I know Kucinich supporters don't like Hillary Clinton. When I write about her, they respond, again and again. "She's a bought and paid corporatist." "She backed the Iraq war from the beginning." "She supported the regressive bankruptcy bill." In fact, many say, "If she's nominated I'm staying home." Or. "If Hillary gets the nomination, I'll change my registration to Independent and vote third party."
So think about how you'd feel if the headlines after the early caucuses and primaries read "Hillary places third," and you were part of that process. Imagine if those losses helped stop her nomination, the party ended up with either Barack Obama or John Edwards as the nominee, and one of the two became America's president. I suspect you'd feel a whole lot better than having Hillary as president. And way better than our enacting Bush revisited through her losing to Guiliani, Huckabee, Romney, Thompson, or even the reborn John McCain, who's not only promoted the Iraq war since before it happened, but even got caught on video singing "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran" to the words of the classic Beach Boys song, as if war with Iran were some kind of joke. I'm sure you'd rather see Edwards or Obama than any of these.
But of course you'd rather have Kucinich. He's the most progressive, you say, and that's true. He opposed the war from the beginning and even organized Congress against it. He's got a great platform, and is strong on every issue, the antithesis of a corporate tool.
But he's also not going to be the nominee. No one has come from polling one or two percent at this late date to capture the presidency. No Congressman has won since James Garfield. There are just too many other candidates at this point with too much support, momentum, and money. If Kucinich hasn't captured America's imagination enough so far, there's just not time for this to happen fast enough to win. I also think his message plays better with already committed progressive audiences than with those less political, one reason it hasn't resonated more in the polls. And my guess is that America's just not ready for a vegan, which while it shouldn't make any difference, offers prime fodder for the Karl Rove types about how he's so out of the mainstream he's going to try to take away people's macaroni and cheese.
So if Kucinich can't win, supporting him in the key early races means valuing a symbolic educational campaign over one that has the capacity to actually affect who is nominated.
I think Kucinich people can make a difference, and that the tradeoffs are worth it to support Edwards or Obama.
Right now Clinton, Obama, and Edwards are all running virtually neck-and-neck in the Iowa polls. Any of them could win. Any could come in third. In the latest averages, they're within five percentage points of each other, between 25% & 30%. Whatever the outcome, it's going to set the tone for subsequent momentum, media coverage, money, and everything else that makes such a critical difference in who wins. Because the primary and caucus schedule is so compressed, and quite possibly over by mid-February, whoever emerges from those first few primaries with major momentum will likely be the nominee.
So how could Kucinich supporters, with their candidate polling at 1%-2%, even make a difference? First, because it's a caucus system, this favors groups that are organized and enthusiastic. Only 125,000 people attended Iowa's Democratic caucuses last round, but they sank Howard Dean's candidacy when he was the clear favorite going in. If Kucinich supporters could get out 12,500 people that's 10% of the vote, if 6250, 5%. Neither would be enough to qualify under the 15% threshold for representation, but if they could account for even just a few points difference in how the delegates are allocated, that might shift who comes first among the three leading Democrats. It might make the difference between Hillary being the nominee and Edwards or Obama.
A bit more on Hillary's dangers: I've written about her potential to shatter the Democratic coalition and bring about a Republican resurgence even if she gets in. Recent polls actually show her losing or in a dead heat with McCain, Giuliani, and in some polls, Romney and Huckabee, Even if she does get in, progressives are likely to be fighting her on half the initiatives she proposes. She also spent more money in 2006 than in all but one Senate campaign in America's history--to win a race she could have won in her pajamas, and at a time when shifting dollars to other Democratic campaigns would likely have gained a few more seats.
So are Edwards or Obama any better? I'd say Edwards is a whole lot more progressive now than in 2004--sometimes major life crises will do that to you. But even back then, he was progressive enough that the Kucinich campaign instructed its supporters to team up with those of Edwards and tip each other over the Iowa vote thresholds wherever possible. Edwards isn't perfect, but I've seen him go into a room of trade union activists and lead not just with economic justice issues where he knows he's going to get a strong reception, but with the Iraq war and global warming--the opposite of pandering to his audience. I've also seen him use scarce campaign money to run ads asking Congress to stand up to Bush on the war. And he was the first of the three major candidates to have a strong and comprehensive global warming plan, and the first to have some comprehensive universal health care plan. He's spent a lot of time addressing issues like poverty that are hardly political winners. And yes, he's a bit wealthy for my tastes, but at least he made his money fighting major corporations. He's speaking out enough about their power on the campaign trail, that this makes him my first choice, though Obama also has a lot that's attractive. In contrast with Hillary, neither of them are taking money from corporate lobbyists, and neither voted for the awful Kyl-Lieberman amendment on Iran.
Obama's also got some pretty progressive history. He spoke out against the war before it started, and has continued to do so, even if I would have liked his voice a little louder. Both he and Edwards are clear that it is unacceptable to keep American bases in Iraq, while Hillary Clinton has equivocated. Equally important, Obama began as a community organizer, working in low-income communities, then returned to represent social justice advocates after his graduation from Harvard Law School, foregoing far more lucrative opportunities. Obama's also watched his mother spend her last months while dying of cancer having to read through the fine print on the forms of an insurance company that was trying to drop her coverage. That's an experience that could resonate with America. Finally both Obama and Edwards talk explicitly about the links between past movements for justice, and the need to build their successors in the present--while Clinton, I believe, sees current activists mostly as a troublesome threat. To me those are significant differences.
It also matters that both Edwards and Obama also beat the Republican candidates in most major polls. That's important if for no other reason than because one more Supreme Court Justice like Alito or Roberts, and we'll spend the next thirty years with courts that would have make Mussolini proud. And because the Republicans will do little or nothing on the most critical threat of global warming (even John McCain recently absented himself when his vote could have broken the Republican filibuster on the most progressive energy bill in 30 years). And because pallid as the Democrats can be, and they can be pallid, they won't appoint people like the National Labor Relations Board officials who have been busily reclassifying nurses as supervisors so they can't join a union, and prohibiting the use of workplace emails for union-related concerns. So winnability matters as well.
Over the next six weeks you're going to have a choice. You can vote for Kucinich in your primaries and caucuses, make a symbolic point, and maybe give him a shade more clout to stay in the race. But whether he gets 1% or 5%, his presence when they're done is going to be minimal, and his coverage negligible as well. Your other choice is to do what you can to try to make Edwards or Obama the nominee, and potentially help tip the balance in who ends up president. To me, that's the greater political impact
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association. His previous books include Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time. See www.paulloeb.org To receive his articles directly email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-articles