By Mark London Williams
So begins BTL’s series of profiles of the Presidential candidates, starting with a look at the burgeoning pack on the Democratic side, as one candidate seeks to emerge over the months, caucuses, and primaries ahead, to become the main alternative to incumbent George W. Bush, still seeking actual “election” – as that phrase is commonly understood – to the Oval Office.
We begin with Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, not because we thought it’d be nice to kick off this string of articles with the candidate who’s endorsed by Willie Nelson, but rather, with the candidate who’s a card-carrying member of a below-the-line local—IATSE’s own International Cinematographers Guild, Local 600.
Kucinich got his union card during an early stint as a cameraman for a Cleveland-area TV station, and he’s stayed current in his dues ever since. Of course, being a union man is smart when mounting a political career in an area peopled by “Reagan Democrats”—working class folks who can often be lured into voting against their economic interests with a successful GOP campaign blitz about “tax-and-spend liberals,” or abortion, or of late, those hard-to-catch terrorists and renegade heads of state.
As Cleveland mayor, an Ohio state senator, and now U.S. Representative, Kucinich was able to win over enough voters by convincing them that he’d look out for their economic interests. He can get a labor crowd going, as he did in a speech to the Iowa AFL-CIO earlier this year, when he opened by saying “I was born into the House of Labor. My father was a Teamster who drove a truck for 35 years. He died with his first retirement check in his pocket, uncashed.” He then goes on to hold up both his House of Representatives card, and his IATSE card, saying of the congressional ID, “this is where my work is,” and of the IATSE card “this is where my heart is.”
Among positions Kucinich has staked out to make a working heart happy, are support for a single-payer health care system – “Medicare for all” – to be phased in over ten years, repeal of NAFTA and the U.S. membership in the WTO, an ambitious public works program restoring the crumbling national infrastructure – a program that would create jobs both directly and by using such components as U.S. steel.
Kucinich has also been a long-standing opponent of the Iraq invasion—well before it was fashionable, actually, but he hasn’t been able to translate that into additional support the way Vermont Governor Howard Dean has.
Indeed, Kucinich is mired at fairly low poll numbers—a situation that isn’t helped by the dearth of press time he’s gotten. Still, Dean was only taken seriously because judicious use of the Internet led to a credible amount of money in the till—and money, ultimately, is what makes or breaks candidacies. Kucinich’s grassroots supporters—unionized or otherwise—will have to work long and hard to ensure he remains a viable choice.
Still, those supporters remain resilient. Here’s what columnist/author/jazz fan/cigar smoker Studs Terkel had to say about the Congressman in a recent online interview with The Onion: “So Schwarzenegger gets elected because they know who he is. But they’ve never heard of a guy named Dennis Kucinich… He’s the one who first told Bush ‘Go to hell!’ when it came to the pre-emptive strike… He’s the one who said ‘No!’ to tax cuts that would just benefit a few. But… he’s never mentioned in the news—just a throwaway phrase, ‘The ninth candidate.’ And he’s the closest thing there is to the answer. People looking for a guy with guts, with principles, here he is.”
And anyway, why should SAG be the only union providing candidates for higher office?
By Mark London Williams