August 17, 2003  ·  Lessig

When I was growing up, Dennis Kucinich was something of a political hero. I was in high school when he was elected mayor of Cleveland — the youngest mayor of a major city ever. I was also very involved politically. I say “something” of a hero, though, because then I was then a right-wing loon (chairman of the Pennsylvania Teen-Age Republicans, youngest member of a delegation at the 1980 GOP convention). I admired his drive and strength of character; I had little patience for his politics.

I’ve grown-up a bit in the last 25 years. I’m now, well, not a right-wing loon, and now not at all involved politically. But I am still an admirer of Dennis Kucinich — indeed, now more than ever. I don’t (yet?) buy the anti-free trade stuff. But his is a powerful and right voice in this amazing election.

I am of course a bit biased by his embrace of Creative Commons — which has been a part of his blog from the start. But the test for me is always character, and the measure of character for me is whether someone can say what’s right, regardless of consequence, just because he believes it is right.

This is Edwards defending affirmative action in North Carolina; this is Dean opposing he war. This is Kucinich, here and elsewhere, articulating views that he believes right, whether or not they are views that will win him favor.

The post about Gilmore was the example here. I have been astonished by the debate around that event. It made me realize how that there are two sorts of people out there when it comes to civil rights. The question that divides us is not whether we believe in civil rights — obviously, everyone (interesting) does. The question is how we believe in civil rights. (1) One sort believes that when someone else acts — either intentionally or carelessly — to infringe a right, it is right (or even maybe a duty) of the person whose rights have been wronged to defend the right regardless of consequence. (2) Another sort believes that when someone else acts — at least carelessly — to infringe a right, the right thing to do is to decide whether, all things considered, it makes sense to defend the right.

Type two sorts are the majority of us. We’re the “reasonable” ones. Apple doesn’t make commercials about us. We do what everyone would. I’m sure in the right context, I would have to fight all of my instincts to resist being a type two sort. There have been a couple times in my life when I have succeeded, but just a few.

Gilmore is type one — in this context, and many others. (He once, for example, scolded my wife for inviting him to a party with an Evite because it was wrong, he believed, to demand he give up his privacy just to respond to an invitation.) And while I don’t agree with the underlying values that he sometimes pushes (for example, I not only thought it wrong for him to scold my wife, I think Evite is great), I do admire the ability to be type one in a world of type two’s — especially when I agree with the underlying value (as I do w/r/t the British Airways incident).

Thus, I agree with Kucinich, Gilmore is a patriot. At a time when reasonableness by those in power must be taught, his was a patriot’s act (unlike the other Patriot Act). And I admire Kucinich’s willingness to say that here — in a space where some of the most well reasoned contributors (and some others as well) have strongly taken the other view. This is the (only) part of Reagan I continue to admire; it is the part of Kucinich I increasingly admire; it is the part in these candidates we should all respect: the willingness to say what’s right, regardless of consequence.

Thank you, Congressman, for taking time in this space. And thank you for the character of your campaign.

  • Karl

    I’m not so sure how much a believe in the concept that defending controversial ideas bestows de facto gravitas upon the speaker. I respect the Congressman’s bravado in the face of our often ornery crowd, but I’m not sure how far that type of respect extends. I certainly wouldn’t respect a Marxist candidate who stood up and preached the value of Communism for taking a brave new look at politics and defending what he believes to be a powerful opposition to the status quo.

    -kd

  • Westley Sherman

    Mostly I respect people for being correct (saying things I agree with) but I can also respect people who champion ideas out of idealism rather than desire for personal gain. Of course, in many cases, imposing one’s ideals on the world constitutes quite a personal gain.

  • Ed Lyons

    Well, Professor Lessig, you have a good point there about types of people. But we can’t all be ‘type 1′ people in all things. :-) Some of us are gathering up our unreasonableness for other fights.

    You may one day get an Apple ad after all, Professor. (I think your recent award [kudos!] is a sign of things to come.) Because of people like you, one day, Mickey and friends will say, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

  • http://www.bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    I think Kucinich is sincere, for what it’s worth. I also think he’s misguided in several areas, perhaps in most areas, as a consequence of spending virtually his entire adult life in elected office. Politics is an unreal world, and people who are creatures of that world for too long can easily lose their grounding in common sense. We have a politician like that in California, the infamous John Vasconcellos of the state senate, who’s been in the legislature for 30+ years now. He’s the guy who chartered the Self-Esteem Task Force that was ridiculed around the country (and the world), as well as a number of other sort of hippie-dippie causes. Like Kucinich, he’s a pro-life Democrat, and opposed to the death penalty, so he wins points for consistency.

    Naive idealism injects an interesting voice into the political dialog, and every once in a while a good idea.

  • http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/ Seth Finkelstein

    There are also those who do not believe every claim of violated civil rights is correct.

    And it takes no courage whatsoever to repeat views that have been endorsed from the “bully pulpit”, which are sure to win warm praise from that same pulpit.

    Further the ant among elephants sayeth not.

  • Rob

    I’m glad Mr. Kucinich took some time to post here. At least he had more to say than Dean. I don’t think he has a snowball’s chance of getting elected, but that shouldn’t stop him from following his dream.

    So, who’s next?

  • Dee Lichtenberger

    “I also think he�s misguided in several areas, perhaps in most areas, as a consequence of spending virtually his entire adult life in elected office. Politics is an unreal world, and people who are creatures of that world for too long can easily lose their grounding in common sense.”

    Actually, Richard, I think I have to disagree with you on this (big surprise, eh?). I think your statements about politics and the political world are completely accurate, but your assessment of Congressman Kucinich is backwards. Rather it’s my belief he is the exception among those in politics. It’s not a loss of grounding in realism you see, it’s a very FIRM grounding in the realism of most American citizens.

    I’ve watched numerous men and women take office in my lifetime. People I believed would be the voice of the working class in our Government. I’ve watched them turn into the same old plastic politicians over and over again. They get devoured by that world and spit out an unfeeling uncaring politico who spouts the same platitiudes and promises that are never kept.

    No, Richard, I’d have to say Congressman Kucinich is the exception to that process. That he’s kept a firm grasp of what working class America wants and needs in order to live decent lives. Unfortunately working class America has become so used to being walked on by corporate and political interest that they can’t believe anyone not engaging in it could possibly be real. They’ve also forgotten they are the largest force in this nation.

    Congressman Kucinich is the Unicorn among a herd of thoroughbreds. People look, blink and tell themselves it can’t be. Like being confronted with a Unicorn, though, once they’ve seen him, touched his hand and felt his grip, once they hear him speak about all he wants for this country, most admit he’s an amazing force and yes, he is indeed the real thing.

  • Monica Griffin

    Amen, Dee! I’ve read, I’ve listened, and I’ve shaken his hand. He is the real thing! His is the only campaign I have ever felt compelled to volunteer for in my life. And he is very electable.

    He has a 100% voting record in Congress…now THAT is someone who takes the people’s business seriously.

    Go, Dennis, Go!!

  • Patrick J. Shields

    Interesting to me the conversation taking place between two people I’ve followed closely; Lessig on the web front, who you could always count on for a usable explanation of events, and Congressman Kucinich who was my Mayor when I was a kid: an interesting anecdote from the summer of his second Mayoral campaign: the one he lost.
    I was working, as I had for two summers, for a woman from Akron named Jinx, who ran fresh lemonade stands, and corn dog stands. Hard working, as were her daughters, up to Cleveland at the crack of dawn. My cousin from Cleveland’s West Side (I was from the east side), waiting there to help them be set up at 9:00 a.m., when the annual Rib Burn Off, as it was then called, opened. In the middle of the after noon, in about 95 degree heat and humidity, Mayor Kucinich walked up to the stand, sweating, and ordered a lemonade, which Jinx immediately set us to shaking up for him. When he pulled out his wallet to pay, she insisted that it should be free, he was the Mayor after all. He insisted on paying, saying, and I quote, “I’ll pay my way like any other citizen”. They went back and forth, each standing their ground, until Jinx said, “I just want to do my part”, and then the Mayor said something I have never forgotten: “Madame, you’re an entrepreneur! You’re already doing your part.” I had no idea what the word meant, and later asked her; she said simply, “Someone who runs their own business”, but it was the pride with which she said it that struck me. Perhaps it had never been acknowledged. She took the dollar and a quarter. As I look back, I realized that she always paid us in cash, but we always received W2′s at the end of the year. Two people who understood that paying their way can be a patriotic act. Kucinich understands this…you watch how it starts to resonate as the campaign goes on.

  • http://www.bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Has Kucinich ever had a real job for any significant length of time?

  • http://121bridge.blogspot.com Pam

    There is an additional sort of person: The one who notices other people’s rights have been wronged and stands up for them.
    You can’t imagine how much heart it gives a wronged person to have even one other person note their difficulty and side with them.
    And, in the long run, that is the only way we advance in liberty, conscience and social equality.

  • Dee

    “Has Kucinich ever had a real job for any significant length of time?”

    What IS your big beef with Congressman Kucinich, Richard? I really do not understand your apparent determination to denigrate him repeatedly. Yes, he’s held a number of “real jobs” for significant lengths of time. Would you mind explaining to me how it’s possible for a young man to support 6 siblings, at the age of 17, without having a “real job”? Or maybe you could even explain what a “real job” is.

    Here, I’ll even start. My definition of a “real job” is any duty undertaken by any human being, carried out with pride and commitment to doing the best one can, and which earns them some sort of compensation by way of money or basic necessities. Seems to me the Congressman’s performance as a Representative fits my definition just fine.

  • http://www.bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Politics is an unreal world, and by contrast, a real world would be one outside that sphere. Hence, a real job is one in the private sector.

    That’s where most of the working people are, you know.

  • MikeA

    “Politics is an unreal world”

    it sure is…with people arguing over how manage things, screaming and backstabbing over how to run certain efforts. Politics is where people do backalley favors for other people for bad reasons, and have a lot of control over people’s economic and social lives.

    That sort of stuff NEVER happens in the private sector, huh ? The Private Sector is not surreal at ALL, right ? Ever work at Enron, Warner Brothers, CNN, Morgan Stanley, Foster Grant, or Sikorsky ? Saying the private sector is any less surreal than government is like saying Arnold is a real cop, undercover as a kindergarten teacher in Alaska.

    You have obviously not worked in government before. The private sector is just as ‘unreal’ as politics. And just like in the private sector, some political gigs are boring and straightforward.

    To say that someone with only private sector experience is somehow a “better” candidate is about as ignorant a statement as they get. A good CEO doesn’t make a good politician, just like a good network engineer doesn’t make a good Secretary of Transportation. If you don’t like Kucinich, then say so. Don’t fill up this space with moronic, transparent attempts at digression or statements of idiocy, just because you like to see your own words on the Internet.

  • Dee Lichtenberger

    “Politics is an unreal world, and by contrast, a real world would be one outside that sphere. Hence, a real job is one in the private sector.

    That�s where most of the working people are, you know.”

    Why yes, Richard, I do know that because I’m one of them, the working people that is. And I ask again, how is it that a 17 year old boy could support 6 siblings without having what you deem a “real job”? How is it a boy with absolutely no financial resources from family could get two college degrees without having what you call a “real job”?

    Congressman Kucinich has done both the above mentioned things with no financial support from his family. He IS the working class. That’s the difference between Congressman Kucinich and the rest of the politicos. He remembers that. He remembers how hard it was to take care of those kids without having community support, family support and government support. He remembers what it’s like to be without basic neccessities and worrying about how you’re going to get the means to supply them for yourself and 6 others. He KNOWS what it’s like to have to fight tooth and nail just to get enough education to get yourself out of poverty.

    Do some homework, Richard. Look these things up for yourself instead of expecting others to do it for you. See that’s what working people do when they want answers- they WORK to find them.

  • http://www.bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    It’s my impression that Kucinich is a career politician whose connections to life in the private sector are way, way back in the past. It’s also my impression that’s he running for re-election to his congressional seat and therefore isn’t taking this presidential campaign all that seriously. It’s also my impression that Kucinich has been a career politician for all of his adult life, and therefore has no more connection to the day-to-day reality of working for a living than the Kennedys and Rockefellers.

    I also think he’s a vegetarian, and I personally would never vote for a man who doesn’t enjoy a good steak.

  • MikeA

    “and therefore has no more connection to the day-to-day reality of working for a living than the Kennedys and Rockefellers.”

    yeah…like George Bush….working hard, all his life, right ? and Nixon ? and Clinton ? You’re an idiot.

  • John Mark Ockerbloom

    “This is … the part of Kucinich I increasingly admire; it is the part in these candidates we should all respect: the willingness to say what�s right, regardless of consequence. “

    I think I’d be more inclined to believe that if Kucinich hadn’t, like a number of past Democratic presidential and vice-presidential
    hopefuls, reversed his position on abortion policy right around
    the time he shifted his aspirations from a local to a national office.

    Pro-life Democrats are not uncommon in some parts of the country,
    including Pennsylvania, where I live. But they get a distinctly
    icy reception from the national party, as the late PA Gov. Casey
    (denied a podium at the national Democratic convention) or Ron Klink
    (who got very little party support in his loss to Rick Santorum
    in the last US Senate race in PA) could tell you.

    Is this a case where the consequences are seen as too severe
    to say what is right, whether you’re a pro-life Democrat in a
    national race, or a pro-choice Democrat in a local race? The
    timing of so many candidate’s “changes of heart” on what is
    essentially a matter of conviction (whether of the right to life
    of the unborn or the right to reproductive freedom) seems a
    bit too regular to chalk up to coincidence.

  • eridani

    I think that Dennis can be a bridge between people who think abortion is wrong and who otherwise go for the Dem agenda. He personally doesn’t like it any better than he did; he believes now that the more important question is WHOSE choice it is.

  • http://tommcmahon.net Tom McMahon

    Richard Bennett, you’ve been called an “idiot” in these comments. But fear not, as a brave Type 1 (no Apple ad yet either) I shall rise to defend you! Even if you are a Type 2. Or is being called a “Type 2″ worse than “an idiot”? ;-)

  • http://www.bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Somebody said there are two kinds of people in the world, those who think there are two kinds of people and those who don’t.

    I’d rather be one who defies classification, which is what this MikeA entity is trying to say, albeit in his own crude little way.

  • Dee

    Richard says-”It�s my impression that Kucinich is a career politician whose connections to life in the private sector are way, way back in the past.”

    I’m not sure why that has any bearing on whether he understands the struggles of the working population. In fact I can’t say he’s really a career politician in the way I’m interpreting your use of the phrase. He did take 15 years off from politics between Mayor of Cleveland and Congressional Rep. Technically he’s only really been “career politician” for 8 years now. I think I’d be more inclined to agree if Kucinich were a Senator since Senate terms are 4 years instead of the 2 yr terms of Reps. If you tally it all up, he’s spent more time in the private sector than in politics in his working life, to date.

    “It�s also my impression that�s he running for re-election to his congressional seat and therefore isn�t taking this presidential campaign all that seriously.”

    Now why would you presume that? If he doesn’t get the nomination he does have to have a fallback job. I don’t think making sure you have a secondary plan if the first one doesn’t work is the same as not taking a bid for election seriously.

    “It�s also my impression that Kucinich has been a career politician for all of his adult life, and therefore has no more connection to the day-to-day reality of working for a living than the Kennedys and Rockefellers.”

    Ok, just because of this, I went back and did the math. I had to know if your assessment is accurate or not. According to the time frame I managed to look at, Kucinich has been working at least since age 17. He’s now 56, I believe, since his birthdate is in October. That’s approximately 40 years of time he’s had to have been working. Now, calculating just his terms in elected office, it comes out to 18 years of that time. If you include failed election efforts, it comes out to more like 22 years, but even so, that tells me he’s still got a pretty good grasp of the realities of living in the private sector.

    “I also think he�s a vegetarian, and I personally would never vote for a man who doesn�t enjoy a good steak.”

    He’s actually Vegan, not vegetarian. (laughing) Richard, for all the back and forth, disagreement and barbs, you’re pretty ok. Thanks for the chuckle.

  • Neil Kandalgaonkar

    Richard Bennett: There is this thing called Google, you know.

    One can reconstruct Kucinich’s employment history, or at least the way he tells it, from this Nation article “Kucinich is the One” (April 18, 2002) and this biography from Politics1.com.

    When I was in grade school, I would scrub floors and help with janitorial duties to pay my tuition. When I got into high school, I worked as a caddy at the country club, from 1959 to ’64. I was carrying two bags. They called it workin’ doubles. Going forty-five holes a day, six days a week.

    [...] I began to get into city politics. In 1967, I ran for the City Council. I was 21.

    - Attended Cleveland State University, 1967-70.

    [...] I was elected councilman in ’69. I had just turned 23.

    - Cleveland City Councilman, 1970-75
    - Democratic nominee for Congress, 1972;
    - B.A. & M.A., Case Western Reserve University, 1973.
    - Cleveland Clerk of Municipal Courts, 1975-77;
    - Mayor of Cleveland, 1977-79 (elected in 1977; defeated for re-election in 1979);

    [...] In November 1979, with just about all of Cleveland’s newspapers and television and radio stations–as well as industry–united against him, Kucinich was defeated for re-election

    - Radio talk show host, 1979 & 1989;
    - Lecturer, 1980-83;
    - Energy Consultant,1986-94;
    - TV News Reporter, 1989-92.

    (1992-95 ?? — couldn’t find any info)

    - State Senator, 1995-97;

    - US Congressman, 1997-present (elected in 1996, re-elected in 1998, 2000 & 2002).

    You may disagree with his politics. I do as well. But your cynicism about the public sector is facile know-it-all-ism. First of all, the public sector is not just the private sector minus competition and competence. It’s a whole other thing, which requires real skills. Secondly, if you want to know if Kucinich has lost touch, it’s stupid to try to resolve this question by measuring how long he’s been in politics. Ask what he’s done while he was there.

    I’m from an upper-middle-class background. I have always worked in the private sector — computer-related jobs, never dealing with the public. I suppose I am an ‘entrepreneur’ of sorts. I’m only so-so at managing people, even those that are technically PAID to cooperate with me.

    Contrast me with Kucinich. By any measure, has been building coalitions since he was in his early 20s. Not with $2,000-a-head dinners, as George W. Bush has done since day one of his political career, but by knocking on doors in working-class districts.

    So who would make the better president? Me or Kucinich? Obviously the Congressman, if nothing other than the fact that I’m a Canadian. ;)

  • erin greer

    in reference to dennis’ veganism. the fact that dennis is a vegan is the reason i know he REALLY means it when he voices concern for the environment, the hungry, the sick, and the abused. veganism is a way of life that places compassion for all living things above all else. pretty much anyone can, and does, talk the talk. sadly few actually walk the walk.
    i am thrilled to finally have the opportunity to campaign for someone like dennis. casting my vote for dennis will almost feel like getting the opportunity to vote for gandhi or martin luther king jr. or jesus. although i am sure there are some out there who would even criticize the likes of them.
    if the american people knew what was good for them dennis would, without a doubt, be our next president. unfortunately most people (i have seen them referred to as sheeple) can’t even make decent choices for themselves when it comes to such basic things as food and housing. they want only the richest, most unhealthy foods. the biggest house, the most expensive car. few people even care about their own neighbors, let alone all of humanity.
    dennis represents what america truly needs more of. compassion and simplicity. i will vote for him even if he’s not on the ballot. there just isn’t anyone else in politics with the heart and guts of dennis kucinich!!!

  • Deenie M.

    I use to think sometimes that Dennis was too good to be real. But I saw him speak in St Louis last week and saw/felt the deep sincerity of this little guy with the giant spirit. It has to be real since this level of consistency can’t be faked. A lot of people were silently weeping at his passionate, always positive, speech. He doesn’t read his speeches, btw. He uses gestures and body language continuously. You’d think he was from Italy :-) His vision for all of America and the world is totally profound. It seems unattainable but he has plans, detailed ones, on how to accomplish it. IMO, he has a belief in the innate good within all humans and he wants to help manifest it. No one has a better grasp of what needs to be done to make the world a much better place for the common people. He’s an amazing fellow! You gotta see him speak. Do visit his site at http://www.kucinich.us and see his platform statements.

  • http://www.outlander.com Randall Burns

    I started looking at Kucinich’s campaign because he was the only candidate that voted against H-1b expansion in 1998. That issue is an extreme case of a difference between popular will and governmental action. 82% of the public opposed H-1b non-immigrant visa expansion in 1998. In 2000, the senate voted for H-1b expansion 96-1. The reason? Well, a six fold increase of electronics industry donations to $200 Million/ year (opensecrets.org) might have had something to do with it. This is a bill that even Milton Friedman called a corporate subsidy(turned a shot at a green card into a corporate perk). Kerry, Gephardt, Braun, Edwards all voted for H-1b. Clark has said good things about the program.

    Kucinich strikes me as the only candidate with any track record that shows he can’t be bought cheaply. Do we want honest, popular government-or become just another corporate oligarchy-that is the choice here.

  • http://www.outlander.com Randall Burns

    I started looking at Kucinich’s campaign because he was the only candidate that voted against H-1b expansion in 1998. That issue is an extreme case of a difference between popular will and governmental action. 82% of the public opposed H-1b non-immigrant visa expansion in 1998. In 2000, the senate voted for H-1b expansion 96-1. The reason? Well, a six fold increase of electronics industry donations to $200 Million/ year (opensecrets.org) might have had something to do with it. This is a bill that even Milton Friedman called a corporate subsidy(turned a shot at a green card into a corporate perk). Kerry, Gephardt, Braun, Edwards all voted for H-1b. Clark has said good things about the program.

    Kucinich strikes me as the only candidate with any track record that shows he can’t be bought cheaply. Do we want honest, popular government-or become just another corporate oligarchy-that is the choice here.

  • http://www.outlander.com Randall Burns

    I started looking at Kucinich’s campaign because he was the only candidate that voted against H-1b expansion in 1998. That issue is an extreme case of a difference between popular will and governmental action. 82% of the public opposed H-1b non-immigrant visa expansion in 1998. In 2000, the senate voted for H-1b expansion 96-1. The reason? Well, a six fold increase of electronics industry donations to $200 Million/ year (opensecrets.org) might have had something to do with it. This is a bill that even Milton Friedman called a corporate subsidy(turned a shot at a green card into a corporate perk). Kerry, Gephardt, Braun, Edwards all voted for H-1b. Clark has said good things about the program.

    Kucinich strikes me as the only candidate with any track record that shows he can’t be bought cheaply. Do we want honest, popular government-or become just another corporate oligarchy-that is the choice here.

  • http://ganga_na.tripod.com/persephone/ Ganga Na

    this why you should vote Bush even if you’re a democrat. if a democratic candidate wins in ’04 then Hillary Clinton cannot run in ’08 unless the democratic president that wins fails miserably in some way. i think i would much rather have a historic event that has had no precedent like a women president to happen, which is why even democrats should vote for george bush in ’04, so that hillary clinton can run and win in ’08. if there is anyone who should be the first women president in the history of the united states it should be hillary clinton. imagine all the women in this country who could vicariously live through that achievement, especially those who have had unfaithful husbands. i would bet that if george bush were to win in ’04 and knowing that hillary would probably run and win in ’08, he would have the country and the rest of the world running excellently and even spit-shined as any good cowboy would for a lady.

    -(~)