A Little Dog in a Big Fight

From the Playboy Blog, 2/4/07


Last week six-term Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich bowed out of his bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination. No one gave Kucinich a chance in the primaries, but he’s used to being the underdog. When he sat for the Playboy Interview back in June 1979, Kucinich’s uphill populist battle was just beginning. The spunky 32-year-old Cleveland mayor had a lot to say about fighting against the odds, the evils of corporate America and the need to clean up politics.

Playboy: Weren’t you a third-string quarterback on your high school football team?
Kucinich: That’s true. I was so small that when I came out and said I wanted to play football, the coach told me he already had a football. When I ran out on the field people thought I was a mascot. When they found out I was on the team, they started rooting for me.

Playboy: You’ve been waging battles of all kinds since you became mayor. What’s all the controversy about?
Kucinich: We don’t have economic democracy. And economic democracy is a precondition to political democracy. A tremendous amount of the wealth in this country is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. We may have the form of a democratic society, but we don’t have the substance of it. Party politics in America today is all but defunct. The two-party system is merging into one party under the banner of a corporate state. If you have the great corporations of America running this country—or a city—you don’t have a political democracy. If competition is destroyed and big corporations are profiting from inflation and from government programs that shun the needs of most people, what you have is a corporate dictatorship.

Playboy: What about the charges that many of your appointees have been young, inexperienced or unqualified for their posts?
Kucinich: The average age of my top appointees is 41. But the real reason that the young people I’ve appointed to positions of power have been criticized is that they haven’t learned how to steal yet. If they learned to take bribes, if they learned to make policy according to the highest bidder, they would be praised as being innovative and bright.

Playboy: Why are you so optimistic about change?
Kucinich: Because I’ve seen, in young people I’ve hired, that the need for a purpose is still there. It’s young Americans who are going to be leading the push on economic issues, because they’re the ones who are affected by the job market. They, along with old people, are expendable. There’s also a movement to revive the draft, and it will have to be young people who have to resist becoming cannon fodder as we stumble our way through our foreign policy. So I guess what it amounts to is showing young people they have a self-interest involved here: that the world they will face 20 or 30 years hence will be one they shape—just as those who grew up in the Sixties have had their involvement affirmed or have had their lack of involvement remain a liability.

Playboy: Does it ever strike you that your stubbornness about fighting for your beliefs makes your quest overly idealistic, even quixotic?
Kucinich: Of course, some people thing mine is a somewhat quixotic quest. But you have to be ready to dream the impossible dream. I believe that. I’m a very independent person, politically, ideologically, personally. And I guess my whole life has been a matter of establishing my independence. You know, you have to fight these powers! Most people just want to be accepted by big institutions, they want in. They pay your bills. They make life easier for you. If you can’t beat them—and most people can’t—join them. At least that’s the refrain.

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