton, Kucinich, Christopher Dodd and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel. Gravel lacks the record to merit support and Dodd has dropped out. And write-in votes won't be counted.
So that leaves Dennis and Hillary. Or you can mark your ballot "uncommitted."
The way News Hits sees it, this is a perfect opportunity for progressives in Michigan to make a statement without taking any risk. And the way to do that is to vote for Kucinich.
He — not Clinton — is the one who opposed our disastrous invasion of Iraq from the outset. Clinton can claim she was conned by the Bush administration's deceptions, but Kucinich was exposed to the same smoke and saw through it.
Kucinich — not Clinton — is the one calling for immediate troop withdrawal. And he's the one seeking the impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney, demanding that they be held accountable for the damage they've done to this country and its Constitution.
Kucinich — not Clinton — is the one proposing a single-payer, government-run health care system similar to those in place in every other industrialized nation.
Clinton, falling in her husband's footsteps, is a triangulator, looking to stake out territory in between the left and the right to get elected. And you get the sense she doesn't make a decision until after she's held her finger up to see which way the political winds are blowing.
Kucinich is a populist to his core, and is uncompromising in those beliefs. And he's proved he's willing to pay the price of adhering to those beliefs. (You can find an excellent profile of Kucinich by writer Scott Raab in the November issue of Esquire magazine.)
There's a reason he was voted the chair of the House of Representative's Progressive Caucus. Over the years, he has been unwavering in his commitment to peace, human rights, workers rights, economic justice and the environment.
So here's your chance to make a statement. If you are a liberal, and want to make a statement about the type of positions we want to see November's candidate take, your vote Tuesday won't be wasted. And the best part is, there's nothing to lose.
Note: Kucinich will be making several appearances in the metro area this week. Go to dennis4president.com for info.
News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com.