On Monday, February 2, the presidential candidate took a half-hour out his busy day campaigning in Arizona to talk shop and answer some questions about the campaign, the war on Iraq, and his own, admittedly leftist policies.

Q: What do you feel is the central issue of the presidential race?

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: I think it’s going to end up being about Iraq. We’re at a crisis in democracy; this country was dragged into a war based on lies. All of my [primary] opponents, except Reverend Sharpton, agreed at some level, at some point, that going to war against Iraq was acceptable. They’ve bought into the lies.

And now the administration is agreeing to seek an investigation? That’s unconscionable. I can’t think of anything that more fully describes the pathetic state of this administration. They created fictions about weapons of mass destruction; they created fictions about Iraq having something to do with September 11. This administration did everything they could to make people believe Iraq was on the verge of attacking us, all to give their friends and contributors access to oil and to privatize the Iraqi economy for their benefit.

Q: Don’t we need an in dependent investigation?

Kucinich: I would say that we don’t need an investigation. W already know the facts. This administration lied, they lied to Congress, they lied to the press, they lied to the world, and they lied to the American people. They’re trying to obscure the issue by calling for an investigation during the presidential campaign. They’ll bury the truth.

The worst thing is that very few Democrats are in a position to challenge Bush on this war. Senator John Kerry, Senator John Edwards, and Senator Joseph Lieberman all helped to defile the Constitution and Bill of Rights by voting in favor of the war. General Wesley Clark’s been all over the place on this issue, even Governor Howard Dean failed to be consistent. They all supported the war and the president can say that to nearly any other Democratic candidate.

Q: If this were not an election year, do you feel there are grounds for impeachment hearings?

Kucinich: Well, this is an election year. At this point, with the election coming up, an impeachment would be a way for the administration to, paradoxically, get away with it. Hearings would rag out the issue, deflect attention from campaigns, and allow Bush to us his “are you with us or against us rhetoric.”

Q: What about the missing weapons of mass destruction?

Kucinich: They’re not missing; they haven’t been there for years. Listen, there are many candidates in this race; Kerry, Lieberman, Edwards, Clark, Dean, who all said at one time or another that they believed there were weapons of mass destruction. And now, all of them, except Sharpton, have made comments supporting the continued occupation of Iraq.

I cannot think of a time in our history when so many leaders have misled the public for such wrong reasons.

Q: During the last primary debate in South Carolina, moderator Tom Brokaw misstated your position on Iraq, saying that you would pull the United States and tell the U.N. to take over. How can you counteract that and similar over-simplifications of your platform proposals?

Kucinich: First of all, we have to acknowledge that the world has a responsibility to stabilize Iraq. But the United States has the first responsibility. Our leaders led us in there, and we cannot just throw up our hands and walk away.

That responsibility means that we cannot maintain an indefinite occupation, and we can’t run Iraq through remote control by imposing the government that we want on the Iraqi people. They must be allowed to choose for themselves.

But, it goes even beyond that. The United States has no right to privatize the Iraqi economy, has no right to allow sweetheart Halliburton deals, has no right to take Iraqi resources for our own profit. We have to go to the U.N. and work out a way to stabilize the country, give them control of their resources.

Then we have to start abiding by the Geneva and Hague conventions; war cannot be about profiteering. The only reason that our troops would need to be there for any number of years is for some private investors to make a profit. That’s just wrong.

Q: Speaking of profiteering, how much revenue can be expected from closing corporate tax loopholes and ending the use of off-shore tax shelters?

Kucinich: A lot. The current tax system is skewed toward the wealthy. They also happen to give a lot of money to the politicians that make the tax laws. What these loopholes and shelters are is a demonstration that the administration has reworked the tax code to support the wealthy. Instead of providing a safety net, we prop up those who are already rich.

My plan shows we can rework the tax code to help those who aren’t already wealthy, and that is what will help the economy get moving again.

Q: What issue, or issues, are being ignored during this primary season?

Kucinich: The major domestic issue, once we sort out the impact of war on the domestic economy, is health care. The current system is out of control; 43 million people have no access to health care, outside of an emergency system short on resources.

Q: What is the difference between your vision of universal health care and other candidates who call for universal health insurance?

Kucinich: I’m calling for a universal, not-for-profit system under Medicare. We need medicine and health care for all with a single payer system. Sixteen trillion dollars exists for health services between the government and private sector, that’s about 15 percent of the gross domestic product. That amount would be more than sufficient for all of our health care needs, all of our dental needs, and all of our alternative medicine needs.

What my opponents want is to keep the current for-profit system, with all its executive salaries, insurers, promotions, and advertising. But the system’s broken. All of these health insurance companies exist to do is capitalize off the misery of people who are ill.

Q: You’ve said that the war on drugs is a failure and that drug abuse should be dealt with in the health care system rather than in the prison system. Is that a practical stance, and how much can we save by reforming this nation's drug policy?

Kucinich: The problem with the current system is that all the emphasis is on criminalization and incarceration. We waste so much time and resources in our society beating up on people for drug problems when what they need, what’s been proven to work, is treatment and understanding; they don’t need to be demonized. This country really needs a more enlightened policy toward drugs in general.

Q: Would you abolish the Drug Czar position?

Kucinich: I don’t think there should be czars in a democracy. By changing our policy, we can save billions of dollars and millions of lives.

Q: While we’re talking about crime, what do you propose we do about corporate and white collar crime?

Kucinich: Corporations ought to be treated as people. If they want the same rights as people, they should face the same penalties when they violate the law. If a person breaks the law while driving, we take away their keys. We ought to be able to take away a corporation’s keys if it breaks the law.

Let me explain. First, I would establish federal corporate charters. If a company breaks the law; if it violate anti-trust laws, if it commits human or worker’s rights violations, if it manipulate the stock market, if it engages in any such behavior, then it loses its right to operate in this country. And it should have to make restitution.

Q: Does our criminal justice system treat white collar criminals too easily?

Kucinich: First off, white collar criminals should have to forfeit all their gains. I’m not opposed to their doing time, but I think that restitution is critical. There should be community service and restitution.

Q: Are you too soft on crime?

Kucinich: We have to be firm with crime but not hard-headed. We need appropriate penalties; the criminal justice system needs to include incarceration, restitution, and rehabilitation. Too often, we stop at incarceration, and that hasn’t solved the problem yet.

I believe, if you murder someone, you should be put in jail for life with no possibility of parole. But the death penalty? That’s fuzzy-headed thinking, especially if you think that it will deter crime. Studies show that it doesn’t, and studies show that it’s applied unfairly to minorities and the poor.

The important thing is to try to understand the causes of crime. Unless you do an analysis of those people committing crimes, you don’t get a sense of what crime is about. Our whole criminal justice system needs another look, a frank and honest look at what justice means.

Q: Most of the people in our prisons come from impoverished communities. How does your proposal to loosen welfare limits figure into this?

Kucinich: We need a more equitable distribution of wealth. We need incentives for creativity; that’s how you formulate wealth. I’d abolish welfare limits for those seeking higher education and job training; that will bring them out of poverty and create more productive, contributing members of society.

Q: Won’t your proposals strain the economy?

Kucinich: We’re putting people in impossible situations. We tell a single mother to work, but we won’t provide child care or education for her preschooler. And we take away her benefits because she isn’t following the rules; then we say it’s a budgeting problem. Please.

How much is enough when a corporate executive is making tens or hundreds of millions of dollars? We need a living wage; we need a fully paid-for, not-for-profit health care. We need some equity.

Q: Do you really think that these proposals can make it through Congress?

Kucinich: When people are aware they can’t afford health care and education, that they can’t support their children, then they start to make those connections. And when they make those connections, well, then we’ve got a movement. I think that those connections are being made; that’s what this campaign is based on. I’m not a messiah to the poor or working class. I come from the poor and working class.

Q: Had you at any time during this campaign considered approaching Reverend Sharpton and Carol Mosely-Braun to form an alliance and strengthen the progressive wing?

Kucinich: No. Sharpton and I talk constantly about matters of mutual concern. We’ve talked a lot, but not about that. There is a new progressive movement afoot in this whole country, and we have, ironically, Bush to thank. I don’t think that there’s anything more significant than this war itself.

Q: Assuming you do not get the Democratic nomination, would you consider running as an independent or a Green?

Kucinich: I consider myself a Green Democrat, and I’m working to create a viable, progressive Democratic party. That’s why I’m in this race, and that’s why we’ll go into the convention and keep up the fight to give control of Iraq to the Iraqis, to get universal health care, to get more people employed, and to provide people with a living wage.

By Brendan Coyne

Not surprisingly, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean’s announcement that he was dropping out of the presidential race prompted many news outlets to declare that Sen. John Edwards got what he wanted, a two-man race between himself and Sen. John Kerry. What they’re missing, and have been all along, are the campaigns of Reverend Al Sharpton and Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich. Both candidates have ignored calls to quit, vowing to campaign right until the Democratic Party’s convention this summer. While Sharpton acknowledges that his campaign is more about pushing an agenda than winning the nomination, Kucinich does no such thing. He campaigns fervently, sticks to the issues, and talks like a contender.