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ex-Congressman Dennis Kucinich: How the U.S. Can Be A Global Winner

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Congressman Kucinich, was there a time in your life when you had a really emotional low that you would share with us?

I would say that throughout my childhood every day was a set of challenges and I don’t think it was much different from a lot of people I grew up with.  So I don’t want to say that we suffered and others didn’t.  However, it was an exciting and challenging period.  My parents dealt with a lot of strife.  There were seven children, a lot of illness in the family, and our family never owned a home.  We moved around a lot, lived in 21 different places by the time I was 17.  We lived in a couple of cars.

In many ways, it was a blessing.  It was a great experience; it was a great teacher about compassion.  It gave me the ability to understand the difficulties that some people can have and, on the other hand, it also showed me that with the right help and encouragement anyone can make it.

Was there ever a time when you were so down that you felt like you could not go any further?

No, but I would say that there was a period when my mother was sick and a number of children in the family were put in an orphanage.  That was a difficult time.  It was a period of very intense sadness and loneliness.

What helped you get through it?

Faith.  Faith in God.  From an early age I learned self reliance.  I learned that no matter how difficult things may seem on any given day, tomorrow will present an opportunity for a better day.  And I developed the capacity for endurance, forbearance, determination.  More than anything, I realized that however bad we had it there were other people that had it worse.  And I learned never to measure anyone by what they have or don’t have in terms of materiality, because I did not rely on the material world to provide us with all the predictability and sustenance we needed.

I learned to rely on faith — on each other — and to realize what a great gift that was.  Faith makes anything possible.  And everything possible.  Combine that with courage and you find that all doors open.

Before we start with our theme — What Does America Need to Do to Improve Its Standing As a Winner in the Global Community — let’s clean up our own backyard.  What are the three most important domestic issues that you want to address?

Healthcare. Jobs. Peace.

How unique is your Health-Care Bill?

The people of America need a comprehensive national health care plan.  I have created one.  The Congressman Kucinich Bill provides for a universal single-payer health-care system that will bring quality health care within the reach of all Americans.

This idea is an idea that is in place in every industrialized democracy in the world.  The bottom line is that we need to recognize that the current healthcare system does not meet the needs of the American people and that many people cannot afford health care.  That is because health care for profit has made it impossible for 46 million Americans to afford health care and for another 50 million Americans to get the level of health care that they need.

My bill recognizes that we already have the resources we need to establish this.  We are already paying the price of a universal health system; we just are not getting it because we have a health-care for-profit system.

I would change this. One out of every four dollars goes for the activities of the For-Profit System:  Corporate profits.  Executive salaries.  Stock options.  Advertising and marketing.  With my program, this money that goes into the for-profit system would be channeled into a health care system for all the people.  We would have enough money — another $500 billion — to provide vision care, dental care, mental health care, prescription drugs, long-term care.

It seems like supplanting corporate profit with nonprofit government involvement would still not be all of the  funding needed for the program you are proposing.

We are already paying for the cost of my program.  We spend $2.2 trillion a year in the United States for healthcare.  And a good chunk of that money goes for the profit. Right now, we have a for-profit system that benefits the corporations.

My proposal would put those profits into a government run health care system.  Those corporate profits represent a tremendous amount of money that would be available to fund this program.  The rest of it would be paid for by a payroll tax paid for only by employers. The amount of this tax would be less than the exorbitant cost they are already incurring for their employees’ health insurance programs.

Employers want to protect their employees’ health so they can work.  My Health-Care Bill is an opportunity for employers to relieve the tremendous pressure, burden and expense that they already have as a result of the rates the insurance companies charge. I think employers would be excited about this.

So, are you proposing a payroll tax that, on the average, would be less than what they’re paying now for their employees’ health insurance coverage?

I’m not talking about what they are paying right now for Medicare.  My proposal would be in addition to that.  Employers already pay for Medicare.  In addition, they are paying premiums and those premiums that they pay to insurance companies are pretty high. Yet their employees aren’t really getting a substantial level of coverage.

Under my plan, employers would pay a payroll tax that is less than their current premiums, their employees would have comprehensive coverage, employers would have a healthcare workforce, and, essentially, employers would no longer be vulnerable to insurance companies who raise rates and raise co-pays and deductibles with impunity.  This would be a real break for all those who have been hoping for so long to have a chance for better and affordable health care.

So, for example, in the case of a generally healthy family already paying somewhere between $6,000 to $8,000 a year for their health insurance and out-of-pocket expenses — What would change with your program?

That’s a good case in point: the family’s’ company pays something; the family pays something; the insurance company makes a huge profit and what’s left over after all that is a minimum amount of coverage.  We’ve got to change that; that’s not right.

I have heard the payroll tax you are proposing is 7.9%. Is that correct?

No, that number has not been determined yet.  But whatever it is, by design it will be much less than the amount of money the employers are currently paying to the insurance companies.

And then the individuals, such as my family, would no longer be paying these premiums and costs?

No, you wouldn’t.  Absolutely not.  Suddenly, the thousands of dollars that you are paying now you can keep for yourselves.

We had the good fortune to live in Spain for five years and they had a program there which provided really good medical care from really good doctors. But those doctors don’t earn the kind of income doctors here earn.  Does your Health Care Bill mean that the doctors would then earn less in this country?

Not at all!  Doctors will be able to be fairly compensated for their services; they will be able to negotiate with hospitals for their services; they will be on a salary from them.  The whole thing is, the doctors will be able to practice medicine. Instead of dealing with insurance companies they will be able to take care of their patients.  And this is going to restore and improve the relationship between doctors and patients. Often now, the doctors are not able to give the care to their patients that they want because the insurance companies will not approve it.

What about the drug companies?  They are very powerful in this country.  They make enormous profits.  How do you combat them?

We’re not combatting them.  The drug companies will be given a chance to provide a bid to participate in providing services.  Right now, the drug companies have to negotiate with veterans.  Veterans negotiate for bulk purchase.  You have a lot of purchasing power when you are purchasing for the American people.  So the government has great leverage with respect to purchasing power. Thus, we can get the best price possible and lower the cost of the prescription drugs.

Let’s talk about your second domestic issue, jobs

Our country is facing twin crises: high unemployment and a decrepit infrastructure. At the same time, millions of manufacturing and high-tech jobs are being shipped overseas. I have a plan that will turn our problems around and put Americans back to work in America.

How do you stop Global Corporations from exporting jobs?

The exodus of jobs from our shores and the “race to the bottom” for workers around the world is an obvious result of NAFTA and the WTO, both of which make it impossible to place taxes or tariffs on outsourced work. The search for countries where workers are unrepresented and environmental rules are lax must end. NAFTA, WTO, “Fast Track” legislation, and the Free Trade Area of the Americas must be rejected and replaced with Fair Trade policies in which bilateral trade agreements are negotiated to provide for living wages for workers and environmental safeguards. Canceling NAFTA and the WTO will enable the U.S. to protect high-tech jobs from outsourcing. This, plus careful monitoring of H-1B visa practices, will slow the tide of outsourcing.

Okay, but right now, unemployment is an immediate problem in our country.  What else can you do about that?

I have a Jobs Plan that will put 2 million Americans back to work at a living wage in such enterprises as rebuilding schools, designing roads, refurbishing environmental projects, and manufacturing steel for water systems. The Kucinich Jobs Plan will also increase the quality of life in America, by making highways safer, water cleaner, and schools more conducive to learning.

My bill harkens back to the great days of The New Deal.  Franklin Roosevelt understood the need to build America’s water systems, sewage systems, bridges, roads — so, in that spirit I will pursue a program where government can be the employer of last resorts, spending money into the economy for the purposes of strengthening the economy and creating jobs, repairing infrastructure, assisting in building an economy in helping the American family regain dignity through solid employment opportunities.

What do you have in mind when you name “peace” as a domestic issue?

I would create a Cabinet level Department of Peace And Nonviolence that would include the principles of Gandhi, Dr. King, and Christ.  It anticipates that we have the capacity to create a nonviolent world and that this capacity depends on our access to the teachers, the educators, the social workers, psychologists and all those people who are dedicated to improving the human condition.  The Department of Peace will work on those issues which are so serious for American families — Domestic Violence, spousal abuse, child abuse, violence in the schools, racial violence, violence in the clashes between police and the community.  If you look at all of those areas, that violence has overwhelmed all of our lives, our communities.  We will provide solid policy, recommendations and programs in education that will take us in a different direction and which will help make us a less violent, more peaceful nation.

We can have the nation we want.  We can have a nation that can live in peace.  But it involves a commitment.  It involves daily work. It involves having a capacity for each other and a willingness to use our spiritual capabilities to improve not only our own life but the life of the nation.  In terms of peace, perhaps, it means utilizing our human potential for transformation to be more than we are, to be better than we are.  Through this approach, we would get to explore our potential to make this a better world for each of us.

On your point about The Department of Peace — we want these things but we have been put under the fear of terrorist acts against our country — even the television series, “24″, features terrorist nuclear bomb attacks against major American cities. How do we blend peaceful coexistence with the reality of terrorist threat?

The more peaceful communities that we have, the less violence we will have within our own society.  The less violence we have in our own society, the less likely we are to find ourselves in conflict with other nations. I say this because you can’t separate violence that occurs in our American society from violence that occurs in the world.  World violence flows from our policies.  As we move towards the transformation from who we are now to being a more peaceful nation, we will help make this a more peaceful world.

Will your emphasis on peace in any way weaken our homeland security?

Let’s turn the question on its head: how has our emphasis on war strengthened us?

It hasn’t.

Right.  We attacked a nation that did not attack us.  Just imagine if instead of attacking Iraq we had put $500 billion into creating jobs, improving health care, improving education and housing in our country — so, this is really a chance for us to have a better nation.  To have a more peaceful nation.

Crime, for example: it exacts a tremendous toll on this nation and the Department of Peace would be instrumental in helping us move toward a condition where we address those issues, those dynamics which foster crime. Consider this: all this violence I am talking about involves crimes, does it not?  You can see how it would very helpful to have an approach that would deal with the underlying cause of the crime.  And the Department of Peace would do that.  So, in a way, this is what you do to enhance and produce true security for our nation.

Let’s turn our eyes toward the global situation.  What three issues would you target?

We would create an opportunity for new diplomacy which would be based on the imperative of human unity.  The imperative of peace.  And the imperative of getting rid of all nuclear weapons.

What would the second target be?

Repairing the global climate.  This also relates to human unity.  We must work together to conserve energy and to make a transition away from forms of energy which are destructive, nonrenewable.  I would work for the development of alternative energy, green energy, energy that could be used by people at the domestic level such as wind, solar.  This would be help save the planet and restore our global climate to a level of better health.

What are some of the steps you would take to accomplish that?

To set forth the principles of the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty, to work with the nations of the world in making technologies for wind and solar readily available through the World Bank. As you move away from dependence on oil you change America’s position in the world as an aggressor to a nation that cooperates.  This would be done by agreement to treaties, some of which have already been signed.

That whole treaty structure takes us to the third Target and that is to enhance global cooperation by the United States participating within a Global Community once again.  We need to participate in empowering a series of agreements not only with respect to the climate, but also to limit the production of biological weapons. So we can sign the Biological Weapons Convention, the Small Arms Convention.  We would restore the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and participate fully in the United Nations.

We have become a nation among nations, not a nation above nations.  If we do these things, we would have the resources that we need to secure our concerns here at home.

Would you agree that right now we are seen as an aggressor nation?

There’s no question about it because we are.  We are seen that way because we are.

How do we change that?

Well, we have to get out of Iraq and Afganistan.  If you would go to my website you’ll find my plan and I would appreciate you referring to it because there is a way out.  We need to give encouragement to follow that plan out of war in the MidEast.

We will link to it at the end of this interview.  There is no need for you to reiterate it.

So here is the closing question: Typically, the candidates that get elected are Centrists. But you are very progressive, you are anti-corporate profit/control, you’re anti-Pentagon waste and spending, and you are, in general, more progressive than centrist.

Are you Don Quixote or do you actually feel that you can pull this off?

Well, I don’t know that Don Quixote ever ran for office.  If he had, I would have voted for him.

And I would say that war is a reality; it is not a windmill.  Poor health care is a reality; it is not a windmill.  Global climate change is a reality; it is not a windmill.  I aspire to bring peace and prosperity to people.  These things are very practical aspirations.

It’s war that is impractical.  Poverty that is impractical and unacceptable.  I am typically pursuing a path towards a world that makes sense and towards a world that we can create if we want to.

And I am going to show people the way.

Click Here to Learn More about Dennis’ Plans to Make America a Winner in the Global Community…

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10 Comments - (Leave a comment! »)

  • Lori – Maine said:

    While I attempt to follow broadcast news to some degree, I spend more time reading/listening to inspirational stories and information. I believe the adage that negativity breeds negativity; and vice versa, that plugging into positive experiences of others and of ourselves produces a positive mindset leading to positive action.

    Dennis Kucinich because he is one of the few politicians that I deeply admire. I appreciated your simple questions that allowed Dennis to elaborate his ideas clearly and succinctly (though not sure you ever got him to list his third action for global efforts). I thought your question about the reality of his ideas and political position was a good rubber-meets-the-road sort of question — and I appreciated his response.

  • Dylan -- Maryland said:

    I noticed on your front cover you’ve specifically brought up Dennis Kucinach getting outed from his congressional district. Sad that one of the only advocates on a range of issues is getting outed.

  • Winners Within Us | Alex Scandalios | winners | Alzheimer's | Winners Within Us™ Magazine said:

    [...] Today, a slightly different take on the word “winners.” Congressman Dennis Kucinich, D-Oh., is one of the most passionate anti-war members of Congress, who just lost his own hard-fought battle for re-election. As he prepares to leave the House of Representatives, Kucinch reflected on his legacy, his accomplishments, and the struggles presidents face.  SEE VIDEO…     READ INTERVIEW… [...]

  • Sarah - Alabama said:

    Dennis Kucinich’s message was astounding and hit close to home. I am from a family of six and with a bad home life. I was raised seeing the pain of struggling to make ends meet and struggling even harder under the pressure it put on my parents. I am a diabetic and cancer runs in my family. My parents pay almost 800 dollars a month for our health insurance and I did not fully understand his bill until the article clarified it. It is strange to think of such a powerful man in such a low place. It makes me believe that anything is possible and no goal too high.

  • Troy -- Washington said:

    Excellent article, and great interview. I appreciate how the article didn’t feel scripted, unlike so many interviews I read nowadays, where the questions seem to veer away from the heart of the issues. You seem genuinely interested in the answers you received and it was obvious you educated yourself beforehand. It was easy to understand Dennis as an individual, as if I was talking to him myself. Very enlightening, and I not only learned a lot about Dennis, but also about current political issues. After reading the article I feel more knowledgeable and I believe that is what you and Dennis both were trying to accomplish. Mostly I appreciate your genuine interest in the people and stories you write about. There’s a lot I am taking from your articles.

  • Dick -- Pennsylvania said:

    I reviewed the Dennis Kucinich article. He is thought provoking on many issues. I found his idea of a Department of Peace to be interesting and stimulating.

  • Jess -- Canada said:

    I particularly enjoyed your profile of Dennis Kucinich. I have long admired his political views and respected his consistent fight for justice, peace, and equity with the US.

    In terms of feedback, I would have restructured the interview to start off with a bit of background on the Congressman in order to give some context. Additionally, I may have begun on a more positive note, outlining his accomplishments and tenure in elected office. But that said, I found the article to be inspiring and interesting, more personal than other profiles I have read of Mr. Kucinich.

  • Martha said:

    I read quite a few of your articles. I especially enjoyed the ones on famous people – Bill Shoemaker, Dennis Kucinich and Ray Kroc. I think all three articles have depth and reflect personal attributes of the interviewees that would not have been revealed without a skillful interviewer. I agree that our world is full of discouraging news but I think there is an equal amount of encouraging news to be found and reported.

  • rob - New York said:

    I found the Congressman to be very inspiring. He has overcome so much in his life- things that would have made most people give up, or at the least develop a grudge against the world for all the hardships it had put him through while so young.

    Congressman Kucinich possesses no resentment at all. None of his policies are “tough love”, so to speak, relating to the American people. He has a well-researched and thought out plan to save the country. A plan he passionately believes in, you can tell by the article. This is a breath of fresh air for us, the American Public. It Is to the point where most of the American People have no faith whatsoever in their elected officials. They have made it obvious that its not about us- its about them trying to better each other and stop the other party from gaining a victory.

    Stories like Mr. Kucinich should be publicized. The majority of people just assume all elected officials are rich, upper class aristocrat-types who have no idea how the common man lives. They don’t know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck. Mr. Kucinich is one of us. His victory over all the hardships he encountered growing up are to be admired.

    That being said, I think he is being very naïve in his plan of action. He just assumes everything he wants to happen will happen. Unfortunately, that is not the America we live in. Nothing goes smoothly, as evidenced most recently by the almost shutdown of the entire Government that was narrowly missed. Democrats and Republicans will object to any bill the other party puts up for vote regardless of its contents. The bickering amongst the two parties needs to be curbed before any real change is sought.

    Also, the powerful Insurance Companies won’t just lie down and let the Government pass laws which take chunks out of their profit. The lobbyists they hire have a lot of money to spend to make sure the buckets of money keep coming in. Congressmen are always on the take, too. I think that if we are serious about changing the whole way our Government operates now and how laws are passed, the first thing we need to do is raise the salary of Senators significantly- like over a million a year each. This will stop them from taking handouts from lobbyists, or at least slow it down.
    Nevertheless, he has some great ideas and, if these and other problems are fixed, they have the potential to make this country the envy of the world once again.



  • Andy Juniewicz - DC said:

    I’m reminded of a conversation I had in July 2004 at the Democratic National Convention in Boston with one of the top political consultants in the nation. He shared with me a question he had been asked earlier in the year about the Congressman’s chances for winning the Democratic nomination, much less the Presidency.

    “Are you kidding?” the consultant told the NYTimes. “Considering how Dennis grew up and where he came from — sleeping in a car with his parents and brothers and sisters and struggling just to stay alive — and now he’s running for President of the United States of America…He’s already won. He’s done something very, very few people even dream about, much less get a chance to do. Whether he wins a single primary or not, the guy is winner.”
    Andy Juniewicz, 2008 Campaign Press Secretary

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