Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio announced on Wednesday he would switch his vote on the Democrat-led healthcare reform bill and support the legislation even though it does not create a public option. Kucinich’s decision came two days after he spoke with President Obama aboard Air Force One on their way to a rally in his district. In a Democracy Now! exclusive, we spend the hour with Kucinich and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader for an in-depth discussion on healthcare, the Obama administration, the Iraq war and more. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: The House Democratic leadership is getting close to having enough votes to pass its massive healthcare reform legislation that aims to extend coverage to more than 30 million people while forcing millions of Americans to buy private health insurance.
Wednesday saw three key developments for the Democrats. Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio announced he would switch his vote and support the legislation, even though the bill does not create a public option. Kucinich’s decision came two days after he spoke with President Obama aboard Air Force One on their way to a rally in his district. Congressman Dale Kildee of Michigan, an anti-abortion Democrat, also said he would back the bill. And a group representing 59,000 Catholic nuns endorsed the legislation. The Democratic leadership is hoping the nuns’ support will give political cover for anti-abortion Democrats still on the fence.
Meanwhile, intense pressure is being made on Democrats who originally voted against the bill. In recent days, President Obama has met privately with at least half-a-dozen dissenting Democrats at the White House. He has lobbied other lawmakers by phone.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the House could take a final vote on the Senate healthcare bill by Sunday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also is considering passing the bill using a procedural tactic known as “deem and pass” that would avoid a direct House vote on the full Senate bill.
AMY GOODMAN: In a moment we’ll be joined by Congress member Dennis Kucinich in Washington, but first we turn to his news conference yesterday.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I know I have to make a decision, not on the bill as I would like to see it, but as it is. My criticism of the legislation has been well reported. I do not retract those criticisms. I incorporate them into this statement. They stand as legitimate and cautionary. I have doubts about the bill. I do not think it is a step toward anything I’ve supported in the past. This is not the bill I wanted to support, even as I continue efforts until the last minute to try to modify the bill.
However, after careful discussions with President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, my wife Elizabeth and close friends, I’ve decided to cast a vote in favor of the legislation. If my vote is to be counted, let it count now for passage of the bill, hopefully in the direction of comprehensive healthcare reform.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Kucinich, speaking on Wednesday. Well, last week, the Ohio Democrat appeared on Democracy Now! voicing his opposition to the bill.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I’m ready to listen to the White House, if the White House is ready to listen to the concerns about putting a public option in this bill. I mean, they can do that. You know, they’re still cutting last-minute deals. Put the public option back in. Make it a robust public option. Give the people a chance to really negotiate rates with the insurance companies, where — from the standpoint of having a public option. But don’t just tell the people that you’re going to call this healthcare reform, when you’re giving insurance companies an even more powerful monopoly status in our economy.
AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Dennis Kucinich joins us now in Washington, DC.
Well, Congress member Kucinich, you did not get what you were asking for, yet you are now supporting this bill. Explain what happened and why you think this bill merits your support.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, first of all, I appreciate that you covered that part where I said that I don’t retract anything that I said before. I had taken the effort to put a public option into the bill and also to create an opportunity for states to have their right protected to pursue single payer. I took it all the way down to the line with the President, the Speaker of the House, Democratic leaders. And it became clear to me that, despite my best efforts, I wasn’t going to be able to get it in the bill and that I was going to inevitably be looking at a bill that — where I was a decisive vote and that I was basically, by virtue of circumstances, being put in a position where I could either kill the bill or let it go forward and — in the hopes that we could build something from the ruins of this bill.
I think that — you know, I mean, I can just tell you, it was a very tough decision. But I believe that now we need to look to support the efforts at the state level for single payer, to really jump over this debate and not have all those who want to see transformative change in healthcare be blamed for this bill going down. I think that really it’s a dangerous moment. You know, the Clinton healthcare reforms, which I thought were very weak, it’s been sixteen years since we’ve had a discussion about healthcare reform because of the experience of the political maelstrom that hit Washington. And I saw — I came to the conclusion, Amy, that it was going to — it would be impossible to start a serious healthcare discussion in Washington if this bill goes down, despite the fact that I don’t like it at all. And every criticism I made still stands.
I want to see this as a step. It’s not the step that I wanted to take, but a step so that after it passes, we can continue the discussion about comprehensive healthcare reform, about what needs to be done at the state level, because that’s really where we’re going to have to, I think, have a breakthrough in single payer, about diet, nutrition, comprehensive alternative medicine. There’s many things that we can do. But if the bill goes down and we get blamed for it, I think there’ll be hell to pay, and in the end, it’ll just be used as an excuse as to why Washington couldn’t get to anything in healthcare in the near future.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Congressman, I’d like to ask you, several other members of Congress who have had discussions with President Obama in recent days, as he sought their support, have said that he has essentially told them that this is — his presidency is riding on this, that to defeat the bill would severely hamper the remaining time in his presidency and also the election in November. Did he make that argument to you, as well? And did that have any impact on your decision?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: We talked about that. I mean, I have been thinking for quite awhile about, you know, what this means in terms of the Obama presidency. And frankly, you know, I’ve had differences with this president, on the economy, on environment, on war. And so, you know, I really hadn’t given them many votes at all. But he made — he did make the argument that there was a lot on the line. And frankly, there’s been such an effort to delegitimatize his presidency, right from the beginning, that, you know, in looking at the big picture here, we have to see if there’s a way to get into this administration with an argument that could possibly influence the President to take some new directions. Standing at the sidelines, I think, is not an option right now, because, you know, we have to try to reshape the Obama presidency. And I hope that, in some small way, through my participation in trying to take healthcare in a new direction, that I can help do that.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d also like to ask you about this whole issue of the procedure, this “deem and pass” procedure. There have been several folks in recent days who have questioned whether this is even constitutional. It was a former — a former federal appeals judge Mike McConnell, in the Wall Street Journal, questioned it, as have some lawyers from Public Citizen, whether it is constitutional for the House, in effect, not to really vote on the Senate — on the version that was passed in the Senate.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, you know, I can tell you, as far as myself, I’m ready to vote on anything they send down. What the process is, I’m not sure how that’s going to work out. I think it may depend on how many votes that the leaders in both the Senate and the House believe they have. I really haven’t been involved in that discussion.
And, you know, I — look, I can’t give any kind of process a blessing. I don’t like much of anything of what’s happening here, except to say that I think that down the road we need to jump over this debate and go right to a bigger debate about how do we get healthcare that’s significant, how do we supplant the role of private insurers. We’re not going to be able to do it on this pass. I have done everything that I possibly can to try to take a position and stake out ground to say I’m not going to change, but there’s a point at which you say, you know, it’s my way or the highway. And if the highway shows a roadblock and you go over a cliff, I don’t know what good that does, when you take a detour and maybe we can still get to the destination, which, for me, remains single payer. Start at the state level, and do the work there. And if there’s ERISA implications and lawsuits, we’ll have to deal with that, and maybe that can force Congress to finally act on some of those issues.
AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Kucinich, have you ever —-
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Deem and pass, whatever they do, I don’t know.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you ever received as much pressure as you’re getting right now, as you have gotten right now, right down to your flight on Air Force One with President Obama?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: The pressure doesn’t really come so much from the outside. I mean, I had people who are for this and against it with equal intensity. What the pressure comes from, being told that you might be singularly responsible for the passage or failure of an initiative and having to live with the implications of that.
Amy, I did not want to be in the House on Sunday night with my voting card, you know, and a finger in the wind about what to do. And looking at the bigger picture here, I’m hopeful that in making this decision to switch in favor of voting for the bill, that we can use this opportunity to, down the road, push for the kind of health reform that I am for, that I stand for, that I’ve worked my life for. But it’s not going to happen in this bill. And there’s a point at which you just have to maturely look at the situation as it is and say, no matter what I do, it’s not going to change this bill. And I’ve tried harder than anyone, but, you know, it’s just not going to happen. So -—
AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Kucinich, we’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. We just have to break for a minute. Congress member Kucinich, speaking to us from Washington after he has decided to support the healthcare reform bill. We’ll also be joined by longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Congress member Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, who will be voting for the healthcare reform bill, and longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Both of them, Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich, have run for president of the United States several times.
Ralph Nader, your response to the healthcare reform bill and Congress member Kucinich’s position?
RALPH NADER: Well, this is the latest chapter of corporate Democrats crushing progressive forces both inside their party and against third parties. There’s nothing new here. It’s being pointed out in my former running mate’s autobiography, the late Peter Camejo, which is coming out in a couple weeks from Chicago.
What we’re seeing here is a legislation that doesn’t even kick in until 2014, except for one or two items on staying with your parents’ insurance policy until you’re twenty-six. That means that there will be 180,000 Americans who will die between now and 2014 before any coverage expands, and hundreds of thousands of injuries and illnesses untreated. This bill does not provide universal, comprehensive or affordable care to the American people. It shovels hundreds and billions of dollars of taxpayer money into the worst corporations who’ve created this problem: the Aetnas, the CIGNAs, the health insurance companies. And it doesn’t require many contractual accountabilities and other accountabilities for people who are denied healthcare in this continuing pay-or-die system that is the disgrace of the Western world.
For the drug companies, it’s a bonanza. It doesn’t require Uncle Sam to negotiate volume discounts. It allows these new biologic drugs, under patent, to fight off generic competition — that’s a terrible provision. And it doesn’t allow reimportation from countries like Canada to keep prices down.
Congressman Kucinich’s points are not respected, either. There is no public choice or public option in order to keep prices down, so it’s an open sesame for these giant insurance companies that are concentrating more and more power, in violation of the antitrust laws, over the millions of American patients. And it doesn’t safeguard the states from the kind of litigation that’s heading toward Pennsylvania and California, that are now trying single payer.
So what we should recognize is nothing is really going to happen in this bill, if it’s passed, until 2014, because there’s a gap here, including a presidential campaign and the contest in 2012 and a congressional elections in 2010, for the single-payer supporters in this country. Majority of the American people, majority doctors and nurses, support single payer. They’ve supported Dennis Kucinich all over the country on this. They have supported singlepayeraction.org, which I hope a million people will visit in the next few days in their outrage over what’s happening here.
So I think what we have to do, Amy, is see this as a four-year gap before this bill kicks in and try to get the single payer as a major issue in the 2010 campaign and as a major issue in the 2012 campaign and try to save some of those 180,000 Americans that will die because they cannot afford health insurance to get diagnosed or treated. And that figure comes from Harvard Medical School researchers.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Ralph, I would like to ask you, though, what about the issue that Representative Kucinich raises, that at least if this bill is passed, there will continue to be debates and battles in Congress over reform of it, whereas if it was to be defeated, then the likelihood is that for years down the road there would not be another effort at healthcare reform?
RALPH NADER: I think both — you know, the Democrats are basically saying, if you don’t pass this bill, we won’t have a chance for another ten and fifteen years. And if the bill is passed, they’re going to say, “OK, that’s behind us. We now have to pay attention to all the other issues on our plate.” So the mindset of the Pelosis and the Hoyers, the people who run the House of Representatives, is that this is it for ten or fifteen years.
And the American people have got to say, no, this isn’t it. Now, Dennis is —- you know, Dennis is subject to retaliation if he didn’t support this bill in the House of Representatives. And, you know, you have to have empathy with him on that. He’s got a subcommittee. He’s got to live with these corporate Democrats. But the American people are not subject to that kind of retaliation, and they really have to mobilize now, at the state level, try to get some of the state bills through and demonstrate the effectiveness of full Medicare for all with free choice of doctor and hospital. There’s no free choice of doctor and hospital under this. There’s all kinds of exploitations that the health insurance companies and drug companies are going to be free to continue their ravenous ways over people who are at their most vulnerable situation, when they’re sick and injured. So, you know, we really have to look at this -—
AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Kucinich, your response to what Ralph Nader is saying, that this is a boondoggle for the health insurance companies, that that’s what this is all about, and that you did this because you’re subject to serious retaliation in the House?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, you know, I wasn’t thinking about anyone retaliating, because, as I said, I’m looking at a picture of, does this enable us to keep the healthcare discussion going?
Now, Ralph Nader, who is someone who I respect greatly, is right when he says that we need to continue to move forward with a single-payer movement. That’s what I want. That’s been what I’ve worked my politic — almost my entire political life towards. And so, I support what he said in that regard and look forward to working with him. We need to — well, while it’s said there’s, you know, an ongoing discussion about healthcare if this passes, we need to make sure that happens, particularly at a state level. And, you know, that’s why I’ve also fought so hard to try to keep the ERISA pre-emption waiver alive as an issue, but it’s not happening in this bill.
And I realize, as does Ralph Nader, not just the limitations of this bill, but why the whole system is wrong. But, you know, there’s a point at which you are in the system and you have to figure out, is there a way to try to use the moment to move in a direction that gives you a chance to keep pushing the point and not lose total legitimacy by taking everything over a cliff, at least working inside the system. And so, that’s kind of what I’ve been faced with here. But it’s beyond me. This isn’t about me. When you have to make a vote that’s decisive, then it is about what you think. But I just tell Ralph Nader that I appreciate his continued integrity and willingness to keep pushing single payer even at this dark moment. And I agree that’s what we need to do.
AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Kucinich, if your vote was that important — I think many progressives feel that the White House responds to conservatives who withhold their vote and changes, like on issues of choice, if that’s what it’s going to take to get the bill passed. What about having held out to the end and demanded — you know, put your demand on the table, since this is so critical to the White House?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Yeah, you know, I — I mean, I, frankly, was quite surprised that as we were approaching a moment of decision, people wouldn’t budge on the question of the public option and wouldn’t budge on the question of a ERISA waiver. Remember, I was one of seventy-seven Democrats who said — progressives who said, look, if the public option isn’t in the final bill — this was the bill that we passed last year — you know, I’m not going to vote for it. Well, there are only two members of Congress who actually kept that pledge. I was one of those two. So now — and, you know, the other one was Mr. Massa, who’s no longer in the Congress. So now I’m basically left standing alone with a position that I’ve held consistently.
And, Amy, I’ll tell you that one of the things that surprised me the most is that even though they said everything’s on the line and even though they said it could come down to one vote and pointed at me and said, “That could be your vote,” they still wouldn’t budge on it. So then, I’m —- and I mean, I tested and probed and talked to everybody, all the way down the chain of leadership, to see if there’s any way, and frankly, it’s mystifying, except to say that they’re keeping a for-profit system intact. There’s no air in here to try to find a way to get to a not-for-profit system. So I have to make the decision within the context of where we are and to see if, you know, by making that decision, down the road that we can keep the healthcare debate going. But this is about a for-profit system, something I don’t endorse. But the opportunity to stay in the debate about single payer is still there, without anybody using it as an excuse to say, “Well, you took the whole thing over the cliff, and who wants to talk to you about anything anymore?”
JUAN GONZALEZ: Ralph Nader, what about this issue of the -—
RALPH NADER: Well, let me just say, you know, Dennis —-
JUAN GONZALEZ: Ralph Nader, what about this issue of the seventy-seven other members of Congress who pledged not to support this bill? We’ve had quite a few of them on this show -— Raul Grijalva, Anthony Weiner. What about the others who also have gradually agreed to support this bill?
RALPH NADER: They’ve all caved. They’ve all been put into line by the majority rulers in the House. So that’s not going to change, Juan.
What — I think Dennis Kucinich has been known as the great dissenter in the Democratic Party — against the criminal wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan, for impeaching Bush and Cheney, for single payer, on and on. His subcommittee hearings, which are almost never covered by the press, provide a standard for what House subcommittees should be investigating all over the country. But I think he owes an explanation to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of progressive Americans, many of whom who watch this show, who have clinged to Dennis Kucinich as the great dissenter, as the principled person, as the person who will hold the banner high. “The Star-Spangled Banner” has this phrase, “And the flag was still there.” But for the progressives in this country, they want to keep saying, “And Dennis Kucinich was still there.” So I would like him to go all over the country, after this malicious vote by the Democrats in the House, and address audiences all over, starting a complete new wave for full Medicare for all before this bill kicks in in 2014, so all the members running for reelection in 2010 are going to have to face it.
And I hope people will visit the videos that are on singlepayeraciton.org to show how many of his colleagues react when they’re confronted with a reporter asking the question, “The majority of the American people, doctors and nurses want this system. They want free choice of doctor and hospital. They want the insurance companies displaced with full single payer. Why aren’t you for it?” You look at their faces as they try to squirm out of that. That’s the moral position. They know it. But they’re caving into the enormous lobbying power of the drug and insurance companies, which are deploying over 2,000 full-time lobbyists on Capitol Hill as we speak.
AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Kucinich, your response? And also to Jane Hamsher, founder of Firedoglake, who asked if you were going to be giving back the money to people who gave to you all over the country because you said you would not support healthcare reform without a public option?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: First of all, with respect to Jane Hamsher, I talked to her yesterday, and I also indicated through my campaign early yesterday that anybody who contributed, you know, with the hopes that I was going to vote against the legislation unless it had a public option, that of course they’re going to get their money back, because I changed my position.
Now, with respect to what Ralph Nader just said about the need to keep a strong public — a strong single-payer campaign going, absolutely. I mean, you know, I haven’t changed my position one bit on single payer. I’m not suddenly saying, “Oh, gee, this for-profit model is something we ought to consider.” I don’t like it. I just want to make sure that everyone understands that the minute this bill is done, reforms within the context of a for-profit system, we have to accelerate that, and at the same time, a parallel track of continuing to pursue single payer. I agree with Ralph Nader on that.
RALPH NADER: Imagine, the system costs twice as much per capita, about $7,600 per capita, than similar —- than single-payer systems in Canada and Germany and France. They cover everybody for half the price per capita that we’re paying here, when 50 million people aren’t covered and thousands die every year. Eight hundred die every week, because they can’t afford health insurance to get treatment and diagnosis. And we’ve got -—
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, what about the fact that —-
RALPH NADER: —- hundreds of billions of dollars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the —-
RALPH NADER: Really, it’s time for the American people to get upset.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, what about the fact that thirty more million people will be covered under this, no matter how much you feel it is lacking, under this healthcare reform bill?
RALPH NADER: First of all, that won’t even begin until 2014, 180,000 dead Americans later. Second, there’s no guarantee of that. The insurance companies can game this system. The 2,500 pages is full of opportunities and ambiguities for the insurance companies to game the system and to make it even worse.
And let’s say there are more people covered, right? Well, they’re being forced to buy junk insurance policies. There’s no regulation of insurance prices. There’s no regulation of the antitrust laws on this. Everything went down that Dennis was fighting for. There’s no regulation that prevents the insurance companies from taking this papier-mâché bill and lighting a fire to it and making a mockery of it. There’s no shift of power. There’s no facility to create a national consumer health organization, which we proposed and the Democrats ignored years ago, in order to give people a voice so they can have their own non-profit consumer lobby on Washington.
AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Kucinich, let me ask you something.
RALPH NADER: This is really a disaster.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Congress member Kucinich, do you think if President Obama had done the same arm twisting and enormous pressure and paying attention and speaking to legislator after legislator on this, if he had done this at the point where single -— where public option was on the table, it would have made a difference, if he had weighed in like this before?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I think that right after the swearing in of President Obama, there was a climate for transformational change. I think it’s still there. And I think the President could really be instrumental in bringing about just about any kind of change that he wants. For whatever reason, he decided to carefully construct a plan that would admit no chance for any real challenge to the market structure of private, for-profit insurance companies. And, you know, and he’s worked very tightly within that system. That’s a choice that he made. And during the campaign, you know, he made it very clear that he wasn’t for single payer. He made it very clear that he was looking at reforms within the context of the for-profit system. I mean, that’s a choice that he made. And, you know, it’s not the choice that I would have made, but he’s the president. And if his presidency is on the line, he made the choice for that. But at the same time, we have to look at the consequences of what happens if it fails.
And, you know, one of the things that Ralph Nader said — you know, you have to keep in mind, Ralph, that the House did pass, three weeks ago, a bill that for the first time took away the antitrust exemptions that insurance companies had. You know, we’ll have to see what happens with it in the Senate. It’s interesting that it passed without virtually any recognition in the larger media. It’s as though that was chopped liver. That was a big deal.
The insurance companies — you know, as someone who is going to vote for this bill, I’ve taken on additional responsibility to monitor an industry that’s proven itself to be predatory, but at the same time I just want to go back to what Ralph Nader said about the need to keep and hold fast to a single-payer movement, that that has to happen. You know, I am not about to abandon that. I made that clear yesterday; I’ll make it clear again now. Single payer is the only real solution. This is really a debate within the context of a for-profit system, something that I did not relish and something that I’m looking forward to continuing to try to change. I’ve worked on this my whole life. I’m not about to stop now. But I looked at the moment and thought that it would be a mistake to be the one who sends this thing down to defeat and hope that then I can play a role to try to build some fragments from the ruins to try to create some kind of healthcare system and have credibility to do it.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Congressman — Congressman Kucinich —-
RALPH NADER: You know, one thing President Obama said -—
JUAN GONZALEZ: Ralph, one second, I’d like to ask Congressman Kucinich one other question, in terms of the role of the labor unions in all of this effort. Obviously the Obama administration has gotten quite a bit of cover in its efforts to reform health insurance from organizations like SEIU that basically agreed early on to try to cut a deal with the insurance industry on what kind of health reform would occur and then recently threatened to seek to unseat those who wouldn’t vote for this plan. Your sense of how the role of the labor unions, especially SEIU, in the bill that is now before the House?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, labor is not a monolith. The SEIU has been strongly supportive of this, but there are also trade unions that have been leery of the ERISA pre-emption waiver, and because they have their own plans. I think that you have to keep in mind that labor’s larger perspective here is they don’t want the Obama presidency to go down, because they’re concerned if that happens, forces of reaction would set in that would make it impossible to pass employee free choice and some other things that labor really wants. So I think that, you know, you have to keep in mind, number one, labor is not a monolith; number two, there were some divisions in labor on this bill that were — that have been kind of muted.
But for myself, I’m in Congress to represent the interests of working people, and I have felt, from the beginning, that single payer is the only real solution. This bill, as Amy mentioned, does, you know, have — you know, does cover 30 million. As Ralph said, it’s not going to kick in for four years. Look, I am not going to be here to argue the merits of this bill, but to say that there is a chance now to leap over this process and go for more comprehensive reform, without carrying the burden on our backs of saying that we’ve wrecked any chance for reform within the context of the present system. We have to change the system.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to ask you both to stay with us. We’re going to go to a break. We’re going to come back, because we’re talking about healthcare, but we’re also talking about this anniversary of the war. And they are related, when it comes to what is paid for and what isn’t. Congress member Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, both have run for president of the United States.
This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guests in Washington are Congress member Dennis Kucinich, who has switched his vote to supporting the healthcare reform bill, Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, a fierce critic of that bill.
The war — Ralph Nader, you mentioned before Afghanistan and Iraq. We are coming up on the seventh anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Can you relate the costs that go into healthcare in this country, or don’t going into healthcare, with the costs of war?
RALPH NADER: Well, just the cost of the war in Afghanistan, which is expanding rapidly, is more cost to the taxpayer than the supposed yearly cost of this health insurance bill that’s about to pass. So that’s just one country. That doesn’t even count Iraq. Joe Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist, whom you’ve had on the show, estimates the Iraq war to cost $3 trillion.
But how about the human costs? Two countries blown apart, millions of people dying, many millions refugees from their own country — such as Iraq, four million refugees out of 25 million people — more people displaced, more people sick, injured, our soldiers dying, coming back traumatized with illnesses, family split apart. This is madness! And the American people have got to really come together here. Nobody is going to do it for them. Dennis Kucinich is not going to do it for them. Nobody’s going to do it for them. They have got to start marching. And there’s going to be a big rally on Saturday — I hope Dennis will be there — in Washington, DC, in opposition, among other things, to Obama’s war in Afghanistan.
You know, Eisenhower was so prescient when he warned the American people in 1960 about the military-industrial complex. It’s devouring over half of our operating federal budget. The Pentagon budget, which is over half of the federal operating budget in Washington, isn’t even auditable. The General Accounting Office of the Congress every year declares it’s not auditable. You know what that means. That means there’s no control on how the money is spent, and so they’re hiring private contractors, as the New York Times reported, to engage in homicidal activities and military activities, totally unaccountable, in the dark shadows of the war in Afghanistan.
So the key question, Amy, is, how do we motivate the American people to start acting on what they already believe, that these are wars that are eating at the heart of America and damaging its status all over the world, and that we’ve got to bring those soldiers back home, and we’ve got to shut down these wars, because all they do is fuel the insurgencies, as General Casey and many others have said over the years? Our military occupation in Afghanistan is fuelling the insurgency. It’s producing huge sectarian revenge animosities and killings, and it’s propping up a very corrupt government that is loathed by most of the people in Afghanistan. And all this on the back of the taxpayer, while we don’t have any money to fix the Americans’ public works and all the things that Dennis has talked about. How do you get the American people angry? That’s what your show should try to — to try to inquire in.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Congressman — let me ask Congressman Kucinich, Ralph —-
RALPH NADER: How do you get them to move on what they already perceive to be the case?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Let me ask Congressman Kucinich on the issue of the war -— again, you’ve talked about the necessity to preserve the Obama presidency, but yet so many antiwar Americans are furious at the continued expansion of the Afghanistan war, the fraudulent elections, the continued corruption in Afghanistan. Your sense of the administration’s track record on this and the ability of Congress to rein in these wars?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: As you know, we had a vote last week. Sixty-five members of Congress came forward and said it’s time to get out now, that, you know, it’s a benchmark in terms of the war in Afghanistan. This administration made a choice to accelerate the war. I think it was the wrong choice. And as someone who’s consistently challenged the foreign policy of this country, I can say that we have to let the people know that the cost of this war is being borne not only now, but in future generations. The cost of this war is being borne in terms of the integrity of our position in the world. The cost of this war is the deaths of so many — of countless innocent people and of the inability of our country to play any kind of a role in creating peace.
The problem with war is it has a headlong momentum and that once it gets started, it’s very hard to stop, which is why those of us, from the beginning, who said, “Look, don’t go into Iraq. There’s no basis for it. There’s no weapons of mass destruction,” we were just swept aside at the time. Now it’s very clear that the war was a pretext, that we were lied to. More and more people know that.
But what’s also interesting is that there’s a lull that settled over this country. War has become ordinary. War has become like part of our daily lives. That’s a serious problem, because it means that we’ve accepted war. And we have to reject it. We have to reject it in all of its manifestations, which includes, you know, the spending to keep the war going, the support for the military contractors, the assassination policies that are involved, the unmanned aerial vehicles that are used to strike at people without anyone taking any real responsibility for the results of dead civilians.
We have reshaped our country in a post-9/11 America, which is so saturated with fear that we’ve lost the confidence of our nation to be able to create new possibilities, like peace with other countries, like being able to get out of Afghanistan after we cut a deal with the Taliban that says, “Look, we’re not going to keep aggressing. We’re going to take a new direction. We’re not — we recognize that we can’t run this country. We have enough problems with things here at home.” War has depleted our ability to be able to meet the needs of the people, not only with respect to healthcare, but with respect to job creation, education and retirement security. All these things are at risk.
AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Kucinich, did you raise this issue —-
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: There’s a point at which we have to realize war is a disaster.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you raise this issue with President Obama on the flight to Cleveland back to your district? And can you recount what your conversation with President Obama was on that flight?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: The conversation I had with President Obama was about healthcare and healthcare only. I made the points that I’ve made many times about the importance of having a public option, the importance of protecting the rights of states to pursue single payer. I didn’t get any reception on that. I mean, yes, I made those points. I did not talk to him about Afghanistan.
But also on the flight was General Jones. And I did make -— I did have a half-hour to talk to him about the war and about my concerns. And I continue to express those on a daily basis to people in the White House. They’re committed to this surge. I think that they’re going to look again at the results in October and make a decision as to whether or not they move forward into the breach.
AMY GOODMAN: Why was General Jones on the flight?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: He’s the National Security Adviser. He was on the flight. You know, it’s not unusual to have members of the President’s staff and cabinet on these flights on Air Force One. And that he was on there, I just took the opportunity to talk to him about a range of concerns that I have. He was receptive to listening. I don’t know that it will change his mind about anything. But I think that — you know, he and I have had an ongoing discussion about my concerns about our policies in Afghanistan, about the surge, about the assassination policies, about what’s happening in Pakistan, and that’s what we talked about.
RALPH NADER: You know, President Obama is like President Bush in this regard: he doesn’t receive dissenting groups in the White House. He froze out the single-payer advocates, including his longtime friend, Dr. Quentin Young, in Chicago, Illinois. And he’s freezing out dissenters, dissenting groups from meeting with him in the White House. They can’t get a meeting with him. He’s surrounded by warmongers. He’s surrounded by the military-industrial complex. But he won’t meet, for example, Veterans for Peace. He won’t meet Iraq Veterans Against the War. He won’t meet the student groups and the religious groups and the business groups and others who opposed the Iraq war back in 2003. What is he afraid of here?
You know, we’re supposed to have a new wave with the Obama administration. Instead, we have the same old — the same old same old. And I think the whole idea — just let me make this — the whole idea that Obama is for things, but they’re not practical — he’s for single payer, he really doesn’t like war, but, but, but. But he goes along, and he goes along. We have to have the American people give the White House a measure of political courage here, because it’s not going to come from inside the White House. And he ought to open the way to meet with Veterans for Peace —-
JUAN GONZALEZ: Ralph -—
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: If I can respond, what I’d like to say is this — if I may respond, you know, I think that with three years left in the Obama presidency, we have to continue to encourage him, but we’ve got to be careful that we don’t play into those who want to destroy his presidency and say — you know, the birthers and others who say that, you know, he should have never been president to begin with. This is — you know, there is a tension that exists, and I’ve — you know, I’ve been very critical of the administration on the war, on the so-called cap and trade, and on a whole range of other issues. But at the same time, we have to be just very careful about how much we attack this president, even as we disagree with him. We have to be careful about that, because we may play into those who just want to destroy his presidency.
And he’s — you know, like it or not, he’s the president, he’s what we have, and I’m going to continue whatever I can do, just as one person, to try to keep trying to influence a different direction. But, you know, it’s not easy. He’s made his position different than, you know, what many of us would go along with.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I’d like to ask Ralph Nader —-
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: At the same time, we have to see if is there a way to work with him.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask Ralph Nader about the issue of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, why you think the antiwar movement has not gone into the streets or taken the kind of -— had the kind of upsurge against the expansion of the war in Afghanistan, for instance, that it did during the high times of the war in Iraq?
RALPH NADER: First of all, the 2004 election with Kerry and Bush, the antiwar movement, most of the groups, gave Kerry a pass and broke off their mass demonstrations. It broke the momentum. Momentum is very important in mass demonstrations. Second, there are fewer people in Congress that these — the antiwar people can cling to. That’s a demoralization effect on people. And third, it costs a lot of money to put these demonstrations on, and there aren’t many super-rich antiwar Americans, like George Soros and others, who are putting some money to get the buses and get the demonstrations all over the country. And finally, the Washington Post, New York Times, they do not give adequate coverage to antiwar demonstrations, compared to the coverage they’ve been giving to the tea parties. Just check the column inches in the Washington Post
covering the tea parties, compared to blocking out pro-Gaza, pro-Palestinian demonstrations, for example, when the Israelis invaded Gaza, or the upcoming demonstrations against the war. All of this demoralizes people. And they say, “What are we doing this for?” So, unfortunately, the political leaders —-
AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.
RALPH NADER: —- are not leading, and the President is not leading. We cannot give this president courtesy of words, of course, but we cannot give this president a pass. He can control the Congress —
AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. Ralph Nader and Congress member Kucinich, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Allan Nairn will be on with us to talk about Indonesia tomorrow.