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Not politics as usual 

It turns out it's the health care system, stupid!

Oh, and the war.

During Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich's stops throughout SLO County he's the first Democratic candidate to visit the county since Walter Mondale in 1983 time and again he tried to separate himself from the other Democratic candidates by pointing out how their policies offer more of the same, while his proposals hope to break the status quo.

click to enlarge STUMP OF APPROVAL :  Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich spoke before enthusiastic supporters when he stopped in San Luis Obispo County on Sept. 22. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • STUMP OF APPROVAL : Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich spoke before enthusiastic supporters when he stopped in San Luis Obispo County on Sept. 22.

# Before a crowd of about 100 enthusiastic supporters at the SLO County Government Center on Sept. 22, Kucinich displayed his trademark rhetorical savvy and ombudsmanship.

Pointing toward the heavens, the Ohio congressman began his stump speech: "At a time when the sun is shining on all of us, we need once again to have the sun shine on peace, the sun shine on human dignity, the sun shine on human liberty, the sun shine on principles of human unity. We need that beautiful light of justice to shine once again on our nation. My candidacy as president of the United States is about reclaiming the higher principles of who we really are as Americans that we do stand for justice, that we do stand for human dignity, that we do stand for peace. My candidacy as president of the United States is about a new security doctrine, where we reject war as an instrument of policy."

That last bit resulted in an outburst of applause.



Kucinich comes off as earnest, yet self-effacing. He first rose to national attention as the so-called "boy mayor" of Cleveland in the late '70s. Now 61, he still has a boyish face framed by prominent ears, and he radiates a sprightly manner all of which have combined to make him the seemingly uninsultable butt of late night jokes Jay Leno recently quipped that, if elected, Kucinich would be the "first hobbit president."

In SLO, the crowd seemed to find little to mock but plenty to applaud.

"Think for a moment about the path we've been led upon over the past five years," he continued. "As a matter of fact, we've just observed the sixth anniversary of 9/11 a great tragedy that befell this nation. It was another tragedy that our leaders chose to use 9/11 as an excuse to attack a nation which did not attack us, resulting in the deaths of almost a million innocent Iraqis. That does not represent who we are as American people."

While most in the crowd were staunch Kucinich supports, one woman chose to exercise her free speech by carting around a life-size cardboard cutout of Hilary Clinton and carrying a sign that read "The First Lady Woman President of the United States." Not everyone seemed to welcome her presence, and one gentleman told her she should be ashamed of herself. The Clinton supporter certainly didn't seem to upset Kucinich, who seemed spurred on by her display and went out of his way to single out how Clinton's policies were vastly different from his own, but, he said, not all that different from the current occupant of the White House.

Kucinich noted that his health care proposal is a universal, single-payer, not-for-profit system, unlike Clinton's proposal that largely leaves the current system in place but forces people to buy insurance. He drove the point home during his speech at the SLO Music Fest II in the Mission Plaza, where he also appealed to the crowd's state loyalty: "I know that California has led the way on health care. California showed America the potential, and even though your governor vetoed that health care legislation, let me tell you something. Californians understand that this health care system is not sustainable. Californians understand that the insurance companies make money not providing health care. Californians understand that the insurance companies have great power over many governments, but Californians also understand what it will mean to have one person in the White House who's ready to challenge those insurance companies, break the hold they have on the health care system, and rally the American people to create a not-for-profit health care system."

During a private interview following his speeches, New Times asked Kucinich and his wife, Elizabeth, if his campaign was one of ideas, or if he believed he really had a shot at winning the Democratic nomination and the White House.

"I have a shot at the nomination because I have ideas about where America needs to go," he said. "This campaign isn't about a political version of American Idol. It's about taking us away from war and connecting us with the health of our nation and health in every way. Californians understand the price that America's paying for this war because the real needs of our nation are being neglected. Our hopes for education for our children are dashed when we spend billions and billions of dollars on war. Our hopes for a stronger economy are being destroyed when we spend money on non-productive things like war. What will a Kucinich presidency mean for California? It will mean a not-for-profit health care system."

New Times also asked how Kucinich planned to sway the more pragmatic Democratic voters who might believe in his policies but don't believe he can win the White House.

"It's very easy," he asserted, again alluding to Clinton as his chief rival and, in a lengthy response, comparing her plans for health care to his.

Demonstrating that his wife is a real member of his political team, Elizabeth added, "There's nothing radical about this campaign. This campaign represents the mainstream that the American people want to approach. They need somebody who's going to lead in the political sphere for the aspirations they desire and deserve. This administration's policies have not been practical and pragmatic. They have not worked. The proposals that other [candidates] are putting up are exactly the same, just under a blue leadership rather than a red leadership. This candidacy really is a vehicle where the people are truly represented. Now do people want to be able to say they voted for a winner on one day and lost for the rest of the four years they were in office?"

The couple jumped into a waiting sedan, and after flashing a smile and a peace sign, they sped off to the next campaign stop.

Glen Starkey is a New Times staff writer. Contact him at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

 

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