DENNIS KUCINICH'S campaign for president ended last week with an uninspiring fizzle, as the man who brings new meaning to the word "quixotic" tried one last time to assert his national viability.
On Thursday, the Ohio congressman endorsed John Kerry, thus hitting the homestretch on his 15 minutes of fame. After prolonging what has charitably been called his "long-shot campaign for the Democratic nomination" until the last minute, and bending his own positions on major issues until they were almost unrecognizable, Kucinich finally threw in the towel.
In his statement, Kucinich delivered his 68 convention delegates (out of the convention's total of 4,322) into Kerry's hands. He also encouraged Naderite voters to get on board. "If there is room for me in the party and the Kerry-Edwards campaign," he said, "there is certainly room for Ralph and his supporters."
But as the platform negotiations in Miami earlier this month made clear, Kerry's team isn't particularly inclined to accommodate the stragglers from the left, and any pretensions the Kucinich delegates had to "changing the debate" were shown up for wishful thinking.
Despite its mere 2 delegates out of the 186 on the platform committee, the Kucinich micro-faction submitted 18 amendments. Its priority was the Iraq plank. Kucinich wanted to remove from the platform the statement that "people of good will disagree about whether America should have gone to war in Iraq" and to add the assertion that the war was "a mistake."
Failing to muster the 15 votes required to force debate on any amendment, the Kucitizens (as they call themselves) were reduced to lobbying for their views. They ended up with a compromise that only the truly hopeless could have been proud of. Tim Carpenter, Kucinich's convention coordinator, is apparently in that category. He said he was "pleased" with the language added to the platform, which now calls for American troops to pull out of Iraq "when appropriate so that the military support needed by a sovereign Iraqi government will no longer be seen as the direct continuation of an American military presence."
"We kept them awake until 4:00 in the morning," said Carpenter proudly. In exchange for consideration of their position on the war, Kucinich's team agreed to withdraw its 17 other proposed amendments.
And lest there be any confusion about this minor victory, the Kerry campaign immediately dispatched former Clinton adviser Sandy Berger to announce that Kerry "didn't give up anything." "The language on Iraq," said Berger, "is very consistent with what Senator Kerry has been saying all along." He smiled and called the state of the party "delightful unity," while the Kucinich folks looked on, pale and exhausted, witnessing the end of their campaign.
As the platform committee meeting wound down, at least one member of the Kucinich team was in tears, reported the Miami New Times. Delegate John Sherman of Minnesota, however, displayed an almost sunny optimism when he described his delegation's position at the platform negotiations as a "busted flush."
Kucinich, meanwhile, issued a statement comparing himself favorably with civil rights activists. He lauded the
compromise over Iraq language at the Platform Committee meetings in Miami. Media reports, including the New York Times, pointed out that the Democrats escaped divisions like the ones that occurred in 1948 over civil rights and in 1968 over Vietnam. Working inside the party is not always convenient. We made a responsible choice to push as far as we could, with all the resources we had, to get as much as we could, without tearing the party apart.
Though Kucinich says he has not changed his position "one iota," his delegates have been instructed to lay off the issue of the war in Iraq at official convention events. Antiwar agitation will be confined to a progressive "shadow convention" well outside the Fleet Center security perimeter. In fact, one Boston-bound Kucinich supporter says "the Dean people are kicking up more of a fuss than we will."
Yet hope springs eternal. Kucinich delegates cite as definitive evidence that Democratic voters are on their side a recent New York Times/CBS News poll that shows by a margin of 56 percent to 38 percent people who identify themselves as Democrats say U.S. troops should "leave Iraq as soon as possible, even if Iraq is not completely stable" and not "stay in Iraq as long as it takes to make sure Iraq is a stable democracy."
In other words, hard-core Kucitizens still dream of a comeback, with their man at the helm of a massive progressive coalition designed to take over the Democratic party from within. Only time will tell.
For now, Kucinich is scheduled to speak at the convention on Wednesday, as his 15 minutes tick away. His speech will certainly be vetted by Kerry's team, and will contain no surprises. After all, as Kucinich's website now trumpets, "unity is essential."
Katherine Mangu-Ward is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.