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Dennis Kucinich, An Uncompromising Outlier, Heads To The Exits

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DENNIS KUCINICH
"Why is peace a lost cause? Why is diplomacy a lost cause?" asks Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who lost his reelection bid after a redistricting. | Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- Lame-duck hunting season has already begun on Capitol Hill, with the line of lobbyists representing special interest groups spilling out of the cramped office of recently defeated Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and into the hall of the Rayburn House Office Building.

After a Republican redistricting effort forced him to compete for the same House seat as Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Kucinich lost in a rout on Tuesday night.

But if any of the lobbyists -- from the Ohio Parent-Teacher Association to a team of railway execs -- thought a lame-duck Kucinich was open to new persuasions other than the ones he had held over eight remarkably consistent terms in the House of Representatives, the congressman had a simple rejoinder: "Not a chance."

"Defeat doesn’t have any power over me," Kucinich said in an interview with The Huffington Post in his office on Thursday. "If defeat has power over you, then you're afraid to stand up and speak out and challenge interests that would drag us into war -- or take away our civil liberties or bind us to a particular kind of health care system."

No one would accuse Kucinich of being afraid to take on defeat or the different, lonely path -- even if his battles have sometimes been quixotic. In 2002, he stood nearly alone in defiant opposition to the war in Iraq and since then has grown into something of a professional outlier, calling more recently for the end of private campaign financing, and -- in a seeming repeat scenario -- opposing any and all aggressive actions against Iran.

"One of the most fundamental flaws in our time is to think that war is inevitable," Kucinich said about his vocal antiwar perspective. "Because when you start thinking that war is inevitable, that type of thinking creates a momentum where war becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I saw that happen in Iraq. I saw that thinking keep us in Afghanistan."

"I see it in projection of U.S. power around the world," he added. "And I see it in this dangerous confrontation with Iran, where people speak to the inevitability of war, and then create circumstances that put us at the threshold of war."

Kucinich feels vindicated by his Iraq war opposition. Late last year he told HuffPost that he felt "the times have moved in my direction." But as he flipped through a thick stack of press releases and public statements that he has issued about a possible war in Iran since 2006, it was hard not to feel that Kucinich was leaving behind an institution little changed from the lessons of Iraq and the many battles he had waged.

"I do see some of the same circumstances, some of the same rhetoric, some of the same talk of inevitability," Kucinich said, adding that the one exception may be that now the sitting president appears to not "have any appetite for a war."

"We're speeding along, heading into a new abyss, and this one could be much more dangerous than the last," he warned. "But I'm still here. I'm here for another nine months, and I intend to be heard on these issues related to Iran."

Kucinich has never been much of one for coalition building and some believe his uncompromising nature, along with his insufficient ties to the regional Ohio scene, cost him his seat. The Los Angeles Times recently described him as the "patron saint of lost causes."

"Why is peace a lost cause? Why is diplomacy a lost cause?" Kucinich said, in response to the Los Angeles Times' sobriquet. "We can turn it on its head and say the war in Iraq was a lost cause or at least a false cause. When I take a stand, it's generally not to be able to back up what's already popular because popularity around here is a bauble. And there's something called conscience which endures, and one must speak one's conscience when the fate of the republic is at stake."

In the end, Kucinich fell not so much over his outlying or unpopular positions -- he proudly points out that he won 73 percent of his old district -- but because of a politicized gerrymandering process.

For a time, Kucinich toyed with the practical idea of abandoning Ohio altogether and running in the state of Washington, where he has a devoted following among Democratic progressives after two runs for the Democratic presidential nomination. But in the end, he elected to stay the course -- to remain in Ohio, a choice he now says he does not regret.

"I had to," Kucinich said, choosing his words slowly and carefully. "There was enough of my present district to defend, and I had no intention of walking away from Cleveland. I made that very clear."

He went on, "The map was changed twice. The die was cast early on. But I'm the kind of person that has this unsinkable optimism to where I think I can go into a rigged game and win."

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