Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 648
I just got back from lunch with Dennis Kucinich. That is to say, Dennis Kucinch, his wife Elizabeth, Iowa staffer Marcos Rubenstein and campaign spokesperson Sharon Jimenez joined me and four other people for Vietnamese food (Dennis had the veggie egg rolls) at the A Dong restaurant in Des Moines today. And lunch means, y'know, lunch, just us and the wait staff.
Frequent visitors to this blog - both of you - will recall that I covered a little campaign faux pas from the Kucinich camp a couple of weeks ago called "Eyes and Ears" (see posts here, here and here). Congressman Kucinich issued a statement renouncing his campaign's Eyes and Ears project, but to date had not indicated what action he took beyond sending out an email mea culpa. Until now. Keep reading.
After shaking hands and sitting down, Kucinich looked around at the five of us...and waited. We waited back. I think most of us were expecting a few brief remarks about the campaign, the issues, why it is Kucinich thinks he should be President of the United States, something. Nope. Didn't happen. Nada. So, people began to talk tentatively between themselves. Dennis sized up the menu. His spokesperson took some phone calls.
Finally, the congressman asked us what we wanted to talk about. Didn't need to ask me twice.
"Congressman," I began, "I'd like to ask you about a campaign matter. On March 28, your campaign sent out an email soliciting volunteers for something called the 'Eyes and Ears Proje - "
"And I sent out an email the next day cancelling it," Kucinich interrupted.
"Yes," I replied, "and I commend you for it. But beyond issuing an email statement, did you take any action within your campaign with regard to those who conceived of and approved this project?"
"That," the congressman shot back, "is an internal campaign matter. I dealt with it. That's it."
Kucinich's spokesperson attempted to intervene at this point. "I'd like to address this question, if I may."
"No," I replied, "I would like to hear what the congressman himself has to say about this."
Now a little agitated, Kucinich asked, "What are you really asking?"
"I'm asking if you took any action beyond issuing an email statement. Did you take any action against those who came up with and approved this idea?"
"I'll tell you exactly the action I took. I talked to the entire campaign staff, first at the higher level, then lower down, that they weren't going be sending any more campaign emails without clearing them. So, yeah, they have less freedom than they did before."
"So you didn't dismiss or reassign anyone in connection with this?"
At this point, one of my tablemates abruptly interjected that the congressman hadn't yet finished his lunch, and I should leave him alone and let him eat. Nice try.
"Did you know about the email before it went out?"
"So," I said, trying to wrap this up, "you're saying that..."
"I already gave you my answer," a clearly fed-up Kucinch replied. "What I want to know is what's in your mind about this? Why are you pressing about it?"
"Because," I said, "your email statement on March 29 renouncing the Eyes and Ears project characterized it as a teachable moment for your campaign. I think it was also an accountability moment. Accountability in politics is a big thing to a lot of people. You maintain that yours is a different kind of campaign. So was anyone held accountable for this?"
"What would you have done?" Kucinch asked me.
"I would have fired them."
"You would have fired them. Have you ever fired anybody?"
"Yes, I have."
"Have you ever been fired?" Kucinich asked me.
"Yes," I replied, "I have. Is that relevant?"
"Sure!" Kucinich said.
"Tell me how?"
"Because I chose to deal with this from a position of forgiveness. Firing people for making a mistake comes from a position of power, and that's not how I do things. I dealt with this from a position of love."
So, there's your answer. True, there is nothing at all unusual about the lack of accountability in American politics; there are plenty of Mike Browns and Paul Bremers who collect rewards for doing "a heck of a job," no matter how great their ineptitude or its consequences. But it is, to say the least, a mixed message from a candidate who boasts of running his campaign on a higher level than his opponents.
Leading the world's only superpower isn't a game. As tempting as it sometimes is to think so, it is not American Idol gone political. It is serious, demanding, unforgiving work, where the actions of the president and those who work for him directly impact the lives of millions, at home and around the world. Presidential campaigns are about, in part, a candidate putting him or herself on full view before the American public in order to let them decide who is most fit to lead them. Running for president is a brutal and unrelenting marathon. But as hard as running for president is, it is nothing compared to how hard being president is. Being president demands absolute integrity and absolute accountability to the people you lead. No exceptions. No exemptions. No excuses.
I saw nothing in my meeting with Dennis Kucinich today to indicate that he in any way understands this. He is utterly unfit for the office of President of the United States.