In early 2008, while we were in the midst of a toss-up presidential election with no incumbent, and no clear front runners, a variety show I used to do in Riverside called, The Riverside Country Almanac, which I'd hosted since 1988, featured a play I'd written called, George W.'s Christmas Carol. In my take-off on the Dickens classic, President George W. Bush is visited by the ghosts of wars past, present, and future, and it all ends with the entire Bush administration being arrested for war crimes.
Of course it was a complete feel-good fantasy in wishful thinking, but, beyond the simple fun of seeing it staged, I wanted to make some serious points about our political process. At that time, two congressmen, Democrat Dennis Kucinich, and Republican Ron Paul, were vying for their party's nominations; two men who had done their best to point out the lies and deceptions of the Bush administration's fraudulent war with Iraq, and I thought they should be recognized for their efforts.
By the end of my play, after most members of the Senate and Congress are also removed from office due to their support of both the illegal war with Iraq, and the occupation of Afghanistan, Kucinich and Paul are then elevated to the offices of president and vice president. But, owing to their differing positions on a range of other issues, from gun control to health care, and the role of government in our lives, Washington is gridlocked for over a year. But the majority of Americans were too busy to notice as they celebrated the return of their loved ones, and the end of these massively wasteful wars. The audience loved it.
We now know, of course, that neither of these two honorable men, who may have differed in so many ways, but did not differ in their commitment to the truth as they saw it; the Constitution; and loyalty to their principles first, rather than their parties, did not go on to be president. And now, as of earlier this month, neither of them are congressmen either--Kucinich having been defeated in a primary last year by a fellow Democrat after redistricting, while Paul decided it was time to move on.
For many Democrats and Republicans though, the lost of those principled men comes not as a time for regret, but rather a sort of silent celebration. It's easy to believe that politicians from both major parties are privately glad, now that they're finally rid of these two mavericks--or "kooks," depending on your point of view. That's understandable, because Dennis and Ron had this "kooky" habit of calling them on their lies, and their hypocrisies, as they consistently spoke "truth to power," and refused to play the sleazy political game of "go along to get along."
Although I did differ with these men on a number of their political positions, and their refusal to walk away from their parties because of their apparent inability to see that the Republicans and Democrats are long past the point of being "reformed from within," that's not the point here. As we look back on their careers, what stands out is their integrity, which is a completely separate matter from political positions.
As we've found out from our current president, and the one who immediately preceded him, along with a number of others, it's not so much the positions they take, as the principles they uphold. All the "right" positions in the world won't matter if those positions can be thrown under the bus at a moment's notice in exchange for political power.
Kucinich and Paul refused to do it, and for that they were banished both literally and figuratively to the side of the political stage, where, more often than not, they were the last politicians standing. Besides their opposition to the illegal war with Iraq---which should have been a no brainer, if only because Bush ordered an attack on a country which had not and could not attack us as the evidence now shows---both Kucinich and Paul refused to support the deceptive USA Patriot Act, which has proven to be a subversive assault on our civil liberties.
To his credit, Kucinich also stood up to his party by calling for the impeachment of George W. and Cheney, when Nancy Pelosi had famously made it clear that impeachment was "off the table," thereby enabling Bush to literally get away with murder, both in Iraq and in his torture chambers in Guantanamo. On the other hand, again to his credit, Kucinich also called for an investigation into Clinton's possibly impeachable offenses, and spoke up for the creation of a Department of Peace, which, sadly, now seems forgotten as our Nobel Peace Prize winning president continues to launch all those drones.
Kucinich and Paul also stood together against their parties in opposing both the North and Central American Free Trade agreements, which they both correctly predicted would adversely impact American jobs, and offered few if any protections for workers abroad. If only we'd listened to them, rather than their parties' "misleaders," we'd be better off today.
As for Paul, he gets credit for pointing out the fiscal betrayals of a man who is now practically worshipped by the tea partiers: Ronald Reagan, who betrayed his promise to shrink the government when he instead implemented what the first George Bush called, "voodoo economics," when Reagan lowered taxes while raising military spending, which resulted in a predictable descent into deficits. It's the same sort of fiscal insanity George the First's son then engaged in when he refused to raise taxes to fight his wars, and instead put them on a credit card and handed it to China.
"I've been in this business a long time," Paul once observed, "and believe me there is essentially no difference from one administration to another no matter what the platforms.... The foreign policy stays the same, the monetary policy stays the same, there's no proposal for any new cuts and both parties support it." Paul and Kucinich were both able to consistently see through such foreign policy follies, and both consistently voted against them.
Then, as we shifted administrations from George W. to Obama, and Obama embraced Bush's predator drone program with so much enthusiasm he's even accelerated it far beyond what W. ever did, while the predictable toll in innocent lives began to climb, it was Kucinich and Paul who spoke up against it, in spite of what's been described as the program's "popularity" with both the public and their fellow politicians.
When Obama's strikes began to kill American citizens abroad, it was Kucinich, almost alone among Democrats to say it was wrong. Then, most admirably, when Obama ordered the "hit" on Osama, and had his kill team fire two bullets into the heart and the brain of an unarmed man in front of his screaming wife and 12-year-old daughter, again it was Kucinish and Paul who stood up against the mindless mobs in the streets as well as their cheering colleagues in the chambers, and said such extrajudicial assassinations are not what our country's about.
But it was talk such as this that also consistently got them shuffled to the sides during the presidential debates, as Kucinich and Paul held their colleagues' feet to the fire by simply telling the truth about the Constitution, a document they all said they were sworn to uphold. When they did that, the rest of the candidates shifted uncomfortably with pasted on smiles, looking at Kucinich and Paul as if they were the strange uncles who had wandered downstairs during Thanksgiving dinner, and, more often then not, simply waited for them to stop so they could go back to ignoring them.
In the late 1840s, when a young congressman from Illinois questioned the legality of the Mexican-American War, he was at first branded with the familiar charge of being unpatriotic, and then hooted out of Washington. He served one term, and then didn't hold another elective office until he was elected to the presidency in 1860.
Kucinich and Paul will now have no such second acts, but. like Abraham Lincoln, they both demonstrated in their political careers that true patriotism consists of neither falling into line with everyone else, nor falling back on the line: "my country right or wrong," but to question our course when you see that it's wrong and to speak up against it. For that alone, these two gentlemen's passing from our national political landscape is a loss for us all, and, as of yet, I see no one stepping up to replace them.
Phill Courtney was a 1998 and 2002 Green Party candidate for Congress in Riverside County. His e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org.