The United Steelworkers (USW) recently extended invitations to the full field of presidential candidates to come speak to the USW faithful at its July leadership convention. Four Democrats showed up -- Biden, Edwards, Kucinich and Clinton -- and said mostly what you would expect, considering the context, with just enough deviations from the script to keep me awake. If I sound cynical, it's only because Kucinich stole all my precious idealism. Or maybe I dropped it.
Dennis Doesn't Dig China, Cheney
Dennis started his speech to the steelworkers out with an inspirational story. Some 50 years ago, when the Kucinich family had fallen on hard times and was basically homeless, he looked out over Cleveland's Industrial Flats and saw a flickering flame from a blast furnace burning brightly over the cityscape, and it gave him the hope he needed to carry on.
If you've never been to Cleveland, this tells you the kind of place that my hometown is. In Cleveland, Lady Liberty wears a blue collar, and even our brightest beacons of hope run on coal. Needless to say, Kucinich, the son of a Croatian immigrant truck driver, was in his element in a room full of steelworkers.
Dennis reminisced during his speech about the proud moment, decades ago, when he was serving as the youngest-ever mayor of Cleveland and he helped save the city's largest steel mill from closing. "There were dozens of mills that were shut down around the country, and there was one that wasn't," he reminded the assembled steelworkers. "And that steel mill today is the flagship of an international company."
Like Edwards, Dennis sees the world continuing to divide along class lines, saying "Wall Street has separated itself from the aspirations of Main Street." True or not, it's definitely a better figure of speech than Edwards' somewhat drastic, Civil War-sounding "two Americas." Maybe Edwards should pull a Biden and just "repurpose" it. After all, Dennis has stolen the other candidates' thunder during the debates, so the least they can offer him is a little payback.
I really don't think it's wise for Dennis to take on Dick Cheney -- the guy (literally) shoots his own friends in the face. Maybe Dennis figures he's so pro-Peace that he's invincible?
Perhaps sensing the risks of his present course, Dennis has made sure he's got health care covered on a universal basis, noting that "Half of American bankruptcies are directly connected to those who can't afford to pay their doctor's bills."
"We can't afford to be sick," he quipped.
As for the Iraq war, we all know where Dennis stands -- he's like the anti-McCain (although pretty much everyone else is jockeying to be the anti-McCain on the war, probably because they actually want to get elected).
For Kucinich, a big part of the current trade imbalance centers on current U.S. government and financial relationships with China -- relationships that he says are questionable for a number of reasons. "We're borrowing billions from China for the war in Iraq," he noted, also saying that "Wall Street is looking to China to help fuel the growth of IPOs from hedge funds." Kucinich argued strongly both during his speech and the Q&A afterward that the growing U.S. financial dependence on China is sorely weakening American national security.
In fact, Dennis got his best applause of the night with the following gem:
"When I was young, growing up, we used to have a myth that said if you dig a hole, and you dig it deep enough, you'll wind up in China. Well, we're there."
He then asked the audience "And what's the No. 1 rule when you're deep in a hole?"
On energy policy, Kucinich rolled out a FDR reference by proposing what he called a "Works Green Administration" to "create millions of new jobs with energy alternatives," an effort he promised would "be vitally involved with the American unions."
Once again, vague promises of a clean, green future.
I know it's more cost-efficient to talk about green energy than it is to do anything about it (after all, talk is cheap) but it seems like politicians add a lot of hot air, and most of the time not much else, into the climate change mix.
At least the Democrats are trying, though. I find it very disturbing that above and beyond being a good idea in general, alternative energy sourcing is an issue of vital national security -- and yet of the Republican candidates only John McCain has called for fundamental change, even throwing down some concrete numbers. Oh, and Rudy Giuliani (but Rudy's basically a Democrat anyway).
This all brings to mind a good Biden quote that I forgot to put in earlier: The Delaware Senator told the steelworkers that his dad once said: "Chip, don't tell me what your priorities are -- show me your budget and I'll tell YOU what your priorities are."
This is probably why the candidates are being this cagey this early. For example, if a candidate from either party dismissed corn-based ethanol as the bad idea that it is, they can kiss their Iowa primary chances goodbye. It would be nice, just for once, if a candidate would come out and say openly what everyone knows to be true -- and if any of them were to try, it'd probably be Dennis Kucinich.
Regardless of how well Dennis does, it's bound to be an interesting ride. And even if he gets crushed like the Cleveland Cavaliers did in this year's NBA Finals, that same smokestack flame is still burning down there in the Flats for him to draw inspiration from.
Brad Kenney is an equal-opportunity cynic and an associate editor at IndustryWeek, based out of Cleveland. The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author. Feel free to register your agreement or displeasure at our Reader Talk-Back forum.