Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wash. Post's premature obituary for Kucinich's Dept. of Peace

Now that Dennis Kucinich is leaving Congress, the Washington Post's David Fahrenthold has written a eulogy for his signature idea, a federal Department of Peace.  It is somewhat less condescending than the usual reaction to it, which is open mockery.

"The idea behind it is that the federal government could stop wars, pacify street gangs, and distill violence out of the American soul itself," Fahrenthold writes. "All it would take was a new Cabinet-level department and $10 billion a year in taxpayer money."

The Department of Peace, like Kucinich himself, is easily caricatured. It usually appears in mainsteam media as a one-liner, a joke about a flower-power dream from a peculiar socialist elf.  (Like I said, easy.)

Fahrenthold, at least, knows something about the bill. He knows the idea has been around since the Founding Fathers. He knows it would create a peace academy to train people in nonviolent conflict resolution. "It would also seek to stop bloodshed in U.S. cities, by funding stop-the-violence programs, programs in schools and 'unarmed civilian peacekeeping,'" he writes.

The story makes the practical point that $10 billion for peace is way more money than the current Congress would be willing to spend. That's true, but it is also Kucinich's point.  He sometimes says the Department of Peace should get 1 percent of what the Department of Defense gets. The House just passed a $643 billion defense budget for next year. 

Here are a few of the things the Department of Peace would fund: programs at home to fight domestic violence, child and elder abuse, gang violence, and violence in schools, to rehabilitate ex-convicts and teach students non-violent ways to resolve conflicts.  It would sponsor peace summits and conflict resolution in other countries, train U.S. personnel in post-war reconstruction, counsel victims of wartime rape, and train inspectors to enforce arms embargoes.

Hilarious stuff, huh?

Say what you will about Kucinich's ego and his missionary zeal (I certainly have), or his naïveté about murderous dictators, but you've got to give him this: Kucinich is a serious and unconventional thinker. Just because his thinking is outside the mainstream doesn't mean he's always wrong.

"At Kucinich’s political passing, we pause to remember it," Fahrenthold writes, implying that the idea of the Department of Peace could wither and die when Kucinich leaves Congress.  That's unlikely.  It has 52 co-sponsors.

Making a Department of Peace a Cabinet-level priority is Kucinich's way of getting peace taken seriously in Washington. The government already established a U.S. Institute of Peace in 1984 to do many of the things Kucinich proposes.  Its budget?  Cut from $50 million to $40 million in 2011, or 16,000 times smaller than the defense budget.  As Elvis Costello once sang, what's so funny?

1 comment:

Pat Simon said...

I do appreciate your clarification of what a Dept. of Peace will do - make peace a priority for this country. It will actually model/encourage a shift in people's thinking, a change in attitude, for the civic action absolutely required for change in policies. It will be a signal to the world that the U.S. may be growing up!

Pat Simon,
MA Campaign for a U.S Dept. of Peace