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Robert Scheer Hosts Dennis Kucinich -- an Unpredictable American Original

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Reprinted from Truthdig


Former U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich.
(Image by (Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0))
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Read the transcript below.

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In the third episode of "Scheer Intelligence," Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer's new KCRW podcast, eight-term Ohio congressman and two-time Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich raps about the underbelly of U.S. politics going back to his days as Cleveland's "boy mayor" in the late 1970s.

Scheer and Kucinich recount how their early interview in Playboy magazine -- which both admit may have cost Kucinich a mayoral re-election -- led to a long friendship. In an illustration of how strange the political realm can be, Kucinich tells how former Republican Speaker John Boehner, a fellow Ohioan, tried unsuccessfully to aid him when Ohio Democrats "working on behalf of certain interests" redrew the lines of his district to ensure his congressional defeat in 2012.

As a veteran of the struggle against the corporate and political machine, Kucinich asks whether today's "oligarchs who run our politics will simply claim ownership of everything and have it privatized." On a lighter note, he talks about the effect his friends Woody Harrelson and Willie Nelson have had on his life, and hints with some vigor that he is not ready to step off the stage of electoral politics. As he puts it, "Stay tuned."

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Robert Scheer: Hello. I'm Bob Scheer, and welcome to Scheer Intelligence, the KCRW podcast that I'm using as the chance to talk to American originals, that cast of characters that the American culture, with its immigrants, with its former slaves and everyone else, has thrown up that are unique to the American experience. Today my guest is one such original, Dennis Kucinich, a former U.S. congressman from Ohio. He served in the House of Representatives as a Democrat for 15 years; he also ran for president in 2004 and 2008. Dennis was also mayor of Cleveland in the 1970s, when I first met him as a journalist for the Los Angeles Times, interviewed him when he was in a stormy race there. Dennis is a contributor at Fox News and, full disclosure, he is a contributor to Truthdig.com, the website that I cofounded, and he and I have been friends for quite a few years.

And I'm doing this podcast, which they call Scheer Intelligence; but really it's a study of American originals. And certainly, Dennis, you're in that category, and an American original. And I'm just thinking back, you know, how I first met you; you were already the mayor of Cleveland, you'd been a city councilman, and you were embattled in an election.

When I first heard about you, I didn't think you were left or right or anything; I heard there was some crazy kid out in Cleveland who was taking on the power structure in that town. You had a Muny Light, a municipal light system that provided electricity to the people of Cleveland, and the banks wanted to take it over, and they were going to put the city into default unless this young mayor went for it, and went for their terms, and privatized the public utility system. And by the way, in terms of your experience, I don't know where you were coming from; why don't you just tell us? You had been on the city council, you grew up in Cleveland; you're in a studio in Cleveland right now doing this interview. And who was that Dennis Kucinich that I met in '78?

Dennis Kucinich: The person you met in '78 is the person I am today. And that is someone who, if I see something that is unfair, unjust, if I see an attempt to try to defraud the public -- what happened in Cleveland was that the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company was working behind the scenes to try to put Muny Light out of business, and there were politicians working with them. Their bank partner came in later to try to force the city to concede the electric system in exchange for renewing the city's credit. You know, what I saw was a system that was a latticework of corruption. And I challenged it. I grew up in a way that involved really being committed to certain beliefs and ideas and ideals.

RS: Well, where'd that come from? The Catholic Church?

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DK: Well, let me just tell you. My background, I had a Catholic education, and the nuns who taught me at many different schools were very keen on the practical application of religion to everyday life. In other words, to follow a certain set of principles or an ethic that involved just trying to do the right thing in the moment, and trying to be good in every way. And so I breathed that in, and it became part of who I am today.

RS: And also what you breathed in were a lot of noxious fumes from the car your family was camping out in. You had a hard -- you know, I didn't have a protected childhood myself growing up in the Bronx, but when I encountered your story when I went back there and I talked to people you grew up with, and I was profiling you for the LA Times and doing that Playboy interview, you know, people told me you really came from a rough background. I mean, how many kids, and poverty --

DK: Well, I was the oldest of seven. My parents never owned a home, and we lived in 21 different places by the time I was 17, including a couple cars. You know, when you're young and it seems more like an adventure, you don't really think about it until later in life, you look and you say boy, my parents had a tough time, and we were basically fortunate to survive. And that background really helps to inform me to live life every day with a grateful heart, to really be grateful for the opportunities and the blessings that are received, and never to take anything for granted, ever.

RS: Yeah, well, I understand that, Dennis. And you know, I just should let people listening to this -- is that I did start out covering you as a journalist and then, you know, after I caused you your defeat [laughs]--

DK: Well, I think that one had many hands in it, including my own. [Laughter]

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Robert Scheer is editor in chief of the progressive Internet site Truthdig. He has built a reputation for strong social and political writing over his 30 years as a journalist. He conducted the famous Playboy magazine interview in which Jimmy (more...)
 

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