Kucinich's Libya Impeachment Talk May Hurt Democrats in 2012

Do Democrats really have to get into a footrace with our opponents to see who can launch the most extreme attacks on our leaders?

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Oh, Dennis Kucinich.

Was it only months ago that the world stood still as you took on that lumbering beast, the Longworth House Cafeteria? You bit into a sandwich wrap—and lo!—your tender teeth encountered an angry olive pit. Pain. Despair. A lawsuit. Imagine the ballads minstrels will someday sing about this inspiring tale.

Now, you raise your sights to nothing less than the president of the United States. You say President Obama should have consulted Congress before missile strikes were launched against Libya, and that his failure to do so is an impeachable offense. [See photos of the unrest in Libya.]

Terrific.

No doubt there are a great many things Representative Kucinich has done for his home district. And, to his credit, he’s long been an implacable advocate for finding peaceful solutions to global problems. But sometimes you have to wonder whether he’s exactly what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they came up with the advice and consent clause. I mean, seriously: He announced the endorsement of a fairy tale character called “Grandfather Twilight” when he was running for president. (Grandfather Twilight puts the moon in the sky at the end of every day!) For all I know, that may play well in Ohio’s 10th; it did not, however, deliver him the White House. (Imagine NASA’s relief.)

Of course, politicians have the right to engage in any kind of silliness they see fit. But Democrats seem to have a weakness for it. And particularly in a polarized electorate, it can be self-defeating.

A few years ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop in Madison, Wisconsin, talking with a local reporter. I had just been hired as senior policy adviser to Wisconsin's then Gov. Jim Doyle, in advance of what was expected to be a very hard fought re-election fight. The reporter was giving me his take on the governor’s prospects. [Check out a roundup of this month's best political cartoons.]

About halfway through the conversation, a woman made her way over to our table. I had never met her, but she knew the reporter—she was a local alder or other elected official. I asked her what her advice for the governor would be. She shook her head and let out a deep sigh.

“He’s got a lot of work to do to win over people like me,” she said.

I asked her why, anticipating an answer having to do with property taxes or rising healthcare costs.

“Bike paths,” she said.

Bike paths? “There is so much more we need to do to make Madison bike friendly,” she explained. “He hasn’t been with us on this. We aren’t going to be with him.” She gave me a satisfied smile.

But she had misjudged me. To begin with, I have what I like to think of as a pusillanimous posterior (fear of the inadequately cushioned bicycle seat). And I am one of those nefarious types who gets immediately irritated when bicyclists ride ahead of me on the roadway, slowing traffic. I know—bike paths! But I couldn’t grasp the irony. [See a slide show of the 10 best cities for public transportation.]

And then there was this other little matter—the Republican alternatives were terrible. They wanted to cut funding for schools and the University of Wisconsin, had no real plans to help lower the cost of healthcare, they were against a woman’s right to choose, and opposed stem cell research. My boss was a stout defender of choice, led the state forward on stem cell research, and even in dire economic circumstances had protected funding for schools, the UW system, healthcare, and a whole host of other issues important to progressives. And she was going to cast her vote based on bike paths?

Well, we ended up winning the race. But we spent an inordinate amount of time and energy courting liberals who should have been with us in the first place.

If Representative Kucinich disagrees with what’s happening in Libya, he should absolutely say so. We are all served better by the inclusion of his voice and perspective in the debate. And if, instead, he is motivated by a desire to protect his congressional prerogatives from what he believes is executive branch overreach, go for it. [See who donates the most money to Kucinich.]

But let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture. 2010 was a tough year for Democrats, and, if we’re not careful, 2012 will be tougher. Republicans have made it very clear, in words and deeds, that they will go to any extreme to mischaracterize and undermine Democratic efforts. Do Democrats really have to get into a footrace with our opponents to see who can launch the most extreme attacks on our leaders?

I say no.

C’mon people, let’s try to keep it together. Because there is a long, long way to go.

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