BuzzFlash Interviews Congressman Dennis Kucinich
April 2, 2002
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW WITH CONGRESSMAN DENNIS J. KUCINICH, WHO ADVOCATES CREATING A DEPARTMENT OF PEACE
Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-10th) struck a resonant chord with BuzzFlash readers when we posted his "Prayer for America," which he delivered as a speech to the Southern California Americans for Democratic Action on February 17th. If you haven't read "Prayer for America," do so now (http://www.house.gov/kucinich/press/sp-020217-prayer.htm).
Kucinich captured, in one evening's remarks, the pent-up frustration of the pro-democracy movement in America. He spoke directly and imploringly of the need to question the current direction of the United States under the Bush administration. The "Prayer for America" is an impassioned, stirring, detailed and incisive call for courage, accountability and peace.
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BUZZFLASH: On February 17, 2002, you made a speech to the Southern California Americans for Democratic Action. You offered a prayer for America that has seemed to touched upon, in an eloquent way, the feelings of many Americans in the pro-democracy movement who feel that things are not quite right with the country. Can you tell BuzzFlash a little bit about how you came to write and deliver this prayer?
DENNIS J. KUCINICH: I actually woke up that Sunday morning at about 7:00 and I began to write, and I wrote for about two hours. It just flowed. I just sat down and thought about the condition of the nation at the moment, and how I could try to synthesize it into a single statement.
BUZZFLASH: Your hope is that we can somehow, through this time, preserve democracy. But you also seem to have a healthy dose of skepticism in terms of the Bush administration's handling of the situation, and that perhaps some of what is being done is being done with a political motive. Why do you think that this prayer has seemed to touch such a vein among progressives, liberals, Democrats and independents?
DENNIS J. KUCINICH: And libertarians, and quite a few conservatives I might add. I think people have been waiting for someone to speak out. I don't know that I'm the first one to speak out. After the speech was posted on the Web, several weeks ago, I've since received about 15,000 e-mails. And those have come from all over the country. And that was just on my personal e-mail. I put my e-mail address with the speech so that the people connected with the Americans for Democratic Action could contact me if they wanted to. I had no idea it was going to strike such a powerful chord in this country. The fact that it did is indicative of a spirit in America which is not going to be submerged in fear -- and in the exercise of war and the specter of a nuclear first strike.
BUZZFLASH: Now the administration, and certainly the Attorney General, explicitly stated a while back that if Americans question or challenge any of the administration's policy, Americans would be, in essence, aiding or abetting terrorists. You suggest that the true patriot and true pro-democracy advocate understands that our basic liberties and sense of democracy are indeed what makes us special, and we should never succumb to the threat of terrorism. The implication being that the administration is allowing terrorism to subvert what is most essential and basic to our democracy.
DENNIS J. KUCINICH: In the debate, when Congress was considering authorizing the President to take action as a result of the events on September 11th, I stated then that we should not let the terrorists win. How do terrorists win? Terrorists win by forcing changes in the constitutional structure of a nation. Terrorists win by forcing a retrenchment of the basic rights to free speech, rights of association, right of due process, and many other rights. The terrorists win when there is a climate of fear created in a nation, and then is accentuated by government pronouncements.
America has a right to, and must defend itself. And I voted for that. But, as I said in my speech, we in the Congress have a responsibility to monitor the conduct of the administration and the conduct of its response. It's a Constitutional duty we cannot walk away from. We are a co-equal branch of government. People sometimes forget that.
BUZZFLASH: In the middle of your Prayer for America, you have a list of about twenty points that specify what the Congress did not authorize. You stated: "we did not authorize the invasion of Iraq; we did not authorize the invasion of Iran; we did not authorize invasion of North Korea." This is called a war on terrorism, but Congress has never declared a war.
DENNIS J. KUCINICH: Congress has not declared a war, because we wouldn't know who to declare the war against. Usually you declare war against a state. And if we had declared war against a state, it would not have been Afghanistan, because Afghanistan did not take the position of having attacked us. We were attacked by foreign nationals, most of whom came from Saudi Arabia. I think 15 of the 19 assailants, came from Saudi Arabia. You never hear discussion about what that might mean.
And so what I wanted to point out is that this administration has begun to take a free license as to where they would prosecute a war. We did not give them the authority to do that. It wasn't a declaration of war. It was licensing the President's ability to respond to anyone who perpetrated the acts of September 11th. But there was never any evidence they offered that I've ever heard of that Iraq was involved. Never any evidence that Iran or North Korea was involved. So what's this all about?
BUZZFLASH: How does Congress feel about reclaiming its given authority to be the branch of government that does declare war and allow the executive branch then to pursue a course of action?
DENNIS J. KUCINICH: Well, first of all, this whole idea about declaring war - I mean, we can declare peace too. But let's get to the point, and that is that Congress needs to regain its authority by asking questions. We have to ask questions and we have to demand answers. We have to carry out our Constitutional duties so that we critically analyze what the administration is doing, and, if necessary, withhold funds.
BUZZFLASH: Now speaking of waging peace, even before September 11th, you introduced a bill to create a Department of Peace, which has 43 co-sponsors. Can you tell us a little bit about that initiative?
DENNIS J. KUCINICH: Yes. The bill to create a Department of Peace is a bill that seeks to make nonviolence an organizing principle in our society for domestic as well as international policy. On a domestic level, it would address issues that relate to domestic violence, spousal abuse, child abuse, abuse of the elderly, and so on. It would pay attention to police-community relations, racial violence, violence in the schools. It would seek to create an educational environment where children could learn principles of nonviolence in their everyday lives.
On an international level, it would seek to do nothing less than to make war archaic. Because who has said that war is inevitable? Who has said that nations must forever be attacking each other? So we need to have confidence in our own capacity for evolution. The administration has asked for $45 billion more this year for national defense. Not acceptable. It's a shift of priorities in this country. And the defense systems they're funding have nothing to do with preventing terrorism.
BUZZFLASH: I noticed a quote from you in an Associated Press article
in regards to the missile defense plan. You said, "We can't afford
to waste billions of dollars because of the Bush administration's theological
fascination with missile defense. No threat assessment exists to justify
the spending." (http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=
Can you explain what you mean by a theological fascination?
DENNIS J. KUCINICH: I think that there are people in the administration that believe that Armageddon is coming. And they think that this missile defense is going to be the manner of protecting the United States against an attack. And yet by announcing a first-strike policy, they have put America on a path that endangers this nation more so than anything that could come from some other country because it creates fear. And when that fear happens, it sets the stage for a conflict.
BUZZFLASH: You are the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Can you just briefly tell BuzzFlash readers what is the Progressive Caucus? Many people aren't aware it exists.
DENNIS J. KUCINICH: We have 64 members in the Democratic Party. And those 64 members are committed to the social and economic progress of our country. And it starts with making sure that we have jobs for all, health care for all, decent housing for all, and we make sure that government serves all the people. That there's a tax structure that's fair - that those who have great wealth pay their fair share. They're all very active in the House of Representatives in many different areas. What we're trying to do is to get the Democratic Party itself to pay more attention to issues such as unemployment, health insurance, prescription drugs, and protecting Social Security and Medicare. All of these issues deal with the practical realities of people's lives.
And I also want to invite any of your readers to a Web site which we just put up to help organize response across this country. It's called www.thespiritoffreedom.com* People ask: well, what can we do? We're going to start putting together a series of measures as to how people can empower themselves and others in communities across the country.
BUZZFLASH: Thank you so much for your time Congressman Kucinich. Again, congratulations. This Prayer for America is just magnificently eloquent, and BuzzFlash readers responded to it quite strongly.
Additional Note: BuzzFlash also recommends that you read Congressman Kucinich's speech on "Peace and Nuclear Disarmament" at:
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*BuzzFlash was informed that Congressman Kucinich's campaign web site is http://www.kucinich.us/ (5/22/03).
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