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21 May 2007

There’s no one left

Andrew Stephen on how politics has shifted rightwards

By Andrew Stephen

If 60-year-old Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich was to abandon politics here, fly across the Atlantic and settle in his wife’s native Upminster to embark on a new political career in Britain, I suspect he might fit in quite well. He is a likeable fellow, though a little odd in a Tony-Bennish kind of way: he is a vegan and is bewitched by his third wife (the one from Upminster), who is 31 years his junior and who, at 6ft, towers over him. They were a fascinating couple to observe at the Queen’s garden party here the other day.

Politically, I suspect he would get the Labour vote and pick up some Liberal Democrats and a few Tories – perhaps even defeating Angela Watkinson, the sitting Tory MP. He wants to decrease the Pentagon’s budget, but only by 15 per cent and by cutting out waste. He would bring troops home from Iraq, but then is one of the few Democrats who opposed the war in the first place. He is in favour of gun control, but not the banning of all weapons. In some areas he is downright conservative: soon after becoming a congressman in 1997, he voted for an investigation to decide whether Bill Clinton should be impeached for his involvement in the so-called Lewinsky scandal.

A political moderate, then? No, not in American eyes. Indeed, he is a living exemplar of why I’ve found it such an uphill task lately to convince British friends just how far the centre of gravity in American politics has shifted to the right. Kucinich in 2007 is perceived in the US just as Ralph Nader was when he ran for the presidency in 1996, 2000 and 2004: a beyond-the-pale lefty, whose candidacy for the US presidential elections in 2008 is nothing more than a national joke, and who invariably evokes either groans or laughter.

So when Brits ask me questions like, “What do people on the left in America think?” my answer is: “There aren’t any, unless you count a few media groupies and policy wonks.” There are one or two aberrants in Congress such as Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who describes himself as a “democratic socialist” and is therefore widely seen as a lunatic, but he and Kucinich are the main representatives of the left in Washington. Look for any other national figures outside Hollywood and I can think only of the film-maker Michael Moore (and he is being investigated by the Bush administration for travelling to Cuba without permission: remember what I said about Bush being just like Nixon, with his own list of enemies to be targeted?).

Indeed, my eye was caught last week by a column in Roll Call, the respected bipartisan Capitol Hill newspaper, which described former senator John Edwards’s 2008 campaign for president as running “far to the left”. Edwards is worth tens of millions of dollars, partly because he exploited a tax loophole that meant he avoided Medicare taxes, and lives in a mansion on a 110-acre estate. Two years ago, he decried the “two different economies in this country: one for wealthy insiders and then one for everybody else”; four months later, he started working for the $30bn Fortress Investment Group hedge fund. He believes the US constitution bestows the right on Americans to carry guns and is a supporter of the death penalty.

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The other two leading Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, are also up to their necks in hedge funds. Both are advocates of capital punishment, too. Edwards and Clinton voted to go to war in Iraq; Obama didn’t because he wasn’t in the Senate in 2003, but he has since voted to continue funding it. Edwards’s closeness to the proletariat is such that he recently took $800 from his campaign funds to pay for two haircuts, apparently believing that was perfectly normal.

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They are the closest we can get to finding the flag-bearers of the left, at least among those who matter. And Kucinich? His 2008 presidential campaign centres on an effort he launched last month to impeach Dick Cheney for manipulating WMD intelligence, lying to the nation about Iraq’s connection with al-Qaeda and threatening war against Iran. By last Monday, he had won over just four of 435 congressmen and women to co-sponsor his resolution. Fly to Upminster, Dennis: you’re wasting your time in America.