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The Missionary

Dennis Kucinich is running for president — again. Seriously. But the talk-show punch lines and complaints he can’t win only feed his enormous self-confidence. He says he is Cleveland’s message to America. But is Dennis the message we want to send?
By Erick Trickey
Why is Dennis Kucinich running for president?

Forty years after launching his career as an angry champion of Cleveland’s working class, he’s reinvented himself as an international missionary for peace. Kucinich is not content, like most people are, to work at his job and do a little good for others when he gets the chance. That would mean staying on Capitol Hill, wheeling and dealing for federal funding and casting an occasional antiwar vote. Instead, he flies to Syria, to Iowa, to California, because he really, literally, no cliché, thinks it’s his calling to save the world.

Kucinich is running for president because he made a promise to a little boy while standing over his grave in Lebanon. In summer 2006, just after the war between Israel and Hezbollah, Kucinich and his wife, Elizabeth, visited a town where an American-made Israeli bomb had killed dozens of women and children. They found several graves with photos of the dead propped against them.

“We stopped at one grave and were absolutely transfixed at this picture of this little boy, who could have only been a year old or so, who had a red sweater and a blue shirt and had a beautiful smile,” Kucinich tells a crowd of 50 supporters at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, in October. “I began to cry.” A villager reached out to comfort Kucinich, then pointed out his wife and children’s grave. Others, gathering around, shouted: “Tell the American people we love them.” “We don’t hate Israel.” “We want to live in peace.” Moved by their forgiveness, Kucinich says, he knelt at the boy’s grave.

I said a prayer,” he says. “I promised that little boy that I was going to work to create a world where children would not perish in wars, where all over the world, children could grow up free of fear that themselves or their parents will be annihilated.”

It takes an epic leap of selfless virtue and self-important confidence to think that creating a world without war is your calling in life. For 40 years, Clevelanders have argued: Is Kucinich noble or egotistical? The answer is, he’s both. His virtues and faults are intertwined.

In Cleveland, he’s long been a principled opportunist: It’s not that he doesn’t believe in his causes, from public electrical power to keeping hospitals open, it’s that he knows so well how to wrap himself in them. They become part of his life story of selfless glory.

Now, ever since his February 2002 speech “A Prayer For America” made him a nationwide figure on the left, Kucinich, who wanted to be a priest as a boy, has talked in spiritual language about ending war.

Check back Dec. 1 for the complete story.

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