ROBERT Kaufman finally made the news, but both of us figure he could have done without the lumps, bruises and the stab wound to the neck.
Kaufman is Baltimore's perennial candidate for public office. This time around, he's running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Paul Sarbanes. Kaufman often faxes me news releases about his candidacy and positions. He calls me about his socialist policies, his demand that American troops be withdrawn immediately from Afghanistan and Iraq, his insistence that drugs need to be decriminalized and a wealth of other ideas fresh off Planet Leftwing.
I try to tell Kaufman that his candidacy -- for anything -- isn't news. Bob Kaufman NOT running for something would be news. Or Kaufman endorsing capitalism. Or Kaufman conceding that America may have done something right within the last 229 years.
Or here's one: how about Kaufman using the phrase "personal responsibility" as if the thing actually existed?
Kaufman can't even say that about the guy accused of whacking him over the head with a crowbar and stabbing him in the throat this week. (Police arrested Leon Henry Davis yesterday and charged him in the attack.) Kaufman spent three days at Maryland Shock Trauma Center recovering from his injuries. Thursday night, he told reporters that his attacker was a "sick individual" but blamed "the society that gave birth to him" for his actions.
Did you really expect anything else?
This is vintage Kaufman. He has never wavered from supporting those he considers the underdogs, the dispossessed, the castoffs of society. Kaufman, the scourge of what he calls "the ruling class," hasn't wavered even after being laid low by a member of the working class the 74-year-old Trotskyite has defended for at least the past 58 years. That should boggle the mind.
It ranks right up there with Kaufman being a landlord and a socialist. If the economic and political system Kaufman believes in ever prevails in America, he will in essence be out of the business of renting apartments. (Kaufman said Davis was a tenant who had his sister and nephew move in with him so they'd have a place to stay.) But I hope he's never out of the business of running for public office.
As I said before, Kaufman's running isn't really news. I also didn't think it was news when he called me to complain about his disputes with others in the local anti-war movement. I figured that was strictly an internal matter of Baltimore peaceniks.
But we need the Bob Kaufmans of the country. Voices of dissent are more important than voices of agreement. Kaufman knows he has little to no chance of winning political office. He runs so that the positions he espouses can be part of the political debate. And no matter how you feel about Kaufman's positions -- he and I agree only on drug policy and lowering car insurance rates for Baltimore residents -- his views on decriminalizing drugs, lowering the voting age, withdrawing troops from foreign soil and supporting Palestinians rather than Israelis in the Middle East should be part of the political discourse.
Few of Kaufman's views on those above matters would be considered "mainstream." (It's worth noting that Kaufman always runs as a Democrat, the party that considers itself the sole arbiter of what is "mainstream" in America.) But when Kaufman first demonstrated for civil rights -- he says it was when he was a student at the Park School -- equal rights for blacks wasn't a mainstream idea, either.
Kaufman stayed true to those radical beliefs that, in time, became mainstream. Maybe that's why even after a vicious attack that could well have cost him his life, Kaufman refuses to be swayed one iota from his fundamental beliefs about those many of us would dismiss as miscreants and reprobates.
"Has this changed your views about crime any?" I asked Kaufman, suppressing the urge to call him "squishy soft" on the subject.
"Oh, no," Kaufman answered. "I mean, for God's sake, this guy is trying to help his sister and nephew and there's nobody out there to help him, and he just cracks. I just happened to be there when he cracked." Kaufman said contributing factors were a society with no universal health care, tough drug laws and an attitude that ignores a predominantly black and Hispanic underclass.
There may be only one way the attack has changed Kaufman, who said he told Davis he "didn't believe in guns."
"If I had a gun," Kaufman conceded, "I'd have shot him."