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Inside Dennis Kucinich’s Political Comeback

The firebrand former presidential candidate is back on the scene. TAC sat down with him.

Dennis Kucinich

Tucked into the western side of Cleveland’s urban sprawl lies the neighborhood of Tremont. It’s one of the oldest neighborhoods in the Sixth City, reflected in the architecture preserved in its historic district. Like many midwest cities, industrialization brought a boom to Cleveland in the early part of the 20th century. Men found work in steel mills and factories. By 1920, the relatively small neighborhood boasted a population of 36,000. Tremont’s heyday was short lived, however; by 1960, the neighborhood’s population was already declining. Work in the steel mills started to disappear almost as quickly as it cropped up. Today, Tremont is home to less than 8,000 residents.

Between the years 1920 and 1960, when Tremont was at its zenith, Frank and Virginia Kucinich had their first child. Dennis Kucinich was born in October, 1946, and would be the first of seven Kucinich children. He’d go on to serve on the Cleveland City Council, then as mayor. After a brief stint in Columbus as a state senator, Kucinich went to Washington and represented Ohio’s 10th District for 16 years. Over that time, he launched two brief bids for the presidency before he was redistricted out of Congress in 2013.


Now 77 years old, Kucinich is back. He’s mounting an independent campaign to represent Ohio’s 7th Congressional District, seeking to unseat Republican Rep. Max Miller. For the 16 years he spent in Washington, Kucinich represented half of what is now Miller’s district. Kucinich sat down with The American Conservative to discuss the state of his race, the state of the country, and what he’s seen change over his long career in government at every level.

Just because Kucinich was born when Tremont was in its prime didn’t mean life was easy. The Kucinich family was of modest means: Frank was a truck driver and a teamster for 35 years and Virginia a homemaker. The Kucinich family were renters, and Dennis moved around Cleveland 21 times in his young life. It’s hard not to see the parallels between the challenges Kucinich faced making his way as a young man in Cleveland and the challenges American families face today.

“I feel them, too,” Kucinich told TAC. “I remember as a child, my parents had difficulties making ends meet continually—seven kids. My dad was a truck driver, but just having a job, as people are finding today, doesn’t solve all your problems.” Kucinich said that at one point the family slept in the car. “So, do I know what people are going through? Yeah.”

“I feel it, too,” Kucinich repeated. “I understand what it means when people say they have experienced hunger, I understand when they’ve experienced homelessness or uncertainty about where they’re gonna live, about where your next meal might come from, about paying hospital bills, about saving to go to college. How do you scrape and try to put something together? I know. That’s my experience. This isn’t theoretical for me. Do those experiences translate into what I say today? You bet it does.”


But Kucinich isn’t angling for the sympathy vote, either. “I see it now as a gift. I never felt like, ‘Oh, poor me.’ No, I don't buy that.”

Rather, he is trying to tell Ohioans that they are not alone. “More and more people are having difficulty making ends meet,” Kucinich said, and the government is “no longer responding to practical aspirations of people, which are pretty basic.”

Voters really aren’t asking for much: a decent wage, a decent living, and a decent family and community. At its core, these issues that form the 2024 electoral landscape are economic.

“People are hanging on by their fingernails,” Kucinich told TAC. “I mean, the cost of housing, whether your own with your mortgage or renting, the cost of utilities, food, energy, medical care—everything’s going up. People are having a difficult time, and government does not seem to be particularly attuned to the difficulties that people are having economically.”

Kucinich channeled his childhood struggles into a life of public service that started very early on. At 23, he was elected to Cleveland’s city council. By 31, he was elected mayor of Cleveland as a Democrat—the youngest mayor of a major American city. It was in these early days where Kucinich developed a deeper understanding of, appreciation for, and relationship with the people of Cleveland and Ohio. It’s easy to get him going on the politics of the Buckeye state:

The politics of Ohio is steeped in a tradition of American manufacturing that went back to the beginning of the last century. Ohio was one of the leaders nationally in steel, automotive, aerospace, shipping and work ethic. And the American dream of ‘work hard, get ahead’ is thoroughly ingrained in the awareness of Ohioans. Now, people are quite aware the government hasn’t always delivered, especially with trade agreements that wiped out countless manufacturing jobs and sent jobs elsewhere. It deliberately undermined workers wages and benefits. And so this dynamic tension exists in Ohio, which enabled the rise of Donald Trump after the trade agreements that were passed under Clinton and subsequent administrations. 

Representative from Ohio is a title Kucinich takes seriously. Constituents and country come before party; America comes before any other country.

After a short time in the Ohio State Senate, Kucinich was elected as a Democrat to the House of Representatives. Already a well-known political entity in Ohio, Kucinich went on to make a name for himself as one of the most heterodox members of Congress. Though his nonconformist spirit and other eccentricities are what imprinted on the public imagination, Kucinich developed a reputation in Washington for being a dealmaker. This, plus his party affiliation at the time, meant he got to know three Democratic presidents—Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden—on a personal level.

When asked how these three men differ as people, Kucinich stared down at the table for a long time, repositioning his body as if he were having a mental conversation with himself to find the right words.

Kucinich has known Biden since 1972 when they both were running for positions in the national legislature. He’d meet Clinton a decade later. Kucinich spoke slowly as he began, judiciously choosing his words: “From a public policy standpoint, they both became creatures of the institution.” How these men eventually became absorbed by Washington and the executive branch differs. “President Biden knows the system from his experience,” Kucinich explained, whereas “President Clinton knew it intellectually.”

“Clinton may have been one of the smartest presidents since Jefferson,” Kucinich went on. “Clinton’s brilliant.” He paused, looked down at the table, and smirked. “Clever, too.”

“Joe Biden doesn’t try to be clever,” Kucinich said, softening his posture by leaning back in his chair, seemingly for an effect of flippancy. “What you see with President Biden is pretty much what you get. Who you see is who he is.”

Kucinich elaborated more on his relationship with the current president. “We both ran for Congress in 1972—he for the Senate, myself for the House,” Kucinich said. “I’ve known him a long time. I like Joe Biden. Now, his policies, I don’t like, with respect to his approach to international policies—whether it’s Vietnam, 9/11, Iraq—we haven’t been on the same page.”

Questions frequently percolate on the right and left about who really is in charge in the Biden administration. This discourse is mostly a consequence of the fact that the sitting president seems to grow more feeble by the day. Maybe, however, it’s not a matter of mental capacity, but the people Biden chooses to surround himself with. Maybe Biden doesn’t have an inner circle, but is merely a part of it.

“Anyone who’s president of the United States brings in a whole team of people,” Kucinich claimed. “He’s got a team that has consistently supported interventions. He’s consistently supported war and has deemphasized diplomacy in favor of military ‘solutions.’ It's not just him—it’s a marching band which supports massive military spending and tries to peddle to the American people that somehow this is good for our country.”

“It’s not!” Kucinich said, hands extended in exasperation. “It’s capital intensive, first of all, it’s not labor intensive. It doesn’t create jobs, it creates debt.” 

“As a sympathetic person, a figure, that President Biden is,” Kucinich added, “he is the primary exponent of a system that both parties have served to the detriment of the American people. It’s not just Democrats and Republicans, it’s the merging of those interests, which occurred when the Democratic Party 30 or so years ago decided that they would also go after corporate contributions. That’s when the uni-party was created.”

Obama fell into a similar trap. “Hillary Clinton had a lot more influence on President Obama than anybody would give credit for,” Kucinich claimed. “President Obama, I think, was straitjacketed by the groups that came together to support his candidacy for president—hedge funds, Wall Street, AOL, Time Warner, things like that.”

“Obama is a charismatic, thoughtful, constitutional lawyer,” Kucinich continued. “But like anybody else, you look for advice. And the advice that is consistently available in Washington is to make diplomacy subordinate to military options.” For Kucinich, the modern presidency is proof positive that institutional forces have, for the meantime, overwhelmed Article II of the Constitution.

“The unspoken question: Is there such a thing as a deep state?” Kucinich said.

“Of course!” Kucinich continued. “You see in the Pentagon, in the upper echelons of State, and the various think tanks, they try to assume a position of a permanent government. Donald Trump’s problem was that his lack of experience in government left him totally vulnerable to being attacked by these interests without even knowing it was happening. There’s a price you pay for not actually knowing how Washington works. It takes a while to understand how Washington works.”

Before he was redistricted out of his seat—in a surprising twist, by Democrats in Columbus—and lost to fellow incumbent Rep. Marcy Kaptur in the 2012 Democratic primary, Kucinich fiercely opposed the free-trade frenzy that captured the imaginations of the establishment right and left. Though he’s claimed to be pro-abortion rights, his voting record was arguably the most pro-life in the Democratic Party.

Above all, Kucinich made his bones as a harsh critic of foreign policy interventionism that saw its apex during the presidency of George W. Bush. He voted against the 2002 authorization of military force against Iraq, and repeatedly voted against funding for Bush’s forays into the Middle East. He twice voted against the Patriot Act—in 2001 and 2006—claiming it was the weaponization of government against the American people. “I knew from the moment that the Bush administration was pushing for an attack on Iraq, that none of what they said squared with the national intelligence assessment,” Kucinich reflected. “So there was no proof that Iraq had the intention or capability of attacking the United States, there was no proof that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11 or with the anthrax attack. There was no proof that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction which they intended to use against the United States.” 

Kucinich delivered hundreds of speeches on the House floor against the war in Iraq and other U.S. interventions. One of the speeches he remembers the most was in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. “I went to the floor of the house immediately after 9/11,” Kucinich recalled. “I was one of the first ones to speak to the House of Representatives right after 9/11, and I cautioned about how we would respond: don’t use this as just an opportunity to lash out.”

Let’s try to find a way to not just make a statement about our ability to defend ourselves, but let’s look at the broader picture here of what we can do to not just secure America but to have policies and make it less likely that we would be vulnerable.

In 2008, Kucinich went so far as to introduce 35 articles of impeachment against Bush, accusing the president of manufacturing evidence to force Congress and the public into another confrontation with Iraq—this time, all the way to Baghdad. His opposition to the Bush administration’s Middle East policy led to two short-lived bids for the presidency.

Kucinich was also staunchly opposed to U.S. interventions in Libya and Syria. He claimed President Barack Obama had committed an “impeachable offense,” by intervening in Libya. As for Syria, Kucinich met with the Syrian strongman on several occasions as a lawmaker and media personality. In September, 2013, when Kucinich was a Fox News contributor, Kucinich used his rapport with Assad to help the network schedule a televised interview. Later, in 2018, Kucinich returned a $20,000 speaking fee he received from an organization connected to the Syrian Solidarity Movement. Kucinich claimed he was unaware of the group’s relationship to the Syrian Solidarity Movement, adding that “the organization did not identify itself as having any interest other than human rights and never specifically mentioned to me their interest in or position regarding the Syrian regime. If they had, I would have declined their offer, because anyone who stands for peace must be able to remain above the appearance of influence.”

The former Congressman does not carry any pretenses of originality in objecting to America’s constant involvement in foreign conflicts. “Right from the beginning of our history as a nation, presidents from various parties understood how one must serve the interests of our nation first and that we have to be careful of foreign entanglements and that we must be forever vigilant to protect our constitutional liberties,” he emphasized to TAC.

While Kucinich may have internalized that message, Biden, as well as Democrats and Republicans in Congress, have not. As Kucinich courts votes, the U.S. is growing increasingly involved in two proxy wars: one against Russia in Ukraine, the other against Iran in Gaza.

The chickens are coming home to roost. “9/11 was a moment that America could have gone either way,” Kucinich said. “We could have recognized that most of the world community was solidly behind us, not only in our sorrow but in our righteous anger about the 3,000 deaths that occurred. Unfortunately, the Washington war machine saw this as an opportunity and they seized the moment.”

9/11 also brought about a shift in U.S. policy within the executive branch, Kucinich claimed. “The inflection was a minimization of diplomacy and turning over to the military the role that previously had been the province of the State Department.”

War budgets, and war debts, have only continued to grow. “We’re losing our country based on this addiction to war, and debt,” Kucinich told TAC. “And there doesn’t seem to be any willingness to start to take a different direction. We’re doubling down as in the $95 billion that Congress just appropriated to continue wars that we should not be involved in.”

That’s especially the case in Ukraine. “The United States was instrumental in overthrowing the government of Ukraine—it’s indisputable—in 2014. We did that to try to turn Ukraine into a catspaw to attack western Russia, focusing on Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbass, which was primarily Russian speaking people,” Kucinich argued. “But let’s look underneath this, because the Ukrainian government, prior to being overthrown, was trying to negotiate an agreement with the European community where Ukrainians would have access to work throughout Europe. That was blocked.”

In short: “Ukraine has basically been destroyed by the international community's intervention in its internal affairs.” He continued,

It’s a tragedy on so many levels. The flower of Ukraine’s youth has been murdered in these wars. You could almost make the argument based on events that are happening right now that this war is over, but has just not been announced to be over. They’re keeping it going past the election, and then they’ll pass it over to whoever wins the election. Meanwhile, the people of Ukraine are suffering in a way that is absolutely extraordinary. And we could have changed that. Sometimes, the way that you help the people who profess to be your friends, is not to give them guns, but to help them diplomatically. But the U.S. has lost that capacity to resolve things diplomatically, because there’s other agendas out there. And another agenda involves a mixture of megalomaniacal aspirations and attempts to dominate energy markets.

In Kucinich’s mind, the American regime’s addiction to debt and drone strikes is inseparable from the challenges Americans face at home. “When a country determines to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on military adventures that have nothing to do with the underlying concerns of the American people, there's questions being asked about what we are doing here. And that's a common sense question.”

When asked about his opponent, Kucinich again thought a long while before responding. “It’s challenging for anybody new in Congress to understand what is actually happening unless you have political experience before you get there. It’s very difficult for anybody to come off the street and become a congressman,” Kucinich told TAC. “I had the blessing of a career that started in 1967.”

Further, Kucinich had spent thirty years in politics before he came to Washington. “I understood government and the outer limits of what is political discussion.”

“Mr. Miller didn’t have that kind of experience,” Kucinich claimed. Miller, a freshman Congressman originally from Shaker Heights, an inner-ring Cleveland suburb, bounced around the first Trump administration. While he’s proclaimed to be a close ally of the former president and identifies as a member of the MAGA movement, Miller is also a member of the moderate, and sometimes MAGA-antagonistic, Main Street Caucus. Pushing for further U.S. involvement in both Ukraine and Gaza has become Miller’s calling card.

Kucinich sees Miller as an extremist when it comes to America’s involvement in the Middle East. “Right after October 7, he was actively advocating genocide, saying we’re going to turn Gaza into a parking lot,” which Kucinich believes was a reference to the Tantura massacre of 1948. The site where mass graves were found has since been turned into a parking lot for Tel Dor beach. “One who serves in the United States Congress must be cautious about language, which can impact policy, which can excite or incite. He lacks judgment and thoughtfulness. He is reactive.”

Kucinich does not believe Miller properly represents the district’s views on these conflicts. “He doesn’t understand the district. He doesn’t understand politics. He doesn’t understand diplomacy,” Kucinich claimed. “I’m prepared to step back into the seat, because I’ve represented almost half of this district for 16 years. And I think the people are ready for someone who has the maturity, who was tested, who they can trust, who knows how to negotiate in a time of great danger. And the last thing we need is somebody who’s a figurative bomb thrower to just keep pushing the escalation.”

But Kucinich stepped back from his criticisms of Miller. “Even when I’m talking about Mr. Miller, I remember Abraham Lincoln’s injunction about malice towards none, charity for all.” 

That’s why Kucinich is trying to keep his campaign focused on what he perceives are the real issues. “The focus of this campaign is about putting country above party,” Kucinich asserted. “And how do you do that? Stop spending money on these wars. Stop building this incredible deficit. Protect constitutional rights…. These issues have arisen in this campaign, and are serious because they are directly related to fundamental rights that Americans have had since the Bill of Rights itself.”

“This campaign is about addition, it’s about multiplication. It’s not about division, or subtraction,” Kucinich told TAC. “I’m welcoming Democrats, Republican and independent voters to our campaign, and we’re finding the campaign is resonating with people across the political spectrum.”

Kucinich can’t hide his excitement:

There’s whole new combinations that are being put together in American politics right now, that are not based on an ideology, that are not based on on partisanship, but are based on common sense, on the desire of people to not just form a more perfect union, but to start focusing the resources of this nation on things are at home.

“America is losing its way,” Kucinich continued. “We were warned about this a couple hundred years ago about running around the world seeking dragons to slay. Here, we have the dragon of inflation, the dragon of high energy prices, the dragon of high food prices, the dragon of high housing prices. These are the dragons we should be addressing, not those halfway around the world. Rather than trying to tell people how to live, we should make it possible for people in this country to be able to live.”

“I’ve always been politically independent, despite whatever label was attached. Now I’ve made it official,” Kucinich said. “Whole new ballgame.”