DEARBORN — In response to criticism for an outspoken visit to Syria and Lebanon in September, the wife of uncompromising Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich defended the trip in an interview with The Arab American News this week.
“You have to focus on what you’re trying to achieve. You can’t let small-minded people stop you,” said Elizabeth Kucinich over the phone.
She said they’ve received positive response from around the country for their efforts to build bridges, but radio talk show hosts and newspaper editorials have blasted the couple for making the trip.
|Dennis Kucinich and his wife Elizabeth in Qana last year.|
The Ohio congressman’s hometown newspaper The Cleveland Plain Dealer, describing the Syrian government as one that “harbors terrorists and is under a U.N. cloud for possible involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri,” criticized Kucinich for attacking President Bush’s policies on Syrian television.
“U.S. lawmakers should be free to travel to Syria…Yet it’s also important that U.S. interests be kept paramount. The idea must be to promote U.S. diplomacy, not to undermine it through ill-informed antics,” the article read.
Elizabeth Kucinich said that she and her husband expected some backlash for the campaign-funded visit, but that it didn’t scare them.
“When you’re working for peace you can’t be put off by other people’s prejudices,” she said.
“We know that America has to change direction.”
She said their efforts are intended to go beyond sound bite politics, are genuinely compassionate and working toward a shift in U.S. foreign policy from pre-emption and coercion to understanding and persuasion.
|Elizabeth Kucinich posing with two children from Qana last year|
“Strength through peace,” the Kucinich campaign calls it, rather than “peace through strength.”
Dennis Kucinich has also made a series of unpopular votes in Congress recently. He was the only member of the House to oppose a symbolic official remembrance on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
He said it didn’t go far enough to condemn “the lies that took us into Iraq.”
Elizabeth Kucinich said her husband usually votes in the minority, because, she said, he is one of the few in Congress who actually reads the text in proposed bills.
“It’s very, very easy when you’re in Washington to go with the crowd. You have to really stand on your own. It’s that understanding that caused him to vote against the war in Iraq.”
The couple took with them that same unbending courage to Syria and Lebanon in 2006 and again last month, not shying away from speaking publicly, touring through rubble in south Lebanon and meeting with presidents and various political leaders.
The most intense moments of the two trips, Elizabeth Kucinich said, were visiting with people in Qana, Lebanon who had lost entire families to war, and with Iraqi refugees in Damascus, who escaped to Syria with only the clothes on their backs,
“It’s something I will never forget… It’s heart rending when you see the number of refugees that there are in Syria.”
She said that the Kucinich presidential campaign “is a vehicle that we can use to show that peace is possible.”
It’s sad, she said, that many Americans who share the views and admire the unwavering principles of her husband don’t support the campaign with votes, money, or word of mouth, because Kucinich is seen as a long shot candidate.
“A person who represents you is being disenfranchised by you. How will they ever expect to have representation in government?”
Despite the campaigns of Democratic election frontrunners Sens. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards having raised tens of millions of dollars more than Kucinich, Elizabeth Kucinich said she believes her husband is the perfect candidate for a great many Arab, Muslim and Persian Americans.
“In a democracy, you vote for who represents you. Why not vote for what you actually want?”