Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
A Prayer for America
By Dennis Kucinich
Thunder's Mouth Press/Nation Books
141 pp, 11.95 dollars
Among the recent crop of books written by, for or about candidates in this November's U.S. presidential election. Dennis Kucinich's A Prayer for America stands out for many of the same reasons that distinguish the dark horse Democratic candidate from his rivals.
Campaign books are usually penned to illuminate the political platform or personal background of a declared candidate, but in Kucinich's case the speech from which the book takes its name came first, and it provided the impetus for his campaign.
A Prayer for America is the title of a speech Kucinich, a U.S. congressman from Ohio, delivered to the Southern California chapter of Americans for Democratic Action in February 2002. His remarks electrified not only his partisan audience, but the American left in general, prompting writer Studs Terkel to urge him to run for the White House in a magazine article.
Born into a large and impoverished blue-collar family, Kucinich is a lifelong labor and social justice activist. He became mayor of his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, in 1977 at the age of 31 following an election fought largely on the issue of privatization of a city-owned utility. While his refusal to sell the taxpayer owned MUNY Light nearly bankrupted the city government and got him turned out of office, a dozen years later the municipal council lauded him for his "courage and foresight" in refusing to sell.
Perhaps fittingly, the diminutive Kucinich's 141-page book is much shorter than most of the other campaign books.
It is not a biography, a policy paper or a campaign polemic, but a collection of speeches given mainly in 2002 and 2003, including the aforementioned speech that prompted his bid for the presidency. Unlike numerous other campaign books it is not ghostwritten or informed by a group of political advisers. Like most of his campaign appearances and past political activity, A Prayer for America is pure, unvarnished Kucinich. As with most political speeches of recent vintage, it is long on stirring rhetorical statements, applause lines and pie in the sky, but very short on nuts-and-bolts policy or practicality.
"I tell you there is another America out there. It is ready to be called forward. It is the America of the flag full of stars. It is the America which is in our hearts and we can make it the heart of the world," says Kucinich. Doubtless it makes stirring oratory, but on the printed page such lofty passages fall flat.
This reliance on abstract rhetoric and feel-good New Age mumbo jumbo ("Spirit merges with matter to sanctify the universe. Matter transcends, to return to spirit.") robs the title speech's more worldly rebuttal to the present U.S. regime of much of its power.
A more reasoned, analytical approach to explaining some of Kucinich's progressive proposals--such as his idea for a cabinet-level peace department and his opposition to the war in Iraq--would have better served both the candidate and readers
"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"