Dinner with Dennis at DiMartino’s

Congressman and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich was in town Tuesday, campaigning for the upcoming Kentucky primary. He gave an extremely energetic speech at the Kentucky Theater. I’ve been to a lot of political rallies in my rabble-rousing lifetime, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a politician fire up a crowd the way Dennis did. Unfortunately, the local newspaper reporter was working on deadline, so his story was based only on an interview with Dennis on the way to the theater, and he didn’t hang around to capture the enthusiasm.

Listening to Dennis is always bittersweet. He can really make a crowd feel that there is hope for this country and the world. Listening to him saying the kinds of things our leaders should be saying, and saying them in a way that brings a crowd to their feet applauding and cheering, you think the attitude should be spreading like wildfire. And then you leave, and pick up the newspaper, and realize that a sickening majority of our society still isn’t getting the message.

And now, that’s what Dennis’ campaign is all about: getting out that message. He acknowledges Kerry has the nomination sewn up. But he stays in the race, the only other candidate still officially running. He spends long exhausting days on the road, travelling to states with upcoming primaries (Oregon last week, Kentucky this week), urging people to vote for him. Why? To give people a chance to cast votes in the primary that will send a message to the Democratic party that they want ideas like Dennis’ included in the platform. He’s running himself ragged with no chance of any personal gain, just to keep the message of hope alive.

I think he summed it up best when somebody asked him a question about Ralph Nader. Dennis has always been very tactful on that subject. He says that he considers Nader a friend who has supported him when he needed it. I don’t think he has ever criticized Nader for running in 2000 or 2004. At the same time, he makes it perfectly clear that his own intention is to work within the Democratic party, support the Democratic nominee after the convention, and not be a spoiler. But he says the real answer is simple: the Democratic party could make the Nader issue go away if they would do the right thing and adopt a lot of Nader’s ideas. As he said Tuesday night: “I’m not scared of Ralph Nader; I’m scared of Democrats who act like George Bush!” If Democrats would stop acting like Republicans, they’d pull the rug out from under third party candidates.

After the speech, Dennis and some of his loyal local fans gathered at DiMartino’s, an Italian deli in the downtown area, where the owner, another loyal fan, had prepared a delicious meal of baked ziti (a choice of vegan style for Dennis and others who share his dietary beliefs, or meatballs for those who only share his political beliefs). And, in another small world moment, I suddenly realized the owner was the sister of my mechanic. I’d always wondered what Stevie thought of the bumper stickers plastered all over my car. He constantly gives me grief about the mud, but never mentions the stickers. I had assumed that he probably wasn’t completely in tune with my beliefs, but didn’t believe in getting into political battles with customers (that might be taking his motto of “customer abuse” too far). Now I feel a little safer about wearing my beliefs on my bumper without worrying about whether my brakelines will mysteriously fail at high speed.

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