The liberal case against Dennis Kucinich

Progressive hero wants to kill healthcare reform. Is it finally time to give up on him?

Published March 10, 2010 5:15PM (EST)

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, in October 2008.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, in October 2008.

The left has been torn over healthcare reform this year. Some liberals argue that Democrats' current proposals are a major step forward and worth passing despite their flaws, while others argue that the bill should be scrapped because the flaws outweigh the good, and because of the lack of progressive favorites like a public option.

On Tuesday night, two liberal favorites got set up to butt heads. Appearing on MSNBC's "Countdown," DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas was asked by guest host Lawrence O'Donnell about Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich's opposition to President Obama's reform proposal. Moulitsas didn't take it easy on Kucinich in his response.

"[I]t's definitely a very Ralph Nader-esque approach, I think, to politics -- a very unrealistic and self-defeating approach," Moulitsas said.

"And I'm going to hold people, like Dennis Kucinich, responsible for the 40,000 Americans that die each year from a lack of health care. And I don't care if you're a Republican or you're a conservative Democrat or you're somebody like Dennis Kucinich. The fact is, this does a heck of a lot for a lot of people ... It's not the ideal solution. But we have our foot in the door, and if somebody like Kucinich wants to block that, I find that completely reprehensible."

Later, pressed by O'Donnell, Moulitsas said he'd support the idea of a primary challenge against Kucinich if the congressman continues his opposition to the legislation.

As Firedoglake's David Dayen pointed out, it's actually too late for someone to decide to challenge Kucinich in a primary this year. But all this -- and some back-and-forth Moulitsas engaged in on Twitter after the segment aired -- leads to a larger discussion: What, exactly, has Kucinich accomplished during his seven terms in Congress?

Moulitsas argues that the congressman hasn't accomplished anything at all, and -- though I know I'm going to get slammed for saying this -- I have to agree. Sure, it's good to see a politician standing up for his beliefs and fighting for a point of view that might not otherwise be represented. But there are ways to do that and simultaneously be an effective legislator. Kucinich simply isn't, and he's never really tried hard to be. (You could also argue -- I would -- that the way he goes about things makes him pretty ineffective as a spokesman for his ideals.)

Just look at this section from the biography on his congressional Web site:

In Congress, Kucinich has authored and co-sponsored legislation to create a national health care system, preserve Social Security, lower the costs of prescription drugs, provide economic development through infrastructure improvements, abolish the death penalty, provide universal prekindergarten to all 3, 4, and 5 year olds, create a Department of Peace, regulate genetically engineered foods, repeal the USA PATRIOT Act, and provide tax relief to working class families.

Notice that the bio never says whether any of that legislation actually passed. In fact, according to the Web site GovTrack, of the 97 bills Kucinich has sponsored since taking office in 1997, only three have become law. Ninety-three didn't even make it out of committee.

The three that were enacted are, in chronological order from first to last: A bill "to make available to the Ukranian Museum and Archives the USIA television program 'Window on America,'" a bill "to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 14500 Lorain Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio as the 'John P. Gallagher Post Office Building" and a bill "proclaiming Casimir Pulaski to be an honorary citizen of the United States posthumously."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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Dennis Kucinich D-ohio Healthcare Reform