Coulda Been a Contender: Presidential Underdogs

A while back I wrote an editorial titled Do Blacks Owe Democrats Their Vote that sparked a lot of comments concerning and praising Ron Paul, a libertarian who’s running for the Republican nomination for president. Reading those comments got me thinking about some of the other dark horses running in this election, most notably Dennis […]

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A while back I wrote an editorial titled Do Blacks Owe Democrats Their Vote that sparked a lot of comments concerning and praising Ron Paul, a libertarian who’s running for the Republican nomination for president. Reading those comments got me thinking about some of the other dark horses running in this election, most notably Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel. Their chances of winning are less than minute at best, yet they ironically represent what most people say they want from a president. These men are outsiders and original thinkers; courageous, outspoken, and, at times, heroic. Let’s spend a little time discussing them, and the reasons why we’re infatuated with them, and why, unless we spontaneously enter the Twilight Zone, they’ll never win.



Dr. Ron Paul




Who he is: Ron Paul entered our collective consciousness when in the course of an debate on May 15th, Paul in regards to terrorism, said:



“They attack us because we’ve been over there. We’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We’ve been in the Middle East [for years]…Right now, we’re building an embassy in Iraq that is bigger than the Vatican. We’re building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting.”



Which gave Rudy Giuliani another reason to mention 9/11:



“That’s really an extraordinary statement…as someone who lived through the attack of September 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don’t think I’ve heard that before, and I’ve heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th. And I would ask the congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn’t really mean that.”



But far from backing down against the Italian Frankenstein, Paul stuck to his guns:



“I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when they teach and talk about blowback. When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the Shah, yes there was blowback. The reaction to that was the taking of our hostages, and that persists. And if we ignore that, we ignore that at our own risk. If we think we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem. They don’t come here to attack us because we’re rich and we’re free, they come and attack us because we’re over there.” [transcript taken from Wikipedia]




This type of stubbornness and commitment to his beliefs has been the defining characteristic of Paul’s life. An Ob/Gyn by profession since 1978, Congressman Paul (R-TX) garnered a well deserved reputation as ‘Dr. No’ for voting against any bill that he feels does not adhere to the Constitution. Furthermore he has never voted to raise taxes or congressional pay, refuses to take part in the Congressional Pension Fund, and take any government funded trips. A self-described libertarian, he is against foreign intervention and a welfare state. He believes that Roe vs. Wade is unconstitutional and should be a state issue, he wants to disband the IRS, and he opposed the PATRIOT act. In short, Ron Paul is a man of ideals.



Why he won’t win: Ron Paul is a man of ideals. At a time when garnering money is a vital part of the campaigning process his devotion against pleading to PACs and the wealthy for funds distinctly works against him. At the time of this writing, Paul’s campaign has raised about $600,000 dollars. Mitt Rommey has raised $ 23.1 million. The maverick personality that prevents him from voting with the Republican bloc when it goes, against his ideals (Newt Gingrich grudgingly calls it the “Ron Paul” exception), alienates him from his own party, while his rejection of ‘welfare state programs’ and his pro-life stance alienate him from traditional Democrats.



Dennis Kucinich 




Who he is: Born and raised in Cleveland, son of a truck driver and a stay home mom, he graduated Case Western Reserve University with a Masters in Speech. His early career as a politician rivaled Abe Lincoln in terms of defeats, and he went nearly a decade without winning his first major position as Mayor of Cleveland. His mayorship is legendary for its chaos. He refused to sell Munilight, Cleveland’s public power plant, and because of this the Cleveland mafia put a hit out on him. Finally, under pressure from big business, Cleveland Trust called in the city’s debts forcing Cleveland into bankruptcy and pushing Kucinich out of office. In the years that followed Kucinich was shamed, ridiculed (he had been named one of the worse mayors in American history) and destitute, forced to live with friends (including, oddly, Shirley MacLaine). On his 1982 tax return he reported his yearly income as $38. But history redeemed Kucinich once the conspiracy against him became public and it was realized that his decision not to sell Munilight actually saved Cleveland $195 million dollars. A vegan and spiritualist, Kuchinch stayed out of the political game until 1994 where he ran for state senate and then in ’96 he took his seat as a congressman from Ohio.



In many aspects, his voting record mirrors Paul’s. He voted against the PATRIOT ACT, wants the US to withdraw from NAFTA and CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement), and is against foreign intervention. However, whereas Paul is against social programs, Kucinch gladly supports them including gun control regulation, Social Security, and universal health coverage. He has also brought up an impeachment resolution against Dick Cheney. In short, Kucinch is a man of character and conviction.



Why he won’t win: Kucinch is a man of character and conviction. Unfortunately that character goes against what people take as the traditional “American President” standard (think Harrison Ford in Air Force One). Kucinch also has pacifist tendencies, which many people don’t see as a desirable trait in the Commander-in-Chief especially now. His stalwart criticism against big business and NAFTA limits how much money he will raise (400,000$ at this time), and his adherence to socialist principles will alienate him from fiscally conservative Republicans whom he’ll need to take the election should he ever win the Democratic nomination.



Mike Gravel




Who he is: Today Mike Gravel is best known for his incendiary, furious, and sometimes incoherent criticisms of the Democratic Congress, specificly Senators Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama, who he claims don’t do enough to end the Iraq War, but he’s so angry because he knows a few things about ending wars.



Perhaps the greatest whistle blower in American history, in 1971 Mike Gravel, then a Senator in Alaska, helped end the Vietnam War by bringing to light the Pentagon Papers (secret documents that exposed the truth about Vietnam) and had them entered into the Congressional Record insuring that those lies would be ingrained in American history. During that same year he also held a one man filibuster (a la Mr. Smith Goes To Washington) against the renewal of the draft. Likewise, he’s been a rogue warrior going against his constituents in other arenas like opposing the Alaskan fishing industry in advocating environmental policies. He’s even admitted that he’s alienated, “almost every constituency in Alaska“, but going at it alone, even against overwhelming odds, seems to be Mike Gravel’s style.



Why he won’t win: Mike Gravel’s style is going at it alone, even against overwhelming odds. Good if you’re John Wayne, but bad if you’re trying to get people to vote for you. As seen in the debates so far, Gravel can come off as a curmudgeon, reminiscent of Mr. Wilson in Dennis the Menace. Even when he’s making important and intelligent points his cynicism and derision for opposing views overwhelms and ultimately mutes his own arguments, as correct and noble as they are. Ultimately, as a politician he’s not very good at politicking.



So there they are—the real mavericks (John McCain left that title back in ‘Nam), the rogues, the outsiders, and, unfortunately, the also-rans. Many people will say that it’s the media’s fault that they don’t win, and that it’s the networks, the newspapers, the magazines that don’t give these guys the coverage that would make them viable contenders. Partially this is true, there is too much money involved in our political process and you have to pay to play.



But money’s not everything. Just look at the case of Henry Ross “The Boss” Perot. He had billions of dollars of his own personal wealth, and he used that to get plenty of media coverage including buying thirty minute blocks of prime time television, where he sat down with us in his southern good ole boy fashion with his fancy charts and funny ancedotes, and told us how the rich were taking away our money and jobs and giving them to the Mexicans down south. Eventually, people realized that Ross Perot wasn’t viable for exactly the reasons we loved him. He was that old grandpa, wise but a bit senile, that we hid the car keys from because we were afraid that he’d crash the caddy into a Wal-Mart.



Churchill once said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time, and this sentiment is illuminated through the failures of the above men. We love them precisely because they lack the Machiavellian traits that make people successful in politics. They don’t pander, they are forthright, and unable (sometimes through their own arrogance) to equivocate. Unfortunately it takes all of the above to become the President of the United States. But don’t take my word for it, just ask Bill Clinton



The Wolf runs a blog on political matters at His first novel, The Intellectual Prostitute, will be dropping this Fall.