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2008-02-04

Former Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney Seeks Presidency as Green Party Nominee

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Cynthia McKinney, Candidate for Green Party Presidential nomination and former Democratic Congresswoman from Georgia.

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Former Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney is now seeking the Green Party presidential nomination. McKinney is among the most outspoken critics of the Bush administration, and one of her last measures in office was to introduce a bill for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. She joins us to talk about her new campaign and why she left the Democratic Party after more than a decade in public office. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

Former Democratic Congressmember Cynthia McKinney is now seeking the presidency, not as a Democrat, but as a Green Party candidate. McKinney was the first African American woman elected to Congress in Georgia. She is among the most outspoken critics of the Bush administration, and one of her last measures in office was to introduce a bill calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

But Congressmember McKinney’s history of opposing war predates the Bush administration. In 1991, she spoke out against another Bush administration for the Persian Gulf War. She spoke out in the Georgia House of Representatives.

But McKinney left the Democratic Party late last year after serving six terms in Congress. She said the Democrats had become "no different than their Republican counterparts." Today she hopes to be the Green Party nominee for president.

Cynthia McKinney is joining us here in our firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!

CYNTHIA McKINNEY:

Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to New York. What were you doing last night when the Giants won?

CYNTHIA McKINNEY:

Oh, very interesting question, because while I guess much of America was captivated by the Super Bowl, I was with people who are trying to form a support committee to support the aspirations and the votes of people in Latin America who have really produced change by the power of the ballot, and looking at supporting Evo Morales in Bolivia and Hugo Chavez, of course, in Venezuela. But, of course, we’ve also got Daniel Ortega now in Nicaragua. So we’ve had a succession of successes, really, demonstrating that it is possible to vote one’s fears and to vote one’s dreams and hopes and aspirations and win. And that’s what Latin America has shown us. That’s what Haiti actually shows us. And so, if we can look at what the Haitian people are doing, people in Latin America are doing, then we have to also say to ourselves, let us vote our dreams and our hopes and our aspirations for our country.

AMY GOODMAN:

How did you go from Democratic Party to Green Party?

CYNTHIA McKINNEY:

It’s a very good question, and of course, you know, I have now been to twenty-two states across our country, and I ask people who come to my events to hear me, what exactly was your tipping point? And so, I’ve learned that there are –- there is a community of people who have found that life is possible outside of the two-party paradigm. They have searched for resolution of issues that are of grave concern to them, and they have not found it within the two-party-system. But that has sometimes meant that they would withdraw from electoral — the electoral process altogether.

And so, we have a whole huge swath of the potential electorate who don’t even vote at all. And starting in 1968, many of them have said that the treatment of the Democratic Party of people, their children, basically, who were outside of the Democratic National Convention and who wanted only to express their opposition to the Vietnam War, that was a tipping point for them. Others have experienced — have said that 9/11 truth is a tipping point for them. The failure of the Democratic Party to support impeachment, which is really the ultimate form of accountability in our system, is a tipping point for them. And then, of course, we have this huge population of the African American community that has decided to withdraw itself completely from the electoral process. And Hurricane Katrina was like the last straw.

And so, what we now want to do is to bring those people back in and to demonstrate to them that it is possible for us once again to have this community of conscience of people who are willing to participate in the process and to make that participation based on shared values. And our values are, first and foremost, peace. The values that we have to express are ending the disparities, the glaring disparities based on race and class that exist in our country.

AMY GOODMAN:

Your thoughts on Barack Obama? If he were elected president, he would be the first African American president. Hillary Clinton, if she were elected president, the first woman.

CYNTHIA McKINNEY:

You know that as an African American and as a woman, I am extremely excited by the prospect that our country can make history. But I also want our country to make history in making sure that we raise our moral stature in the world, that we raise the values. And I want those people who are able to make history, if they should indeed become the residents at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, to have the latitude within the political process to do the things that are really needed to be done in this country.

For example, as a child of the South, as a child of Georgia, as someone who is not accustomed to coming to New York City very often, I have to tell you that it is with a great sense of awe that I look around at one of the great cities of the world. But your studio right here is across the street from the Rescue Mission. And so, why is it that we are not talking about poverty in this country? Why is it that we’re not talking about cutting the money that we give to the Pentagon? The Pentagon has already admitted that it lost 2.3 trillion of our dollars. Where is the accountability? And why is it that the values that are so easily expressed in public policy are the ones that say we have to cut social programs, we have to ask people who are losing their life’s investment in their homes in this subprime mortgage crisis, that they’re the ones who have to tighten their belts?

AMY GOODMAN:

We’re talking to former Congressmember Cynthia McKinney. She is not the Green Party presidential nominee yet. I wanted to play a clip of the Green Party presidential debate that was held in San Francisco a few weeks ago. This is a clip of Cynthia McKinney and her contenders for the Green Party nomination — Jesse Johnson, Kat Swift, Kent Mesplay — responding to a question about ending the war in Iraq.

    KENT MESPLAY: It was a mistake. Our troops didn’t make the mistake. I think, support our troops, impeach the President, before he finds whatever specious reasons are necessary to start another war, and really there is no simple solution other than demanding immediate unconditional withdrawal from Iraq.

    KAT SWIFT: And we also need to talk about reallocation of money to take care of war veterans. I mean, homelessness after Vietnam spiked dramatically. And we’re already seeing the homelessness with Iraqi veterans starting to spike. And there are very few mental health services for veterans in this country, and VA benefits are decreasing daily.

    JESSE JOHNSON: We step away from this disaster capitalism that we’re investing in in this nation. As I said, we demilitarize the economy, we immediately withdraw. Frankly, the Constitution states clearly that we’re not supposed to have a standing army to begin with. We’re not supposed to traipsing around, trying to police the entire world. The veterans are a huge issue. The very moment that we were marching into Baghdad this last time, and frankly, we have been at war in there — in Baghdad, as far as for the people of Baghdad, for sixteen years.

AMY GOODMAN:

That was Jesse Johnson, before that, Kat Swift, and first Kent Mesplay. Congressmember McKinney, can you explain how the whole system works within the Green Party? How do you get the nomination?

CYNTHIA McKINNEY:

Well, of course, there are some primary states where the voters actually go to the polls, for example, like on Super Tuesday, and they actually vote, so –-

AMY GOODMAN:

Who is voting tomorrow?

CYNTHIA McKINNEY: We have California, Illinois, Arkansas, Massachusetts, all voting on Super Tuesday. Then there’s the District of Columbia that is voting on [February] 12, I believe. And then there are various state conventions where delegates are selected at those conventions. And the conventions decide which of the menu of candidates they are going to select and, of course, how those delegates will be apportioned.

AMY GOODMAN:

I interviewed Ralph Nader last week, the day he announced he is forming an exploratory committee to run for the presidency.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Ralph Nader, if you run, would you run as an Independent or would you run for the Green Party nomination?

    RALPH NADER: Well, if I run — and we are testing the waters now — I would certainly go for the ballot lines with the Green Party. I would go for—

    AMY GOODMAN:

    So you would go against Cynthia McKinney?

    RALPH NADER: We’ll go for — well, that remains to be seen. It’s a little early right now. But we’ll go Independent in states where there aren’t any parties. We’ll look for progressive small parties at the state level. You have to do that just to get on state ballots, where there are very obstructive rules.

AMY GOODMAN:

Ralph Nader. Cynthia McKinney, your response to his possible run also for the Green Party nomination?

CYNTHIA McKINNEY:

Well, I think it’s wonderful for voters to have choice. In fact, I recall a visit that I had in Washington State, where a gentleman who was also very supportive of my candidacy went into the grocery store and came out and was shaking his head, and he said, “There’s eight different varieties of Oreo cookies in there, but I’m supposed to restrict my choices to two political parties.” And so, really, the whole effort that we are engaged in is trying to make sure that voters have choice and that voters —- people who are in the potential electorate become members of the electorate, that we expand the electorate. America can only be better with more people participating in the process. And there are impediments to that participation. Of course, we know that from what happened in Florida, what happened in Ohio, what’s happened with me, quite frankly, in Georgia, and to -—

AMY GOODMAN:

Explain what happened with you in Georgia.

CYNTHIA McKINNEY:

Well, of course, in Georgia, we’ve got some pretty restrictive laws, and we‘ve challenged them in the courts, the open primary, the second primary. And basically, by utilizing the open primary, people can go to the polls and they can pick up a ballot of a political party of which they have never before participated, and that’s what’s happened to me twice.

AMY GOODMAN:

Explain what happened exactly. You’re saying that Republicans came and voted in the Democratic primary to get you out?

CYNTHIA McKINNEY:

Yes, to determine —- and so their votes then determined who the Democratic nominee was going to be. Now, we’ve got some Supreme Court decisions, in 1990, California v. Jones, where the Supreme Court has said that malicious crossover in open primaries could be unconstitutional. And that is something that needs to be tested in the courts. It would, of course, be better if Georgia just changed its open primary statute, but that’s not in the cards. But we also look at, for example, other favorites now in the presidential race who have dropped out. For example, Dennis Kucinich is in a situation in Ohio where he is now being targeted. And so -—

AMY GOODMAN:

Targeted by?

CYNTHIA McKINNEY:

Well, that remains to be seen. But there is an awful lot of money that has been dropped into his opponent —- for one of his opponents for his congressional district. And -—

AMY GOODMAN:

Into another Democrat.

CYNTHIA McKINNEY:

Another Democrat, that’s correct. And so, in talking to Dennis, what I have discovered is that, while nominally Ohio does not have an open primary, but in practice it can be open — and he’s got 40 percent independents in his district who could then become active in the Democratic primary, and they could do so in such a way that could endanger Dennis Kucinich.

So, we have to look very carefully at the constructs that have been built that basically deny opportunity to those who have a different point of view. And guaranteed, I have a different point of view. But does that mean that my point of view is invalid in the political — as a part of the political consensus of our country? No, it doesn’t.

But we only also have to look just back at when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. says, I’ll be speaking tomorrow at SUNY New Paltz and —- well, actually tonight at SUNY New Paltz, about the life and the times of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But, you know, he said that he was greatly, deeply disappointed in America, but there could be no great disappointment where there is no great love. And it was during this time when he was trying to decide what he was going to do, what his position was going to be with respect to the Vietnam War, he said that he had fought his entire life against segregation, and so he couldn’t segregate his moral concerns any longer. He had a compulsion to speak out against the Vietnam War. And we know that one year later, Dr. King was dead. But during the time of his transformation from a civil rights figure, trying to secure the rights of all people in this country, and then moving that into the economic realm to challenge the budget and policy priorities of the United States Congress in the Poor People’s Campaign, he was murdered, and that –— those efforts were cut short with the active participation of people in the media who literally hounded him for the last five years of his life. Is that what we expect to happen to people who voice their dissent in our country?

AMY GOODMAN:

Cynthia McKinney, speaking of dissent, one of your last acts in Congress — you were voted out in the last election — one of your last acts in Congress was to call for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. It was not only the Republican Party, obviously, that you criticized, but it was your own leadership; it was the Democratic Party. Can you talk about their response to your call?

CYNTHIA McKINNEY:

Well, of course, we’ve seen what happened with Dennis Kucinich’s bill for the impeachment of Dick Cheney. He had mentioned that he was also going to introduce articles of impeachment against Bush. Basically, our Speaker of the House now –- and I have to tell you that I supported Nancy Pelosi for most of my political tenure in the United States Congress, and it was quite a disappointment for her to take impeachment off the table. It is somewhat interesting to watch the dance now that Democrats are making around this issue.

AMY GOODMAN:

We have ten seconds. Why do you think they’re doing that? Why do you think it’s off the table.

CYNTHIA MCKINNEY:

Well, I mean, they would have to provide an explanation. And one of the explanations that’s been given is that it would be very difficult to defend the action on FOX News. So, I don’t believe that FOX News ought to be setting the agenda for the Congress.

AMY GOODMAN:

Cynthia McKinney, I want to thank you very much for being with us, a Green Party presidential candidate.

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