Although it's unlikely that voters will ever have anything resembling a close encounter with Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), the two-time presidential hopeless has helped revive an issue that means more to many Americans than any election: suppression of UFO evidence by the men in black.
You may recall that during a recent MSNBC Democratic presidential candidates' debate, moderator Tim Russert drew out Kucinich on the revelation (by Oscar-winning paranormal investigator Shirley MacLaine) that he had once spotted a "triangular craft, silent and hovering." Kucinich's reply, which was intriguing in its own right, came at a conjunction of -- well, maybe not of UFO activity, but certainly of UFO aficionado activity.
This fall saw the first anniversary of the multiple-witness saucer incident over the United Airlines terminal at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, which is already shaping up as this decade's great sighting. In late October, a federal judge ordered NASA to search its records for information on one of two fabled UFO sightings from 1965.
And last month, the New York-based Coalition for Freedom of Information held a conference at which more than a score of pilots from around the world gathered to share their experiences with unidentified flying objects. Moderator Fife Symington (the controversial former governor of Arizona) summed up the conference by calling for the government to stop perpetuating "the myth that ALL UFOs can be explained away in down-to-earth, conventional terms" and reopen its official Blue Book investigation, which has been closed since 1969.
Are we on the verge of an alien breakthrough? Is this new critical mass of respectable UFO hawks about to rout the army of dissembling federal agents, driving around in their 1964 Chevy Malibus with their shades and fixed smiles?
Probably not. There have been high-profile flying saucer enthusiasts in the past, including astronauts Buzz Aldrin, who spotted a mysterious something during Apollo 11's return trip, and the late Gordon Cooper, who once informed the United Nations, "I believe that . . . extraterrestrial vehicles and their crews are visiting this planet from other planets, which are a little more technically advanced than we are on Earth."
Kucinich mentioned in his own defense that President Carter was a UFO witness, and he might have mentioned that Ronald Reagan was as well. Then again, if you think presidents really run the country, well, that's what "they" want you to think.
If anything keeps the cult of the UFO alive, it's not the respectability of the witnesses but the clumsy, protesting-too-much denials of government agencies. The Federal Aviation Administration got caught in a fib about last year's O'Hare incident after the Chicago Tribune filed a Freedom of Information Act request. And it's somewhat perverse to call for reopening a federal UFO investigation given how universally hated the knee-jerk-skeptical Project Blue Book turned out to be.
John Podesta, the Clinton White House chief of staff who has never disguised his interest in flying saucers, makes the case that the government should declassify its UFO-related materials "and let people have at it," a demand that is as reasonable as it is unlikely to happen, given how easily this topic can be rerouted into japery.
In his debate reply, Kucinich made a point dear to respectable UFO investigators: "It was an unidentified flying object, OK?" he said. "It's like ... it was unidentified. I saw something." There's a difference between saying objects in the sky are sometimes not familiar and claiming to have been probed by taciturn "grays," and people such as Coalition for Freedom of Information co-founder Leslie Kean express understandable frustration that UFO ridicule purposely blurs that distinction.
But with Kucinich as a central advocate, ridicule may be unavoidable. In the debate, Kucinich made a self-deprecating joke about moving his campaign headquarters to "Roswell, New Mexico, and another one in Exeter, New Hampshire." Roswell everybody knows about, but with the easy reference to the 1965 Exeter incident, Kucinich leaves the impression that he's not just a UFO witness, he's a buff.
Let him go on, and we suspect Kucinich will soon be expanding on the Kecksburg sightings, the Val Johnson incident, Lonnie Zamora, the "Kaikoura lights" and countless other visitations from the sky that continue to sustain our nation's sense of mystery.