Ballot Box

The Flip-Flops of Dennis Kucinich

What he said then. What he says now. What happened.

Slate continues its short features on the 2004 presidential candidates. Previous series covered the candidates’ biographies, buzzwords, agendas, worldviews, best moments, and worst moments. This series assesses the candidates’ purported flip-flops. Here are two switches commonly attributed to Dennis Kucinich—and the context his critics leave out.

Flip: In Congress, Kucinich voted against the RU-486 pill, “partial-birth” abortion, and funding for international family-planning programs that support abortion. In 1996, he said, “Life begins at conception.” In 2000, his voting record earned a zero rating from the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.

Flop: On May 17, 2003, Kucinich leapfrogged his Democratic rivals, declaring, “It’s going to be important for the next president of the United States to tell the American people that he or she will cause any appointee to have to answer on the question of Roe v. Wade, that there must be a litmus test on this question, and that no one should be appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States unless they are ready to keep Roe v. Wade in place and protect a woman’s right to choose.”

Context: Although Kucinich previously disagreed with Roe, he never advocated a constitutional amendment to overturn it. In 1996, he said, “I have doubts about how effective government can be in the abortion issue. What government can do is to provide services to limit the amount of abortions that people seek. We need to have a society where every pregnancy is wanted.”

On Meet the Press on Feb. 23, 2003, Kucinich said he had slowly shifted in a pro-choice direction after “reflection.” He said Democrats would support a candidate who had shown “the ability to be able to grow and evolve.”

Flip: During a July 1998 Hardball appearance, Kucinich rejected efforts to impeach President Clinton. “To flat out call for an impeachment without the evidence takes us back to Alice in Wonderland,” said Kucinich.

Flop: In October 1998, Kucinich was one of 31 House Democrats who broke ranks and voted for the unlimited impeachment hearings sought by the GOP.*

Context: Kucinich argued, “There will be no accountability without an open hearing. There will be no closure for this country or its people or our president without an open hearing.” He warned Republicans, “The responsibility now lies with the majority to conduct a fair and impartial inquiry that gets to the facts and doesn’t turn into a witch hunt.” On Dec. 19, 1998, Kucinich voted against all four articles of impeachment.

*Correction, Sept. 19, 2003:This article originally and incorrectly said that the October 1998 vote cast by Kucinich was to impeach Clinton and force a Senate trial. That vote was not for impeachment and a Senate trial. It was for an unlimited impeachment inquiry in the House. The confusion evidently arose because both votes were for impeachment-related proceedings, and Democrats who voted for the unlimited impeachment inquiry were regarded as defectors. However, the difference in significance is enormous. Slate apologizes to Kucinich and to our readers for this serious error.