'Hi, This Is Dennis Kucinich Calling.'

Hi everyone. Yesterday, after Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich declared that he was abandoning his bid for president, I posted a light itemexamining the challenges he faced and the probable reason for his early exit (in 2004, Kucinich continued until the convention). It inspired a lot of angry comments and emails from Kucinich admirers, which is understandable--snarkiness in the style of Wonkette, which I sometimes indulge in, always carries with it the risk of causing offense. This morning, though, I suddenly remembered that I'd actually had a conversation with the congressman, so I decided to post an addendum.

It was May 4, 2007, and I was working on article for Newsweek about presidential courage. I'd sent messages to all of the candidates' spokespeople, asking for short lists of the three presidents their bosses most admire. After failing to receive a response from David Swanson, Kucinich's point man, I fired off a follow-up asking if we should hold our breath. "Can try asap," he wrote back. "Can't promise." An hour later, my phone rings--and it's the candidate himself. "Hi," he said. "This is Dennis Kucinich calling."

We spoke for 15 minutes about his presidential heroes. Some folks in the office joked about it, implying that Kucinich had nothing better to do, but I thought it was wonderful that he'd call himself; other so-called "fringe candidates" like Duncan Hunter, Mike Gravel and Jim Gilmore had simply sent ghost-written statements, like the frontrunners. Kucinich was obviously excited to discuss his favorite presidents, and the fact that he called me personally showed uncommon sincerity, authenticity and lack of cynicism--which is exactly what his supporters love about him. Thought I'd share. Excerpts:

Franklin Roosevelt
"His willingness to challenge the nation to support a New Deal created a fundamental restructuring of the purpose of government. Extraordinary. In respect to the potential of government to transform the potential of peoples lives, I admire what he did. He demonstrated the transformational potential of government, in respect to domestic policy. Creating the Social Security system was an amazing development, and the WPA program rebuilt America. That's what I'm talking about during this campaign."

Abraham Lincoln
"The Emancipation Proclamation was just one dimension of Lincoln's genius. He put together a cabinet of people, many of whom were his political opponents. What you see is someone who really lived the principle he articulated in the Second Inaugural: "malice toward none and charity towards all." He showed capacity of heart and of courage in being able to unify opposites. That was his gift not only to America, but to the world. He really knew about uniting an America that was split, and understood the imperative of human unity in a way that was so profound, that the path to unity was not only a matter of structure but a spiritual journey as well. I look to him for inspiration on matters that relate to the potential of the human spirit to surmount powerful differences of opinion, differences that could split a nation."

Jimmy Carter
"I'd say Jimmy Carter -- not for something that happened during his presidency, but for his demonstration of character and courage in his post-White House years. He has shown a capacity of humility and humanity, and an ability to be a builder not just of houses but a builder of peace. He has demonstrated great courage in calling for a new direction in the Middle East. In a sense he's become a president emeritus, redefining the role of an ex-president as a moral leader for the world at a time when such leadership is much needed--and in short supply."

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