Straight From The Shoulder of Michael Shelby
And he’s welcome to it. When Rep. Dennis Kucinich answered the question asked on this mornings ABC Democratic candidate debate from Iowa, moderated by George Stephanopoulos, for an example from each candidate of one time they did not tell the whole truth on an issue – Rep. Kucinich said he would give the truth to the American people “straight from the shoulder.”
“Straight From The Shoulder” is the tag line my grandfather, Ward Shelby, used in the 1930’s for his comment column as owner and publisher of Progressive Arizona and the Great Southwest, a travel magazine that is considered the forerunner to today’s Arizona Highways magazine. I’ve taken this tag line for my self to honor my grandfathers commitment to the truth. It’s fun for me to think that one of Dennis’ staffers passed up one of my articles on him and he “stole” the line.
This morning’s ABC/Iowa Democratic Candidate debate once again weighted its questions and attentions on the front runners disproportionately and unfairly. Rep. Kucinich was last to be addressed and was shut out for fully 30 minutes into the debate. As usual, however, of Rep. Kucinich maximized his six speaking opportunities, adding to just over four minutes in the 90 minute “debate”, to deliver the most presidential, cogent, content driven, affirmative answers of all the candidates. Rep. Kucinich displayed his “firstest with the mostest” leadership on the issues of defunding the Iraq war and a strategy for withdrawal, single payer universal healthcare, education, the economy, and eschewing money from PAC’s and lobbyists. Of all the candidates, Rep. Kucinich is the only candidate who has introduced legislation – H.R. 676 – that removes the insurance companies from adding over 30% to healthcare costs from bureaucracy and unconscionable profit taking while denying coverage for almost 50 million Americans. Every other democratic candidate maintains a role for insurance companies and their non-value added profit taking in the delivery and managing of our healthcare system. Medicare and the Veterans Administration provides healthcare at overhead costs of less than 3%. Why are we allowing the current healthcare delivery system that gouges the American people for an unnecessary 27% add-on cost to continue!?! Why not use that excess profit feeding the insurance CEO’s, some making over $1 Billion in compensation, to provide training and reemployment for the insurance company employees that will need refocusing when insurance companies are removed from the healthcare system. The continued savings can then be reinvested to continuously improve the healthcare system.
Rep. Kucinich once again delivered the best line of the debates when he was called on to answer the question of whether or not the candidates believe that prayer could stop wars and hurricanes (I won’t even comment as to how inane and ridiculous such a question is. To their credit, however, the candidates got it!). When called, Dennis said, “George I’ve been standing here for 45 minutes praying to God you were going to call on me . . .” and looked to the heavens as he enjoyed the sheepish “ya’ got me” smiles for his answer from Stephanopoulos and the almost full minute of laughter from the audience. Kucinich’s substantive answer clearly transcended the fluffy answers of the other candidates as he differentiated between biblical dogma and spirituality. Deftly using appropriate biblical quotes, chapter and verse, Rep. Kucinich argued the founding fathers made clear that there must be a separation of church and state but they never excluded spiritual values, “the values of peace, social and economic justice, and that remember where I came from”, as a necessary part of good governance.
Finally, amid the few substantive answers to the final question of the debate, “What’s the decisive moment in your life?” it was Dennis Kucinich who answered – amid the pandering to certain interest groups or when I went from high school to college or I met my wife or when I joined the Peace Corps or my mom – with the most enlightening opening into the motivation of Dennis Kucinich as a candidate and human being. U. S. Congressman Kucinich said, “The most decisive moment in my life came when I was living in a car in the inner city and I thought about all the dreams I could have as a child and I decided at an early age that I was gonna be someone. And, I’ve had a lot of help along the way to get to this stage. But I can tell you, as President, the American people would have someone who remembers where he came from and has the compassion in his heart to lift up everyone to make sure everyone has a chance, thank you.” If you had no other reason to vote for Dennis Kucinich for President of the United States, just meditate on that singular, human, compassionate, hope-filled, and uplifting answer for a while. None of the republican crop of pygmy candidates could have the slightest appreciation or understanding of Kucinich’s answer. Most of the democratic candidates grew up privileged beyond working class America and none ever experienced homelessness in their lives. Dennis Kucinich lived through degrading and soul-destroying mean financial circumstances to emerge not as a Social Darwinist with a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” self-centered mentality personified by republicans – instead he transcended his circumstance, appreciated those who helped him along the way, and evolved to a higher level of compassion expressed through public service.
Let’s look to see if any of the candidates rise to Dennis Kucinich’s level of intelligence, intuition, insight, compassion, and humanity. Look to see if anyone rises to the level of honesty and transparency that Dennis Kucinich personifies when he answers the American people, “Straight from the Shoulder.”
Bound volumes of Progressive Arizona can be viewed at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University library archives. Grandfather used his magazine to share his love of Arizona and the southwest, native Americans, photography, and journalism. He also used his magazine as a forum to “share” his opinions and beliefs on his editorial page he titled “Straight From The Shoulder.” It is that legacy that I am trying to honor today. Grandfather Shelby was a “take no crap” kind of journalist out of the Ernest Hemingway tradition. A hard drinking, hard living “rough ole’ cobb” with one glass eye, one lung, tuberculosis, kidney and heart disease – family legend says he once beat up the fire chief of Tucson. “Straight From The Shoulder” was his way of assuring his readers that his opinions were from him alone and that he was always bone honest with them. A “progressive” Republican, my grandfather’s political leanings would best be compared to Barry Goldwater’s brand of conservatism. Although grandfather and I would probably be having somewhat animated debates today, me being a modern day progressive Democrat, I do wish he were alive to kick the current crop of Republicans asses as I am sure he would like to do. Sadly, grandfather lost his magazine during the great depression when the choice between spending a nickel for a magazine or a loaf of bread was all too clear.