Kucinich: Vote for Yourself

By Rachel Dowd

Originally published on Advocate.com January 03 2008 1:00 AM ET

If you go by
certain polls, Dennis Kucinich is a shoo-in for the
presidency of the United States. For instance, in Democracy
for America’s online poll of more than 150,000
potential voters, the congressman from Ohio took 32%
of the vote -- more than Hillary Clinton (4%) and Barack
Obama (14%) combined. A staggering 77% of respondents in a
nationwide poll by IndependentPrimary.com choose him
as the best candidate for the job; and, according to a
query posed by the Virginia Democratic Party this
December, 30% of the democrats in that state would back him
if the primary were held today.

Of course there
are other polls. Notably, the one last November from
Hunter College in New York, which found that 63% of gay,
lesbian, and bisexual likely voters will cast their
ballots for Clinton in the primaries, followed by 22%
for Obama and 7% for John Edwards. Interestingly, when
asked to rank the gay rights most important to them,
half of the respondents said, “legalizing gay
marriage.” Not a strong point for these
candidates.

Let’s
review: Of the seven Democratic contenders, only former
Alaska senator Mike Gravel and Kucinich support gay
marriage. The rest are content with federally
recognized civil unions or domestic partnerships. On
other important gay issues, Kucinich, like his competitors,
supports a trans-inclusive employment
nondiscrimination act, a federal hate-crimes law
covering sexual orientation and gender identity, the repeal
of “don’t ask, don’t
tell,” access to survivor benefits, equal tax
treatment for same-sex couples, unfettered gay
adoption, and funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and
treatment.

But let’s
say you’re like the 79% of gays in the Hunter poll
who don’t consider gay rights the most
important issue affecting your vote. In that case it
might be important to note that Kucinich is the only
Democratic candidate to oppose the Iraq war from the
outset, when it was political suicide to do so. He
supports not-for-profit universal health care,
withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreeement
and World Trade Organization until all countries agree
to the same environmental and human rights standards,
and raising the minimum wage. He’s pro-choice and
pro–medical marijuana, and he introduced impeachment
proceedings against Vice President Dick Cheney.

In short,
he’s the candidate we’ve been asking for. So
why aren’t you voting for Dennis Kucinich?

We caught up with
the candidate in New Hampshire on the eve of the
Iowa primaries to ask him what he thought about being the
very dark horse in the race for the Democratic
nomination.

How intimidating is it to be the long shot in the
run for the Democratic nomination?

Not at all.
People in the LGBT community understand what it’s
like to go against the odds. They’ve been doing
that their whole lives. And there are a lot of
Americans that face long odds every day as to whether
they’ll have a job, health insurance, education,
housing. So I understand what it’s like to be a
long shot. But long shots do win, and they win when
people stand up for what they believe in.

Like, say, marriage equality.

If the LGBT
community doesn’t stand for marriage equality and
supports a candidate without an established record of
supporting it early and consistently, then how can you
ever hope to win? If you don’t vote your heart,
your heart never wins.

Anyone who saw
the Logo Forum learned a lot about the different
candidates. They can still go to the website because
it’s still up. They can see how people
responded in the moment to the question and see whose
heart is open and whose isn’t. Hillary Clinton is
essentially saying, “It’s not time
yet.” And Senator Edwards is having quite a bit of
difficulty with it. Why? What’s that about? This
issue becomes not only a question of where we are on
the issue but where we stand with ourselves—as
inevitably any issue that concerns the LGBT community does.
Anyone who would have to wring their hands over the issue of
marriage equality doesn’t get it.

To me it’s
a very simple question of equal protection of the law.
It’s a constitutional issue, and as president
of the United States, I’m going to make sure
that people are not denied equal protection of the law for
any reason, including sexual orientation.

What do you say to gays who think you’re
unelectable and therefore a wasted vote?

People have to
know that they can win. It’s not about what candidate
wins. Will LGBT people be winners in this election? The only
way you can win is to have the courage to vote for
what you want. A courageous vote is the only vote
worth casting. As a community of people with courage,
the LGBT community has been able to demonstrate a great deal
of courage and authenticity. So why would politics
represent something different than what our lives
represent?

I’m not
disappointed what the people in the community do.
It’s their right to choose whomever they want.
But I think there needs to be a pretty open and candid
discussion about how you get to where you want to go
if the people you’re traveling with don’t want
what it is you want.

If you want
marriage equality and you vote for someone who isn’t
for marriage equality, then you can’t complain
later on that you don’t have marriage equality.
If you want marriage equality, then support someone
who stands for it -- because that demonstrates integrity.
It’s really simple. You want health care, and
you vote for a candidate who’s in favor of
propagating a for-profit system? Then you can’t
afford health care. You want to end the war in Iraq,
and you vote for someone who decides to keep the
troops there until 2013 or longer? And the next year you
say, “Gee, I wish we were out of Iraq.”
You know what? You voted for that candidate. You have
to take responsibility for the consequences of your
vote. This is a moment when people have to take
responsibility not just for their decision but the
consequences of that decision.

What responsibility do the candidates have?

We are in a
period right now when candidates are unlikely to take
responsibility for the consequences of their decision. We
may say we’re wrong, but there’s no
consequence for that decision. John Edwards can vote
for the war. He can say he was wrong. But where is the
consequence? And it doesn’t show any change in
judgment when he says of Iran, all options are on the
table.

The most
important decision anybody running for president would have
to make is whether to send young men and women to
battle, to put their lives in danger. If you’re
wrong, how do you say you're sorry to the parents of a
dead soldier? How do you say you’re sorry to the
millions of innocent Iraqis who have lost their lives
to a war based on lies? How do you say you’re
sorry to taxpayers whose government borrowed money from
China to finance this war in Iraq?

If elections are
only about voting for the winner, we’re going to have
a Republican because the Democrats aren’t
establishing a clear enough difference between who we
are and who they are.

Don’t Democrats these days essentially think
it’s safer to play the center line?

Playing it safe
means forgoing marriage equality. That’s
accommodating a system that’s ready to deny
people fundamental human rights. To me, the minute you
stop fighting for your rights is the minute you start losing
your rights. That’s what’s happening in
America today. The wiretapping, the eavesdropping, the
government going into people’s health records and
financial records. We’ve stopped fighting for our
rights. The peace movement has basically given up.

So what I
represent is courage to stand up for what I believe in and
to demonstrate to other people that it’s
possible to stand up for what they believe in.
That’s the way to win. Victory isn’t measured
by what happens on a certain day in New Hampshire or
Iowa, Nevada or Michigan or South Carolina. Victory is
determined by one’s own integrity expressed every
moment. The minute we stop doing that, we become something
the system describes.

But why should it take courage to vote for what
you’ve been asking for?

I think
there’s a winner’s psychology, which the mass
media propels, that promotes a false consensus. And
actually it often disenfranchises people, because
people keep voting against their own interests.

The one great
gift the LGBT community has given to the world is personal
authenticity, integrity, and the courage to be who you are
in an open and uncompromised way. There’s real
power there. You’re going to give that up to
vote for someone because they might win and they
don’t stand for marriage equality? To me,
that’s antithetical to the entire movement and
counterproductive to the point of being worrisome.

This is the one
community that should be strong enough. If you make
concessions on the issue of marriage equality, the
possibility of it happening is going to diminish. The
reason any gains have been made is because people were
willing to go out on a limb. And you know what?
That’s where the fruit is -- out on the limb.

Anyone who has watched the final minutes of a football
game only has to look at quarterback’s face
to realize if he stops believing he can win, the
game is lost. Is there a point when you give up the game?

That’s a
good analogy. OK, let’s say it gets to be fourth down
with 99 yards to go. I’m not going to punt.

So you’re not getting out.

You got it.