An anomalous spirit of optimism surrounds the surprisingly still intact campaign of Democratic Presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio Congressman who recently distinguished himself by losing out to Senators Edwards and Kerry in his own Ohio District [even as he was re-nominated for his House seat, proof positive that his constituents are comfortable being represented by someone not of Presidential timber.] Kucinich worked Jacksonville, FL for votes all day Thursday in anticipation of Tuesday‘s Florida primary, beginning his day on an AM radio talk show and ending it at Fuel Coffeehouse, the bohemian café in Jacksonville’s “Five Points” business district.
Five Points, incidentally, isn’t doing so much business these days. An awkwardly-timed, glacially-implemented program of roadway and sidewalk “improvements” threaten the life of every independently owned retail shop on Fuel’s block. The improvements, which won’t be done until later this year, may not come in time to benefit the businesses there now, but could serve the interests of larger chains looking to come in and sell to the skaters, skanks, and slackers who dominate the area now.
The hipsters have little say in what happens to Five Points. A chain record store may come in to replace the extant indie record store. The emo kids may kvetch and chatter ominously, but in the end will buy from the chain store. Likewise, if Fuel is replaced by a Seattle‘s Best one day soon, the kids will learn to love corporate coffee. This fact occurred to me as I traipsed across municipally improved dirt to enter the café: “progress” is being made, but the beneficiaries perhaps haven’t been properly introduced to the public yet.
I think of this paradox of progress as I sit, cramped and cross-legged, on a pool table in the back room of Fuel, waiting for Kucinich, feeling claustrophobia kick in as I was ensconced by the sort of Well-Meaning People who invariably turn me into a inveigher of Yiddish curses. A septugenarian in a plastic Kucinich hat, who smelled of hospital cafeteria pot roast. A balding, portly bearded fellow in denim shorts and Teva sandals, who seemed intent on occupying my “personal space.” A cluster of women who looked destined for success on the semi-pro softball circuit. Glazy-eyed, sallow, “idealistic” young men with rimmed glasses: the ones who were in Gifted classes once-upon-a-time, who exaggerate their I.Q.s in conversation, and who suffer withdrawal if not told, unconditionally, that they are the smartest people in the room.
The candidate climbed atop the very stage the café uses for spoken word, only to commit presentation gaffes that would make any slam poet worth his salt cringe. Kucinich worked the stick as if presiding over a Fire Safety assembly, chiding the crowd in a manner more substitute teacher than Leader of the Free World.
Of course, this wasn’t the crowd that could call him on it. These are the sort of Twentysomethings who wax dyspeptic about globalization while Gapped out from head to toe. The assembley listened to Kucinich discuss internationalizing virtually every American foreign-policy initiative in the public consciousness, and applauded lustily, as if all foreign war really was a matter of whimsy and only the leaders and power brokers in the “international community” had America’s interests at heart.
The room was packed with 150 bodies, 148 of which were Caucasian. One who wasn’t leaned over to me and said, “It really sucks that white people aren’t taught History anymore.” Indeed, it sucks like a Hoover. Kucinich’s Department of Peace, apparently, would address on a Cabinet level the problem of domestic violence in America -- but who knows how? That, plus his uncomplicated enthusiasm for gay marriage and his equally uncomplicated flip on the abortion issue, suggest a candidate there to shine people rather than talk sense.
Kucinich, of course, is a “message candidate.” But what message? Does he make Kerry look more rational? Does he soften resistance to putatively radical, practically totalitarian programs via such pipe dreams as the Department of Peace? Is he a conduit for Foundation money? Soros money has found Kucinich since 1996; why would it stop now? The failure of the Democrats to run Kucinich out of the party on a rail suggests that they value his contribution just as George Soros does. Fair enough. It may be time to take the national Dems at face value; by not repudiating Kucinich, they have embraced him, showing the ineffable gulf between the DNC and mainstream Americans.