Progressive Perspective | Dennis Kucinich, H1-B, Ron Paul—And The Fundamental Contradiction Of U.S. Politics

Dennis Kucinich has recently announced that he will be leaving the U.S. Congress after seven terms. He had lost the Democratic primary in an Ohio House district which was, because of Republican redistricting, largely composed of voters from a neighboring district held by another liberal Democrat, Marcy Kaptur, who won. Kucinich still got 71% support from those portions of his old district that could vote for him. There was talk Kucinich would move to Washington State, where many Democrats are greens or reds, and run for one of the open House seats. But it hasn’t panned out.

(As a resident of the state, I think he could have won—and still might become a force if he moves here).

In 2004 I volunteered for Kucinich’s run for the Democratic presidential nomination. I worked for him again in 2008. My reason was simple: because of H-1b expansion, I had been unable to find to find a suitable job for years.

Americans concerned about H-1b expansion were (and are) faced with a peculiar situation: literally every politician who needed to raise large amounts to maintain their position in Congress votes for H-1b expansion. We have even seen stuff like members of Tom Tancredo`s Immigration Reform Caucus putting H-1b expansion bills over the top.

Kucinich was, and is, very far from being a patriotic immigration reformer. He opposed H-1b expansion on the principled grounds that any kind of immigration, except the permanent-resident green card type, was problematic from a civil rights perspective—in effect, it has reinvented indentured servitude.  

But what we found in 2004 was the Kucinich`s campaign began getting a lot of inquiries from voters who had been economically impacted by H-1b expansion.

Many of the Kucinich volunteers were deeply concerned about typical left-wing issues like peace, environmentalism, animal rights; some were more traditional craft union types. Few had a very direct knowledge of what H-1b expansion has meant to high-tech workers.

In my case, I had seen H-1b-intensive operations in Silicon Valley in 1999-2000. There were even substantial projects that served little business purpose—but were very effective at obtaining H-1b visas (and green cards) for the friends and family of the numerous immigrants in Silicon Valley upper management.

Before I became a software engineer, I got an economic degree from the University of Chicago. But my political sympathies have always leaned fairly substantially towards what I would call the “rational left”—the “Old Left.”

I see Kucinich in many ways as representative of this Old Left, as opposed what has emerged in recent decades. The Old Left was deeply concerned about bread-and-butter economic issues. It didn`t always have the best analysis at its fingertips, but at least it consistently tried to improve wages and working conditions of ordinary Americans.

But in the late 1960-early 1970s, we saw non-economic issues coming to define the left/right divide. Kucinich for example, started out as a serious Catholic, serving a blue-collar, Catholic district, who opposed abortion legalization on religious grounds. But when he entered the national Democratic stage, he found it necessary to flip-flop—something that I think was absolutely gut-wrenching for him (and may not have helped him in his district).

The “New Left,” which now dominates the Democratic Party, was influenced deeply by “cultural Marxist” thinkers like Antonio Gramsci. It sees non-white ethnic nationalists and non-traditional lifestyle groups as its logical political allies. The Obama campaign’s widely-reported decision to abandon the white working class is simply the culmination of this process.

The result: a situation where poor whites now tend to vote GOP and poor non-whites vote Democratic—and both major parties are dominated by wealthy pro-immigration financial interests.

Economic issues, in this new political regime, get handed over to folks from Wall Street, or from think tanks funded by the very wealthy, whose real job description is: inventing lies that make rich folks richer.

I never met any major adviser to Kucinich I felt truly understood the basic facts around US immigration policy.

In fact, one reason I resolved to write for is it was the only venue I could find in which I could expose these issues to any kind of broad audience. I submitted my detailed analysis The Jobs Crunch to all the traditional “progressive” news outlets, like The Nation, and Mother Jones. I got nothing in the way of a response. But published it on September 23, 2004.

My writing for really upset my some (not all) of my colleagues in the Kucinich campaign. Typical of modern Democrats, the New Left’s cultural warfare was more important to them than the Old Left’s concern for working conditions.

But my respect for Kucinich continues to be substantial.

One of my projects was conducting a Condorcet presidential poll in 2000 and 2004. A Condorcet winner is one who can beat all other candidates in a two-way race—for example, in 2000 Nader could beat Bush or Gore in a two-way race-but could only get a small percentage in a three-way race, because he was the second choice of many voters.

In both elections, those polls suggested that non-centrist candidates like Ralph Nader were preferred by American voters over “mainstream” candidates dominated by big dollars.

Dennis Kucinich is a first-rate, original political leader who has clearly demonstrated he will not sell out. (There’s a reason he likes Ron Paul—even to the point of saying he’d choose him as a running mate in the 2008 campaign. Paul has pretty substantial support in Washington State too—centrist Democrats and Republicans are really thin on the ground. Maybe we can break the mold here).

However, when it comes to immigration policy issues, Kucinich is largely flying blind. It would take more than a few isolated sympathizers like myself to get him the information he needs.

Kucinich has always been polite to me. But I’m just a poor, disabled guy with a computer and he has been badly burned by going outside the mainstream before. It will take stuff with institutional respectability to convince him. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no work of this kind being done anywhere on the Left.

When the New Deal Agenda was created by the old Socialist Party, we had people like my former professor Maynard Krueger working with a volunteer research team assuring that their policy agenda had some basis in economic theory. We don`t have anything like that today.

In the long run, I think history will see this post-1965 “election of a new people” in the U.S. as something imposed by wealthy plutocrats against the will of the American people.

There is a fundamental contradiction between claiming to support a democratic republic—and supporting US immigration policies of the last fifty-plus years.

Dennis Kucinich has explicitly advocated proportional representation—a move that would both instantly double representation of progressives in congress and make immigration a front-burner issue.

Maybe that’s the answer. But one way or another, something has to give.

Randall Burns [email him] holds a degree in Economics from the University of Chicago where his professors included Maynard Krueger, Ira Katznelson and Arcadius Kahan.  He studied Software Engineering as graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University and was involved in the IT business for over 20 years. Burns has been active in furthering the introduction of immigration, trade, and tax realities into the progressive agenda. In 2004, he helped create the Kucinich campaign`s position paper on H-1b/L-1 visas.