When Congressman Dennis Kucinich delivered his speech, "A Prayer for America," to the Southern California chapter of Americans for Democratic Action, it electrified the whole country. In his speech, Kucinich—a 2004 presidential candidate—warned against an America that had discarded the constitutional liberties integral to its identity: "Let us pray that our nation will remember that the unfolding of the promise of democracy in our nation paralleled the striving for civil rights. That is why we must challenge the rationale of the Patriot Act. We must ask why should America put aside guarantees of constitutional justice?" A Prayer for America collects Kucinich's essays and speeches. It represents his holistic worldview and carries with it a passionate commitment to public service, peace, human rights, workers' rights, and the environment. His advocacy of a Department of Peace seeks not only to make nonviolence an organizing principle in our society, but to make war a thing of the past. A Prayer for America includes an introductory essay from Kucinich that reflects on his political journey from his election as the youngest mayor of a major American city to his role as a dynamic, visionary leader of the Progressive Caucus of the Congressional Democrats.
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In 1977, aged 31, Kucinich was elected "Boy Mayor" of Cleveland. Now a U.S. representative from Ohio, he is one of the most interesting and unusual members of the Democratic presidential field for 2004. His strong, even radical positions on workers' rights, the environment, health care, foreign policy and defense give him a good claim to represent "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" and to challenge the business-oriented centrism promoted by the Democratic Leadership Council. A thoughtful explanation and defense of Kucinich's views would be an important contribution to the national debate. Unfortunately, this hastily assembled collection of speeches doesn't fit the bill. Short on logic, analysis and detail, these addresses, delivered to such friendly audiences as labor unions and peace groups, are filled with applause lines that may work as oratory but make tedious reading. Intriguing notions like the proposal for a Department of Peace end up sounding half-baked; would it really make sense for such a department to address social ills as diverse as spousal abuse and police-community relations along with international diplomacy? At times, policy issues vanish altogether in a blur of New Age rhetoric ("Spirit merges with matter to sanctify the universe. Matter transcends, to return to spirit"). The result is a book that will disappoint all but hard-core fans and supporters of Kucinich.
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He may forever be known as the "boy mayor." Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich first gained national attention in 1977 when he was elected mayor of Cleveland at age 31, the youngest person ever to lead a major American city. Controversy dogged and defined him from the outset and has informed his political career from mayor to state senator to Ohio's representative in Congress. It was, perhaps, inevitable that he would join the field of fellow Democrats wishing to challenge the present administration by announcing his candidacy for the presidency. To groups such as Service Employees International and Southern California Americans for Democratic Action, and on issues as diverse as national health care and international nuclear disarmament, Kucinich has shared his personal and political beliefs, which are now collected in a series of impassioned speeches and eloquent essays that serves as a poetic polemic challenging current conventional wisdom. Thoughtful and thought-provoking, Kucinich's views raise pertinent political questions and offer one candidate's solutions for change. Carol Haggas
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