By Chris Hedges / The Real News Network

The presidential election in November looks set to pit Donald Trump, who will most likely dismantle what is left of our decayed democracy, against Joe Biden, who is a full partner in the genocide of the Palestinians in Gaza. “This is the paradox that we’re faced with,” says former Representative (and current candidate to represent Ohio’s 7th Congressional District) Dennis Kucinich: Americans keep voting, but on the national level, the only groups that consistently win our elections are militarists, corporations, and the billionaire class. “The American people are good-hearted people. They want to help anyone suffering. They’re very fair in the way they look at things.” And yet, we are constantly put in the position of trying to conscientiously participate in a democratic system that has been hijacked by political power brokers with no conscience. What is to be done? How can we reclaim our democracy and provide real and meaningful political alternatives? Are we forever condemned to the diminishing returns offered by the least-worst option? Is there a way to create an electoral system that is not captive to big money and dominated by groups such as the Israel lobby? On this episode of The Chris Hedges Report, Chris Hedges speaks with Kucinich about the paradox US voters are trapped in, and how to get out of it.

Studio Production: Adam Coley
Post-Production: Adam Coley


TRANSCRIPT

The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.

Chris Hedges:

The presidential election in November looks set to pit Donald Trump, who will most likely dismantle what is left of our decayed democracy, against Joe Biden, who is a full partner in the genocide of the Palestinians in Gaza, not, for most of us, a palatable choice. The two ruling parties who have foisted these candidates on the public have at the same time conspired with their corporate sponsors to block third parties and independents along with mavericks such as Bernie Sanders from running viable campaigns. The only groups that consistently win in our elections are the militarists, corporatists, and billionaires who of course fund and stage-manage the electoral farce. On all the major issues, endless war, trade deals, deindustrialization, government surveillance, the steady decline of social services, including a for-profit healthcare system that allows corporations to prey on the sick, the bloated prison population, and militarized police, there is little daylight between the two ruling parties.

How can we reclaim our democracy and provide real and meaningful political alternatives? Are we forever condemned to the diminishing returns offered by the least worst option? Is there a way to create an electoral system that is not captive to big money and dominated by groups such as the Israel lobby? Joining me to discuss the state of our anemic democracy, A system the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin, referred to as inverted totalitarianism, is Dennis Kucinich. Dennis served as US representative from Ohio’s 10th Congressional District from 1997 to 2013, losing his seat when the Democratic Party engineered redistricting that forced him to run in the newly drawn 9th District. He was a presidential candidate in 2004 and 2008, running on an anti-war platform during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s a strong advocate for unions, the restoration of our civil liberties and single-payer healthcare. Dennis, who briefly served as Bobby Kennedy’s campaign manager, is currently running as an independent in Ohio’s 7th Congressional District.

So Dennis, let’s talk about your campaign. It reminds me of you also ran unsuccessfully, I’m sorry to say, for the mayor of Cleveland, Samuel Johnson called it the triumph of hope over experience. He was talking about second marriages. But let’s talk about what you’re doing and why?

Dennis Kucinich:

Well, first of all, I served 16 years in Congress and the district which I served there was a new redistricting a year ago and 45% of the area that I represented for 16 years is in this new district. And in a neighboring county, Medina County, which is where this scene is from, Medina County is really composed of people who used to live in my old district. So I have a constituency here, and this is a moment in American history where people are looking for someone, anyone to step forward and put country above party. And I know the failures of the partisan system. I understand how polarization has created a condition where both parties have lost the plot about what service to the country should be about. They basically have confirmed the admonitions of George Washington and others about the danger of factions. And so I decided that I would run again for Congress to continue my service, but this time as an independent so that I can be in a singular position to create the bridge between the two parties.

Chris, when I was in Congress the last time, I worked on a basis without personalities, without degrading anybody based on their philosophy. And as a result, I was able to build coalitions on both sides of the aisle on things that mattered. This time with the hyper polarization, it could very well be where there’s 217 Democrats, 217 Republicans, and one independent, yours truly. So this represents an opportunity for one individual to be able to make a real difference on behalf of a constituency, Ohio’s 7th District, but also on behalf of the American people who are absolutely fed up with the partisan bickering, which often is pointless, it’s about maneuvering for power. And people are concerned about their economic existence right now. So I think I’ll be in a really great position. Our campaign is off and running, making a lot of personal appearances. I’m connecting with people. They know me from years and years, recognize me on site and I’m ready to go back to work in Washington, but this time as an independent.

Chris Hedges:

Why not as a Democrat?

Dennis Kucinich:

Well, this is a Republican district to begin with. Keep that in mind now. It’s true, when I was elected to Congress in 1996, I defeated a Republican incumbent. And when I was elected to the state Senate before that, I defeated a Republican incumbent. There’s been a sea change in politics, and unfortunately, too many of my former Democratic colleagues have signed up for war. I haven’t. I led the effort against the war in the Balkans and helped to stop it by blocking a resolution that was seeking to keep the bombing of Serbia going. I stopped that. I led the effort against the war in Iraq. I led the effort against war in Libya. I made every effort and parliamentary procedure to get out of Afghanistan. So my whole approach is to point out the folly of war, the destruction of the American dream as well as other people’s dreams. And some of my former Democratic colleagues have seemed to drift into the area of support for this military-industrial complex in a way that doesn’t represent who I am.

Chris Hedges:

Well, we just saw it with, what is it, $61 billion to Ukraine, endless amounts of money to fuel the genocide in Gaza. I believe that the Gaza genocide is an issue in your current campaign, is that correct?

Dennis Kucinich:

Well, it is. I mean, look, the US just gave 26 billion to Israel, and Israel has turned around and is attacking Rafah. Now, if you give that kind of money and you don’t have any conditions at all, conditions would be use it for defensive purposes. No, it’s being used for offensive purposes. If you don’t have conditions, then you’re basically given permission and permission equals complicity. And so since, I think it was October 7th, the United States has had over 100 military aid transfers to Israel, and most of the details, by the way, aren’t public.

And think about this, we have helped to facilitate the dropping of 150 million pounds of explosives on Gaza. That equals to about 68 pounds of explosives per every individual in Gaza. I mean, what are we doing here? Why is the United States doing this? This is open, it’s in a plain sight what’s going on here? And yes, in this campaign in particular, I’m saying that the United States must not permit this genocide to go on, and yet we have paid for it. And this is heartbreaking what’s going on. There isn’t anyone that I know of who approves of what Hamas did on October 7th, but after that, Israel went on the offense, and they’ve been able to do that with massive help from the United States government.

Chris Hedges:

I’m curious as to why you think there is such unequivocal support on both sides of the aisle, both among Republicans and Democrats, for what is just, I mean, we all see the images, just so appalling. And then the US intelligence estimates that only a third of the Hamas fighters have been killed. They’re mostly sheltered in tunnels. This is clearly a war against civilians, hundreds are being killed or wounded a day.

Dennis Kucinich:

Well, I think what you’ve pointed out just now is important. Let’s start with that discussion and then let’s go into why some of our American leaders feel it’s okay. There’s been over 34,000 Gazans who have been killed, and 77,000 wounded. You’re looking at about 72% of the Gazans who have been killed are women and children. 62% of the houses have been destroyed. You got over a million people are facing starvation. So the question is, why would American politicians look the other way when this is going on? And I think it starts with the pretty powerful influence which AIPAC and other groups have had on the Congress over the years, and it has caused members to set aside any critical inquiry. It’s a friendship which has nullified people’s ability to be able to actually articulate what’s going on. And it’s worked against the interests of the American people.

This is the paradox that we’re faced with. The American people are good-hearted people. They want to help anyone suffering. They’re very fair in the way they look at things. But when you have a political class that is able to facilitate the transfer of weapons to go after people who are basically captives in occupation, it’s the long train of support that was built over many years that has squelched the voices of people who know better. And I mean, that’s what I think is going on.

I mean, Chris, the question has to be asked is this, in our national interest, what’s going on in Gaza? There’s wholesale executions going, there’s mass graves. You take Al-Shifa Hospital and Nasser Hospital basically destroyed. You’ve got the head of Al-Shifa who was kidnapped and hasn’t been heard from, the head of the emergency room director, him and his family were killed. We go back to these mass graves bodies are being found that are handcuffed, that are blindfolded, that are still hooked up to IVs. How is this in our national interest? How is it? I want somebody explain this to me because we’re forgetting this America. This isn’t Israel.

When people start speaking of we and then they say, “We’re going to turn Gaza into a parking lot.” Well, who’s we? As the United States, we can have an ally who we want to defend. But what’s happening here is offense, and it is horrific and it needs to be condemned, and it can be condemned in the same breath as we condemn Hamas’s attack on October 7th, no problem with that, but it needs to be condemned and we have to stop funding it, but we’re not. So the United States has taken a new position of complicity in a genocide. Shocking, mind-blowing frankly.

Chris Hedges:

I want to talk about economic issues. The Democratic Party, it often appears, has just written off, especially the white working class, which I assume is a significant part of your constituency, condemning them as racists and bigots, Hillary Clinton called them deplorables, and at least to my mind, not dealing with the very real and distressing economic pain that was caused in large part by a Democratic administration, Bill Clinton. And I just want your take on the importance of the economy in the election, and to what extent that economic dislocation in your mind is behind the rise of a figure like Trump?

Dennis Kucinich:

Well, first of all, the rise of Donald Trump is directly connected to trade policies which decimated industrial areas in the Midwest. Grass years ago was growing in parking lots where they used to make steel, used to make cars, used to build ships, used to make planes or parts for planes and America’s agreements, the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade, GATT, most favored nation, China all were about the destruction of wages, the destruction of unions, the destruction of a middle class, and so that these goods could be made overseas and then brought back to the United States where the profits would go to the corporations. So you’ve seen a destructive undermining of America’s middle class as a result of these trade agreements. I mean, I’ve called for the repeal of NAFTA numerous times when I was in Congress. I voted against China trade because I just saw that it would accelerate the decline of American manufacturing.

So Trump arrives at this moment of anger of among people who used to have a pretty good standard of living, only to see it start to slip away. And this is not just a social issue and an economic issue, it’s a national security issue. If someone is concerned about America being able to defend itself, folks, you don’t have the ability to make steel, make automotive products, ships, airplanes, how do you defend yourself? We have had our manufacturing capacity severely eroded, and frankly, it started with a democratic administration. So people remember that.

They also remember the Wall Street bailout. This is when Barack Obama came in and basically Obama and McCain, unfortunately, agreed to bail out the banks. Well into the casino economy, banks get bailed out, millions of people lost their homes, people saw the value of their homes decline. And what’s happening right now? You got a housing market where people cannot either can’t buy a home or can’t get rid of a home they want. The market is static right now. Interest rates are up. What it cost a few years ago, I think it was 10 years ago, 21% of a family’s budget would go towards housing. Now it’s over 40%. Think about what that means. The economic forces that have been aggregating and growing over the last few decades are now arriving squarely in the 2024 election, and frankly, with the inflation on major staples of American households, this is a tough time, I think, for the administration to try to explain itself.

And on top of that, adding to the debt, $34 trillion debt and putting all of these wars on the credit card, I mean, I think the American people have had it up to here with all the money that is being spent for war while their own basic needs for healthcare, education, child care, housing are not being met.

Chris Hedges:

I want to talk about your book, The Division of Light and Power, which as you know, I admire very much because it really details how the machinery of the moneyed interests and corporate power works. In this case, it was a chronicle of how these forces drove you from the mayor’s office in Cleveland and how corrupt the media is. And I want you to talk about what we’re fighting against?

Dennis Kucinich:

That book, The Division of Light and Power, it took me 40 years to write. Fortunately, I had time to spare. As mayor of Cleveland, even before I became mayor of Cleveland, a central issue was whether or not the city should sell its municipal electric system, then known as Muni Light. I saw what was happening. I saw that the private utility in Cleveland was engaging in a program of subterfuge to undermine the municipal utility so they could get it for pennies on the dollar. I forced an investigation that finally revealed the Atomic Safety and Licensing Commission of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission found out that this utility, then known as Cleveland Electric Illuminating, and known as First Energy, that this utility was actually creating a lot of the problems on the system that the city owned, including creating blackouts on the system, and then going into neighborhoods where the municipal utility was providing service and saying, “It looks like your utility isn’t working very well. Come with us,” says the private utility.

So there was a dirty tricks campaign against public power, and I stood up to it. As mayor of the city of Cleveland, I refused the demand by the city’s biggest bank to sell a municipal electric system to the bank’s private utility partner. And the bank in turn refused the city’s credit on loans I hadn’t even taken out. I’m the only mayor in America who ran a city on a cash basis in 1978 and ’79. But they put the city into default as a means of trying to get at me politically. All of the media went along with this in Cleveland. It was exposed by people like Robert Scheer, Alex Coburn, Jim Ridgeway, journalists then, Fred Branfman. But for the most part, the Cleveland media covered up what was going on and was complicit by telling a totally different story than what was happening. They reconstructed the social reality of the city to try to create a case saying why I, as mayor, had to sell a municipal electric system. I knew exactly what was going on. I saw the game for what it was, and I said, no.

And I survived a couple of assassination attempts as well over this. It was more than a billion dollars in assets that were at stake. I held the line, I saved the system, lost the next election, but years later, the people in Cleveland figured out that I saved them hundreds of millions of dollars on their electric bill by not selling the municipal electric system, which is still serving Cleveland today as Cleveland Public Power.

Chris Hedges:

Well, let’s talk about how those forces work to destroy political figures like yourself. And that’s what the book, I think, does so brilliantly. It details exactly how that machinery operates. So give us examples, because those forces have not only not gone away, they’re probably even more powerful than when you were the mayor of Cleveland.

Dennis Kucinich:

It’s true. Well, for example, big headline, Sell Muni Light or City Defaults. Okay? News reports, same thing. They created an alternate reality. They reconstructed the social reality of the city, and then it became culturally affirmed. And so I was then, based on the media’s accounts, which were driven by their advertisers, and the top advertiser, which was this private utility, CEI, Cleveland Electric Illuminating, and a bank, one of the biggest banks in America, then known as Cleveland Trust, they’re out of business now. But what they did, they used the media, radio, TV and newspapers to put out a single message that I had to sell our municipal electric system in order to save the city. I mean, it was total baloney. I knew it, but the people by and large weren’t really sure. And some people were saying, “What’s with Dennis? What’s this fixation with light bulbs?”

And so there was this long-standing plan to take over Cleveland’s municipal electric system. Frankly, over 100 municipal electric systems across America were knocked out and off by utility monopolies who basically used cookie-cutter strategies that attacked public officials who supported public power, lied to the people about the value of public power, actually interfered with the operations of the power systems, and then people just threw up their hands and sold. And then later on, they found their electric rates going up twice, three times. Not in Cleveland though.

Chris Hedges:

Let’s talk about those same forces today, how they’re operating both at the local and the national level, including the press?

Dennis Kucinich:

Well, let’s look at what’s happened over the last 40 years. There’s been a contraction in the media, tremendously. We don’t have as many newspapers as we had. There’s less competition. The journalists who are left, if they don’t toe the line, they’re not working for that institution too long. And the line generally is whatever the major advertisers say, and even more so, whatever the owners of the media say. So it’s not about… It’s back to the, I think it was A. J. Liebling who said, “Freedom of the press belongs to he owns one.” And so there’s a narrow narrative that’s being fed to the people. Now, with respect to television. Look, while there’s still a good number of people get their news from TV, a lot more people are getting news off their handheld iPhones and other means. And so there’s a diversity of ways to get news. Radio, again, there’s been a conglomeration occurring.

So the monopolization in the media, which has been going on for, I don’t know, 50, 60 years, works against the interest of the American people. And what makes it even more telling with respect to the electronic media is that the Federal Communications Act of 1934 mandated that all of these companies that started using the airwaves, which belonged to the public, had to serve in the public interest, convenience, and necessity. But that went out the window. And so now all the information is corporatized, all of it is directed on behalf of interest groups and interest groups now, that we may not even be aware of, are feeding a narrative that, in the case of what Eisenhower called the military industrial complex driving fear.

And that fear then has a dollar sign attached to it because when you consider, how in the world does it happen that $1 trillion every year now goes to the Pentagon and intelligence agencies when we got all these people who don’t have access to healthcare, they’re having trouble even affording to send their kids to college. They can’t afford the housing they need. They’re having trouble paying the bills. How does that happen while at the same time, the country builds up this juggernaut, and that’s where we’re putting all the money, and then we’re building a debt doing it. So there’s something wrong in America with that.

And so you have, right now, the wars that have been fought since 9/11 have cost American family of four $97,000 each, 83 million families. So you figure this out, that America’s lost the plot of our constitution, what it was all about. We’re no longer a republic. We’re no longer a government of the people. We’re a government by the corporations of the corporations and for corporate interests, which are primarily now driving wars for profit and putting the hopes and aspirations of the American people in the dumper. And frankly, why I’m running for Congress is to challenge this system, is to let the American people know that we can take a different direction. That our national interest is not to be defined as endless war. That our national interest is to be defined as healthcare for all, jobs for all, education for all, and freedom, because we’re losing our basic freedoms. Chris, this FISA issue, not just reauthorization, but an extension of FISA has given the government so much power to reach into people’s private lives. In this election, in the district I’m running about is about economic freedom and it’s about political freedom.

Chris Hedges:

Who are the candidates? Give us a quick profile of who you’re running against?

Dennis Kucinich:

Yeah, the incumbent is Max Miller. It’s his first year in office. He worked in the Trump White House and displaced a Republican incumbent who raised questions about Mr. Trump. The Democrat is somebody who ran the last time and got beat pretty handily. I’m not sure what he stands for, but Mr. Miller though famously has said, “After October 7th, we are going to turn Gaza into a parking lot.” And to me, it was very clearly a call for genocide, ethnic cleansing, and just chasing people off their land and appropriating it. People who get into politics overnight may find a rude awakening when they start to promote the interest of a country other than the United States.

Chris Hedges:

Let’s talk about the financing of campaigns. It’s a money saturated system. Goldman Sachs is probably not sending you big checks, neither is AIPAC. But I remember when I worked with Ralph Nader and Ralph said, “I can get 10,000 people in Madison Square Garden.” In fact, he got them to pay, I think, $5 at the door so he could pay for the rental of Madison Square Garden. “But I can’t reach the millions of people that I need to on television, on the airwaves, because I don’t have the funds. I can’t raise that kind of money.” Let’s talk about the power of money, especially as we are seeing the Israel lobby go after those few people in Congress who have stood up against this genocide, as you have just done?

Dennis Kucinich:

Well, first of all, is money a factor in elections? Absolutely. Is it the only factor? No. I’ve had the experience of winning over 30 elections, even though in many of them I was outspent. The introduction of fundraising over the internet has been very favorable for someone like me, because people have gone to… My website now is Kucinich.com. People have gone to the website that I had over various campaigns made a contribution, and there were enough people to do it en mass that I was able to raise sufficient funds to be able to run the kind of campaign that I want to. Because you don’t always have to spend more money than the next guy. You have to have enough money to get your message out.

The problem with today’s campaigning is that money often comes in out of nowhere to swamp a campaign. And if people don’t know who you are, I don’t have that problem in this district, but if people don’t know who you are, they can have a flood of money, which will attempt to define you as a candidate. And once Buckley v. Valeo passed, Citizen United, which essentially equated money with free speech, we end up in a situation where anonymous forces can be an invisible hand moving one candidate this way, another candidate this way. It’s a problem. How do you get around it? Organize, organize, organize at a grassroots level, spend your money wisely, raise money over the internet, small dollar fundraisers. These are things that are still possible, and frankly, I think that Summer Lee’s victory and Pennsylvania is a good signal that no matter what interest groups you take on, if you have the support of the people, you’ll find a way through to success.

So I still believe that. I still have hope, not just in my own possibilities here, but I have hoped for our country. But hope has to be matched with good deeds.

Chris Hedges:

I mean, I believe that in the last three weeks of your last unsuccessful campaign to run again for the mayor of Cleveland, huge amounts of dark money came into that campaign to destroy your campaign. Am I correct?

Dennis Kucinich:

You’re absolutely right. I know that. And so I’m aware of what can happen. Does that dissuade me and say, well, there’s no chance. No, you just keep… It’s like the lines in a poem about Prometheus Unbound about hope building from its own wreck, the thing it contemplates. In order to do this, in order for this undertaking that I’m at here in the 7th District in Ohio, attempting to win a seat as an independent, yeah, there’s some hope that goes into it, but there’s also reality base because I do have a constituency because I’m willing to stand up and speak out because people are looking for real leadership, not the warmed over pablum types that are ready to say anything to get elected. So I’m hopeful that people are ready to take a new direction, and if they are, my candidacy gives them a chance to do that.

Chris Hedges:

Just to close, I’m curious, your reflections on the presidential contest, which looks set to become a repeat of Biden and Trump?

Dennis Kucinich:

It’s going to be a very close presidential race. I mean, you could make an argument. It could go either way. I will say that’s ultimately going to depend on the economy. That’s what I’m hearing in talking to people. Some people just hanging on by their fingernails, trying to figure out how they’re going to make their next rent or mortgage payment, how they’re going to pay for their car. There’s people who are sensing that the bottom could fall out of their lives with the shift one way or another in national policy. So I think the candidate that is able to assure the people that there is a path forward that can be brighter, a path out of this massive debt, a path to higher wages, a path to economic security, a path to social security, I think that the candidate would’ve a chance to win.

But right now, unfortunately, we see the focus of America is on war and more war, and that can only lead to the impoverishment of the American people. And so that dynamic tension is at work. And in that, I’m moving forward as an independent candidate. And anybody who’s interested in helping financially or otherwise, please go to Kucinich.com and just follow the prompts to how you want to help. And I’m so grateful to be on with you today, Chris, to talk about the state of where things are right now and to make people aware across the country that there are voices who are willing to call out what’s going on right now, call things what they are, instead of shying away from the truth.

Chris Hedges:

Do you think the Biden administration has, through its policies, addressed these core economic issues?

Dennis Kucinich:

No. No. Not at all. And I don’t know that Mr. Trump has done it either. However, that’s going to be for the voters to declare. I just want to say, as an independent candidate, I’m staying out of the presidential contest. I’m not making any recommendations. I don’t want anything I said to be confused with support for the election or defeat of anyone. Whoever the people pick, I’ll work with them. And as an independent, I could end up being the only independent in the House this year, I’ll be in a really good position to help become a decisive vote on those economic issues that people care about. And war is an economic issue. We can’t afford more war. We can’t continue to fuel these wars. And so America, whatever happened to diplomacy? I mean, is that a word that was crossed out of the dictionary? People don’t even understand it anymore in Washington.

So I’ll help bring that awareness to them with a felicitous approach because I’m not about creating enemies. I’m trying to show people their commonalities, how we can realize who we are. And you know what I found out in traveling America as a presidential candidate in ’04 and ’08? There is an underlying unity in America. Candidates have a responsibility to try to tap it and don’t polarize and don’t drive people apart. But first and foremost, let’s put country above party. Let’s stand up for this country. Let’s unfold the American dream the way we all believed years ago it was possible, but which is drifting away with debt and war and globalization that is driving down our wages and our benefits and our basic rights in this country.

Chris Hedges:

Great. That was Dennis Kucinich, currently running as an independent in Ohio’s 7th Congressional District. I want to thank The Real News Network and its production team, Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, David Hebden, and Kayla Rivera. You can find me at ChrisHedges.substack.com.


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Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning NewsThe Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of show The Chris Hedges Report.

He was a member of the team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for The New York Times coverage of global terrorism, and he received the 2002 Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. Hedges, who holds a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School, is the author of the bestsellers American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle and was a National Book Critics Circle finalist for his book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. He writes an online column for the website ScheerPost. He has taught at Columbia University, New York University, Princeton University and the University of Toronto.

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