Okay, so here’s the story.
The Democratic candidate we’re talking about is Congressman Dennis Kucinich. And the article in question is this one which appeared in Cleveland Magazine in 1972. I strongly recommend reading it yourself to make your own judgement about what it says.
As those who are familiar with Kucinich’s career know, he’s been in and out of elective office almost literally since he was a kid. Now, some folks have written in to tell me that Cleveland Magazine has a long-standing beef with Kucinich. But I’ve read a good bit of press coverage on Kucinich from the 1970s. And the point about racial politics is not limited to that article or publication.
Basically, in the early days — before he was running citywide, let alone nationwide — Kucinich’s political schtick was posing as the champion of the ‘forgotten’ white ethnic voters over against the rising force of black political power. Sort of a great white hope type, or great Slavic hope, if you will.
There was plenty of acrimony between blacks and white ethnic voters in Northern cities in the late 1960s and early 1970s. So it was fertile political ground. And playing on that divide for political gain was not at all uncommon. That fissure, after all, was one of the things that broke apart the Democrats’ coalition in the North. Kucinich didn’t create it. But at the time some pols chose to play to it while others didn’t.
Now, what does it mean? This was a long time ago. And at the time Kucinich was, almost literally, a kid. When he was elected Mayor later in the decade I think he was still only 31. Plenty of folks from the South who are still active in politics today — many of whom now get lots of black votes — were still segregationists in the early 1960s. So people do change their stripes. And bygones often get considered bygones.
But people have been scrutinizing the backgrounds of a lot of politicians from the South, particularly Republicans — I have as much as anyone. So I don’t think it’s unfair to raise this point. This is particularly so since Kucinich is now putting himself forward as a candidate for national office as the champion of the progressive wing of the Democratic party.
People do ‘evolve’ politically — and not just in the euphemistic, wink-wink kind of sense. People really do change. And they change their style of politics too. But usually, for this to work, or be legitimate and believable, the pol in question has to make some sort of public accounting for why circumstances changed or why he or she did.
Given that Kucinich is now making a play for the votes of dyed-in-the-wool liberals, a bit more of such an accounting seems in order.
P.S. For some reason, as of late this afternoon, the Cleveland Magazine website seems to be down. Here’s a cached copy maintained by Google.