Issue November 17, 2009

Mount McKinney erupts

Former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney talks Obama, politics and human rights

Depending on whom you talk to, opinions vary on exactly what former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney represents.

While serving in Congress, the Atlanta Democrat was known as one of the first and most outspoken critics of the Bush administration, drafting legislation against the war in Iraq and asking tough questions.

But like most political figures trying to do more than simply occupy a seat of power, McKinney was considered controversial for her bold remarks, not to mention a notorious scuffle with a U.S. Capitol police officer.

Since losing her seat in Congress in 2006, McKinney has become a darling of the far left and an advocate for international human rights. The former congresswoman and Green Party presidential candidate will be the keynote speaker at the 12th annual Unity Dinner, hosted by the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression this Saturday.

In advance of her trip, McKinney talked with LEO Weekly via e-mail about the Obama administration, progressive politics and human rights abroad. Some of McKinney’s responses are especially feisty, making it clear she hasn’t lost that infamous candor.

LEO: What did you learn about the two-party system from your 2008 presidential campaign?

Cynthia McKinney: I learned that the U.S. political process is heavily skewed away from truly democratic methods of the public making public policy. And because the process is skewed away from truly democratic processes, the will of the people is too often not reflected in the laws, policies and priorities of elected bodies that are supposed to be representative of the people. I believe that the people are truly being short-changed as a result. We should have people-oriented policies that focus on positive outcomes: like health care that actually makes people in our country healthier … education so that our young people are internationally competitive …

LEO: What are some obstacles that third-party candidates face?

CM: Because of the preponderance of “special interest money” in the U.S. political process, money is definitely an obstacle. The structure of the system that rewards those who raise huge sums of money, then, is one that favors political parties that cater to special interests and, in return, receive money from them. Special interest candidates from special interest political parties are then able to purchase ads from the special interest dominated media that most people watch. Providing factual information and alternative views to prospective voters under these circumstances is, as a result, made all the more difficult.

LEO: Do you intend to run for local or national political office again?

CM: I understand that the enemies of truth, justice and peace are happy that I am not there to speak truth to power, press for justice, and vote for peace. I will not rule out any action that enhances my ability to speak truth to power, press for justice and vote for peace. 

LEO: Did President Obama and congressional Democrats make a mistake by not putting single-payer health care on the table at the start of the debate?

CM: Not if the result of the “debate” is to not offend the special interest insurance industry that bolsters the special interest candidates, political parties and political system as it is currently constructed. Every day, I try my best to represent the people’s interests above the special interests, and to call out those who subvert the people’s interests.

LEO: President Obama rejected the war options in Afghanistan given to him by his national security team. It is reported that he wants an exit strategy. Are you encouraged by the president’s position on the war?

CM: Mr. Bailey, I think your question is not an accurate reflection of the facts. How could I ever be encouraged about the continuation — including up to today — of war crimes, torture, rendition, crimes against humanity, and crimes against the peace?

LEO: The Obama administration has also called for a freeze on continued settlements by Israel in the West Bank, which you’ve been heavily involved in as a human rights advocate. What are your thoughts about the administration’s policy in the region?

CM: Mr. Bailey, what another weak and inaccurate question! … I spent 7 days in an Israeli prison for taking school, medical and building supplies to the people of Gaza after Israel’s military assault called Operation Cast Lead.