WASHINGTON -- Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) on Wednesday said the Massachusetts election was a "wake up call" for Democrats and that his party had better change course or it could suffer devastating losses come November.
"People elected Democrats in 2008 to change the direction," he told Raw Story in a nearly hour-long interview.
"And the same entrenched interests that George Bush could not shake, this current White House is having great difficulty in shaking. One could suggest they might be more entrenched than ever."
Kucinich staunchly defended liberalism but alleged that Democrats are not behaving like liberals.
"There's nothing liberal about the bailouts. There's nothing liberal about standing by and watching banks use public money to get their executive bonuses. There's nothing liberal about giving insurance companies carte blanche to charge anything they want for health care... Since when did that become liberal?"
"There's nothing liberal about letting coal and oil write climate change legislation," he added. "Are you kidding me?"
The 13-year congressman lamented the lack of change in economic policies, tying it to the major problems Democrats are facing.
"The minute the president appointed Tim Geithner and Larry Summers to key policy positions, and the minute that [Ben] Bernanke was named to head the Fed again, we're looking at people who participated in the decline of the economy," he said. "This group has done us a disservice."
"Every area of the economy is still about taking wealth from the great mass of people and putting it into the hands of a few. If you don't have a economic democracy, you don't have a political democracy."
"We have to be more defined as being on the side of the people and not on the side of interest groups that are so entrenched," said Kucinich, who is widely regarded as a champion on progressive issues.
Dems 'jumped in bed with insurance companies'
Kucinich said he's deeply disillusioned with what health reform has become, suggesting Democrats should "slow down" and "take a step back."
"Health care became too complex and too riddled with concessions to insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies," he said. "It's really time to take a new direction and that direction has to be back to the American people."
One idea Democrats are floating is to pass the Senate bill through the House, which would then allow the President to sign it into law.
"I don't think that's going to happen," he said. "The senate bill is so totally flawed that I don't think it can get the votes in the House to pass. I certainly wouldn't vote for it."
"It hits very sharply at people who gave wage concessions to get health care benefits," he said, citing the excise tax on health care benefits. "We're going to ask Americans to take a wage cut? Why?"
"We lost the initiative the minute that our party jumped into bed with the insurance companies. And soon they were looking at increasing taxes as a way of subsidizing insurance companies. It's just madness."
"We're redistributing the wealth of the nation upwards by giving the insurance companies 30 million new customers, $50 billion a year more in revenue."
A number of progressives and Democrats disagree with Kucinich's conclusion, and say despite its flaws the health care bill is at least an important step toward expanding coverage and reducing costs.
"Well, which direction are we building in?" Kucinich responded. "If we give insurance companies a monopoly on health care, if we put no controls on premiums, if we give them antitrust exemptions... Is this the direction we build in to protect health care for people, or to protect insurance companies?"
He said part of America's distrust for the bill is the special deals the leadership cut with certain Senators, citing Sen. Ben Nelson's exemption for Medicaid expenses in Nebraska.
"People know when things get to that point, it's time to stay stop. Stop what you're doing. Don't make another move. Slow it down. That's the message from Massachusetts."
Kucinich voiced his long-held view that the best way to address health care is to achieve a "Medicare-for-all system." He said Democrats shouldn't abandon health reform, but need to signal they realize it's been mishandled.
Rips Obama admin on economy, giving Wall Street 'immunity'
Kucinich said the Massachusetts election was also a referendum on the Obama administration's "inadequate" response to the economic crisis.
"We ought to focus on creating 15 million jobs, and if we do that, we'll regain the confidence of the American people on domestic issues," he said.
"With people losing their jobs, losing their homes, their investments, their savings, retirement security, losing opportunities for their children to go to college, we have to focus on economic issues."
The congressman from Ohio claimed these problems have arisen because the system is skewed against the interests of the people, and that Obama's economic team isn't helping to solve them.
He said the Obama administration was giving Wall Street banks "immunity and too big to fail protection," saying they "even pride themselves on that."
"People understand the precarious nature of the economy, and that's what they're responding to in Massachusetts."
"We're really at a moment here, a moment of pivot. We need to regain the confidence of the American people by rallying them on the economic issues. But if not, Massachusetts will just be a harbinger of what's to come."
Special interests 'more entrenched than ever'
Kucinich lamented Democrats' growing camaraderie with big moneyed interests, claiming it's hurting the party.
"You ask the banks to reform banking?" he said. "Put the insurance companies to reform insurance. Call in nuclear to reform energy policies? Are you kidding me?"
"These problems, lest we forget, did not start with Barack Obama," Kucinich said. "It was George Bush drove the economy over the cliff with a trillion dollar tax cut and a war based on lies, and an expanding trade deficit."
"And we can't do that by playing patty-cake with Wall Street, by caving into the demands of big banks, by playing footsie with insurance companies and by jumping in bed with the pharmaceutical industry.
"Americans are really skittish about the economy, and they have every right to be," he said. "This isn't a left-right argument; this isn't a liberal-conservative argument. This is about down or up."
"We have a really deep recession, and the only way to bring it back up is to have a massive jobs program," he said. "I don't see any evidence" that Obama's economic team is standing behind that.
"We have to listen to what the message is from Massachusetts. We better listen carefully."
Beyond left and right
In what may come as a surprise to some of his supporters, Kucinich declined to blame Republicans for what he believes have been economic policies gone awry.
"We have to be looking at ourselves," he claimed. "We have to be looking at what we need to do to govern... It's really simple: the people don't like what we're doing."
"Democrats have to look at our own responsibilities, not the Republicans' responsibilities," he said. "If we want to give the mantle of leadership to Republicans, they're the minority, they're willing to take it."
Kucinich said the Democratic strategy, as unveiled in a leaked internal memo obtained by Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler, of urging Republicans to take more responsibility was "wrong."
"This isn't about the Republicans, this is about the Democrats."
"There's been a serious mislabeling of politics in America, where there's an attempt to confuse people about who stands for what, and in that it's the triumph of special interests."
'Still time to recover'
Kucinich said that despite the Democrats' turn in the wrong direction, they can still win back the people's trust.
"I'm not one who believes the sky is falling," he said. "We just need to listen to what people are saying. The people of Massachusetts sent the message that they're not willing to be taken for granted."
"Democrats need to take a more aggressive stance," Kucinich posited. "The only time I've ever voted against my party is when I thought we could do better, and be stronger."
"We can only keep our majority if this wake-up call is used in a constructive way, and we have our eyes open."
"We just had an alarm go off in Massachusetts, and we better wake up. Because if we shut the clock off and go back to sleep, when we wake up in November we could end up in the minority."
Despite his harrowing words, Kucinich said he "remains optimistic" that Democrats can "turn things around."
"We still have enough time to recover. A political eternity exists between now and November. Plenty of time. But we have to really reset the pointer of our political direction."