Kucinich: fervently unconventional
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Over a decade later, most observers believed his refusal to sell Muny saved taxpayers more than $200 million. The stage was set for a political comeback. Using a light bulb as his campaign symbol, Kucinich won a seat in the Ohio State Senate in 1994 and then a seat in the US House in 1996. In 2002, he won his district with 74 percent of the vote.Skip to next paragraph
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There is a mystical quality to the boyish Cleveland congressman, and he may be the most overtly spiritual of the Democratic candidates. Some have described him as fiery, but when his oratory becomes animated, it can seem more an enlivened gentleness. He often pauses when he speaks - long pauses with vacant stares that seem like contemplation. Indeed, in his introductions at campaign appearances, he always tells his audience that his politics is grounded in "a spiritual sense of the interconnectedness of the world," and he nearly always invokes the Gospels in explaining the themes of his campaign.
"With all those who understood the deeper meaning of the Gospels in Matthew 25, when Christ said, 'When I was hungry did you feed me? When I was homeless did you shelter me?' and then went on to say, 'Whatever you did for the least of my brethren, you did for me' - that's the interconnectedness," he said in an interview with the Monitor. "That is the leitmotif of interconnectedness, right there, it says it all. And so my work in public life resounds with that connection to higher principles and with an understanding of the power of the human heart."
Growing up Roman Catholic, Kucinich pored over the Scriptures in Latin, studied the lives of the saints, and read the economic issues reflected in papal encyclicals. He also became very influenced by Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers Movement. Spiritual principles, he believes, can transform the material world.
"My politics derives an understanding from this," Kucinich explains. "While our fathers understood well the importance of the separation of church and state, they never meant America to be separate from spiritual values. Spiritual values can improve our own health, our spirit, our nation, and the world."
In many ways, Kucinich taps into a unique form of American optimism, rooted in spiritual principles. His rhetoric often echoes the famous image first preached by the Puritan leader John Winthrop, who proclaimed that America would become a "city upon a hill" if its people remained obedient to God's commands.
"It is your light which will shine in the darkness," he proclaimed to workers at a union rally earlier this year. "It is you who will lay the foundation for ages to come. It is you who will repair the breach. It is you who will lead the American Restoration."
It's just after noon, and some 300 lunch-pail workers are gathered at the Plumbers and Steamfitters Union Hall in Hooksett. In an adjacent room, Kucinich has that nervous look people get before speaking. He tugs at his cuffs, straightens his tie, and sets his jaw in determination.
Just as he's about to stride into the rally, however, the union leader at the podium yells, "Is Governor Dean in the building? No?" It seems the Democratic front-runner is making an unplanned stop. He'll speak first, so Kucinich must wait.
When Dean finally arrives, he's beaming like a rooster, leading an entourage of almost 60 reporters - TV people with boom mikes and cameras. It's a very different type of scene now.
When Dean leaves, many of the union workers leave, too. Kucinich's crowd is down to less than 200 - plus the six or so newspaper reporters following him.