There's an unusual candor about John Dennis that you don't often get from a politician who's running in one of the two major parties. But then again, a small businessman from New Jersey who grew up in a housing project can afford to be candid and honest when the media has marginalized him as a mere outlier against the most powerful person in congress, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.
He's not even a politician. In fact, Dennis had rarely engaged the political realm until the 2008 Presidential election, in which he actively campaigned for Republican party outcast, Ron Paul. This time around it's Paul helping out Dennis, who he has endorsed.
The question is: Can John Dennis be taken seriously as a Republican when he's running on an anti-war, pro-civil liberties, anti-corporatist, pro-marijuana platform? In Dennis' own formulation, it's the only way to seriously challenge Pelosi, whom he has characterized as a "blatant corporatist."
In this blog, I want to argue that despite running as a Republican, Dennis is essentially running on a pragmatic, progressive agenda that brings together the most salient issues across parties. Issue by issue, I will outline why liberals, as well as conservatives, should consider Dennis over Pelosi in San Francisco.
On Foreign Policy:
Dennis locates the failure of bipartisan politics in the absence of communication regarding the economic dimensions of U.S. foreign policy. "If the right will not address our largest expenditure concerning foreign policy, than the left will never take their concerns of financial responsibility seriously." Dennis claims that in order to foster a bipartisan political strategy "we have to address the military industrial complex." He continues: "The power to declare and end wars resides with the congress, Nancy Pelosi [as speaker] has the power to end the wars today if she wanted, instead she continues to empower the military industrial complex."
Dennis' anti-war stance simultaneously addresses conservative concerns about foreign spending while incorporating progressive ethical concerns regarding U.S. occupancy abroad. Here, Dennis' ability to employ both conservative and liberal rhetorical strategies in highlighting unsustainable political practices abroad firmly places him beyond left and right.
On Civil Liberties:
As a citizen, Dennis voted against California's 2008 Proposition 8, which provided that only marriage between a man and a woman is to be held legally legitimate. Summing up his position, Dennis said, "I'm ready for a government that is serious about civil liberties. It's not the government's role to define what a marriage is and who can and cannot marry, that's for individuals."
Earlier this year Dennis attended the annual San Francisco Gay Pride Parade accompanied by a gay pro-Second Amendment advocacy group, The Pink Pistols. He and volunteers explained to attendees how Nancy Pelosi has turned her back on the gay voters of San Francisco by refusing to make the repeal of DOMA and Don't Ask, Don't Tell a priority.
John Dennis believes the upcoming Proposition 19, which will legalize certain forms of marijuana use and distribution, will pass. But he says the vote will unfortunately be closer than expected.
Perhaps most importantly, he is a strong opponent to the PATRIOT ACT. "If elected," said Dennis, "I would work to repeal at least the sections of the PATRIOT ACT that allow agents to write their own search warrants." Additionally he opposes warrant-less wiretaps, water-boarding and other forms of torture, and believes there is never grounds to suspend habeas corpus.
Although a self-professed supporter of "free markets," Dennis parts ways strategically with his fellow Republicans regarding the question of social welfare programs. Rather than falling back on tired political binaries, Dennis has made pragmatic statements concerning necessary social safety nets that suggest a more complex and nuanced attitude toward government-based solutions for our poorest citizens. As Dennis says, "I believe to save entitlements for the short-term, we have to cut spending overseas. If we come to our senses concerning foreign policy we can put that money towards the people who depend on it here. We could then start reforming long term entitlements, starting with those receiving benefits in about 7-10 years." While Dennis does not support top-down social retribution as a long-term solution to wealth inequality, his willingness to forge a political middle path by reallocating military spending to entitlements reveals a pragmatic strategy that positions him, again, beyond the left and right.
On the Environment:
"The oil spill is a tragedy," claims Dennis. "We can't allow government to cap liabilities for companies as they have done for the oil industry, which Nancy Pelosi cosponsored and voted for."
Since the BP oil spill in the gulf coast has amounted damage that is nearly incalculable one would think the speaker would have lawmakers running to hold offenders accountable, but Pelosi has only once gone on the record regarding the removal of a liability cap saying, "I think it's worthy of looking at."
"You have to get serious about prosecuting those who pollute, make an example out of a few of the biggest offenders and I mean really prosecute those who pollute without regard for those around them."
On Corporatism & Monetary Policy:
"Nancy Pelosi is a corporatist. She's voted for and supported every bailout for the banks. It's clear she no longer stands for the people despite what she says." Philosophically, for John Dennis, the government should never pick winners and losers -- for him that is anti-business. "If you want to be pro-business, you have to be pro-free markets. You can't subsidize big corporations, give them unfair advantages and expect the market to function properly."
Though Dennis believes at the core of the country's economic woes is a Federal Reserve that is out of control. He supports a bill to audit the Federal Reserve championed by progressive house Democrat Alan Grayson and libertarian Texas congressman Ron Paul. "The Fed[eral Reserve] is running unchecked, monetizing our debts at alarming rates, it's going to destroy the purchasing power of our dollar."
On the Left and Right:
John Dennis has some interesting political figures in his corner. Ralph Nader's 2008 Presidential running mate and prominent San Francisco political activist Matt Gonzalez spoke at an anti war rally for Dennis. Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan has also stated her belief that Dennis is a person who wants to make the world a better place and is truly who he says he is.
All that love for a Republican no less. "I have principles, I believe in liberty and I don't buy into the left, right fight," Dennis espoused.
I'd pay good money to see Pelosi and Dennis square off in a debate on MSNBC. I think it'd draw prime-time numbers (Rachel Maddow are you reading this?). If only there were such candidates from the "left" or "right" in my home of New York I could get behind.
It will be difficult to discourage a progressive not to vote for the anti-illegal war, anti-failed drug policy, ant-corporatist, pro-gay rights candidate just because he has an (R) next to his name over the other one who has not only failed to fulfill her promises but has cheered on the destruction of civil liberties and prosperity in this country.
Dustin Reid is the editorial director for the Red Hot Organization, a non-profit equipped to fight AIDS through popular culture.