Youngest mayor of Cleveland, spiritual seeker, congressmember, vegan, survivor of a mob-hit contract, two-time presidential candidate — no, he’s not the guy from the Dos Equis commercials. He’s Dennis Kucinich, native inhabitant of the Democratic Party’s most left-wing boundaries and persistent pacifist. A victim of redistricting, Kucinich lost his last bid for the House of Representatives in a primary challenge and is once again reworking his identity, embarking on a path that will bring him to Santa Barbara on Friday. He kindly took a few minutes with The Santa Barbara Independent to offer a preview of his lecture.
This won’t be your first visit to Santa Barbara. This time is very special because I’m coming to give the 12th annual Frank K. Kelly lecture for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and that came about because I’ve worked with David Krieger over the years on a number of important issues relating to nuclear disarmament and how we can create paths to peace in our society. So it’s a chance not only to connect with David but also all the people he works with to talk about a way forward.
Can you give our readers a bit of a teaser? Generally speaking, I’m going to be reviewing where we are with respect to violence in our society. I’ll be talking about a path out of that wilderness, and there is one. It’ll be a lecture that will have to do with hope, not simply mulling over our current condition, which is grim.
So what have you been up to post-Congress? A number of things. I’m working on a book. This is the start of a speaking tour. My wife and I just formed a company for strategic consulting called Capitol K. I’m also a part-time analyst on Fox News. My days are quite full, and I’m continuing the work I’ve been doing not only the last 16 years in Congress but also throughout my entire life.
Your new contract with Fox News has gained media attention. Throughout my career in Congress, Fox News has invited me on to give my point of view. To me, I’m continuing to do what I’ve been doing, which is to be available to a major media outlet. I appreciate the opportunity because it’s a big audience and it’s one that may not necessarily agree with my point of view. But we need to communicate with people who may not agree with us. That’s the essence of trying to build a more peaceful culture.
When I watch cable news, I often see stock character from the left arguing with stock character from the right. Well, I’m not exactly out of central casting.
The news sometimes seems to replicate the combativeness of Congress. The manner in which we proceed is very important, and I always try to be respectful. I always try to listen to what the other person is saying.
Is it tough transitioning to civilian life? No, because for me holding the office wasn’t the end-all and be-all. One does not need a certificate of election to be able to positively impact matters in our society. When I was in Congress, I demonstrated that I could lead the way to challenge wars, to challenge the national security state, to challenge the erosion of civil liberties, to challenge the degradation of the environment, and I did that every day. I did it with great passion. I’m pouring forth that same passion as a private citizen.
You were a really staunchly progressive voice in the Democratic Party. Do you worry that that voice is gone, whether it’s yours or someone else’s? The Democratic Party has a long way to go to fulfill the promise that it has as a party, and I feel there is still a place within the party to keep pushing it to be more responsive to matters relating to peace and social justice. There are members who are good people. They need encouragement, and that’s something we can all be involved in.
I remember seeing an article saying that you were thinking of running for Congress in Washington State. Was that something you were seriously considering? That was over a year ago when my district in Ohio had been cut into four pieces. You can imagine a pie cut into four, and I had to decide which quadrant I would represent or decide whether I would run in another area. I’ve had a lot of support in the Pacific Northwest, and people were encouraging me to come. It didn’t work out. The support is still there, but I certainly appreciate the national interest in my efforts. And I continue to stay in touch with people around the country to not only encourage their involvement but also their belief that it is possible to change things.
Do you think you might return to elected office? That’s possible, but it’s not on my immediate agenda. I’m really happy and optimistic and not feeling that my personal happiness depends on holding an elected office. … The ability to serve is something that any one of us can determine that we are going to do regardless of where we stand. And that’s the point. As a member of Congress … I challenged administrations, whether Democrat or Republican, for keeping us in war.
It can seem counterintuitive that we would be involved in foreign conflicts when there is an anti-violence wing of the Democratic Party and a Republican party that is ideologically opposed to interventions. That’s the dilemma we ended up in in Libya. Many Republicans did not support it. I tried to put together a coalition to stop that war, and it’s been a disaster from day one. But this goes beyond the partisan. It goes to the deeper question, “What’s our country about?” I’ll be talking about that. “Are we about the next war or are we about the next peace?”
Dennis Kucinich will deliver his lecture Restoring Hopes for America’s Future Through Developing a Culture of Peace, at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, February 8, at the Lobero Theatre. The event is free and open to the public.