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Mike Gravel on Principles & Values

Libertarian for President; Former Democratic Senator (AK)


Served in US Army in the Cold War in Europe

I grew up the son of an immigrant during the Depression. I joined the Army when I was 21. I became a spy in Europe as the Cold War was heating up. But my experiences slowly changed me. I started questioning my country’s motives. By the time I graduated Columbia University I was ready to change something.

But I would need the people to elect me. So I drove my brother’s station wagon from Springfield, Massachusetts, to Anchorage, Alaska, and spent four years in the State House before Alaskans sent me t Washington as a senator.

There was a very unpopular war going on when I arrived. Few members of Congress were willing to do anything about it: just like 35 years later in Iraq. But ordinary Americans in the street protesting the killing inspired me to stand up alone in Congress. I confronted the leviathan of militarists and arms makers who, since the end of World War II, had changed our country, maybe forever. The press and my Senate colleagues vilified me. I’ve never regretted it.

Source: A Political Odyssey, by Mike Gravel, p. 17-18 May 2, 2008

Withdrew from politics for 26 years, ashamed of politics

[During television interviews of the other candidates after a presidential debate], I wandered back down to the stage and got on a post-debate show. The interviewer asked me where I had been for twenty-six years. It was a fair question. I told him I had been hiding under a rock, ashamed of the profession of politics. I’m not sure the pursuit of power can ever be called noble, though there have been noble individuals in this game. But most politicians are in it for themselves. It is a career like any other with the aim of keeping your job and getting promoted. I know I was criticized for appearing too angry that night. I tried to tone it down in subsequent debates. But it was hard. How can you not be angry when we have developed a culture of paranoia about our overwhelming global power, seeing bogeymen everywhere we turn?
Source: A Political Odyssey, by Mike Gravel, p. 24 May 2, 2008

Political career started as teen handing out campaign flyers

In 1945, I worked as a soda jerk in the neighborhood pharmacy. Politicians strolled into the place all the time. I remember one who represented our district in the State House in Boston. The guy asked me if I’d work for him. I didn’t know him from Adam, except he was well dressed, he was down from the big city. I said yes.

My political career began with handing out flyers. Some people when they’ve got flyers to hand out, stuff them down the sewer, but I was diligent. My employer realized this and came back a week later and slapped a $10 bill on the counter. That was about a month’s wages for me. He kept loading me up with flyers and I passed them out, borrowing my father’s dump truck to ride around town promoting him. He got re-elected.

I became involved with every local election after that. I was also motivated to pursue a public life by a strong feeling that has remained with me since the Depression: the desire to fight for social justice. I was driven too by recognition for a job well done.

Source: A Political Odyssey, by Mike Gravel, p. 81 May 2, 2008

Dyslexic, hence became avid political reader at a late age

My most influential teacher at Assumption was Father Edgar Bourque. I did not know it at the time but I am dyslexic. I thought the reason I couldn’t read at the same level as the other boys was because I was ignorant. I had been left back in the third grade because of it. But Edgar encouraged me to read and to think. Naturally, I liked reading history most. Thomas Paine made me understand that rulers lie about history to preserve their rule. I read Jefferson and learned that questioning authority and the official version of history was at the very core of what it meant to be American. These founders helped change my idea of America. I was resolved to rivet my attention on what my leaders were up to. But first I would satisfy my curiosity about what had happened in the past that seemed to have made America such a warlike nation.
Source: A Political Odyssey, by Mike Gravel, p. 83 May 2, 2008

As army spy, felt rotten spying on innocent people

After counterintelligence school I have to say I disliked the military life. Mostly I was not good at taking orders. I was built to challenge authority and to think for myself: two traits unappreciated in the army.

I got orders to go to Germany in 1952 I was an adjutant of the Army’s Communications Intelligence Service. That meant opening people’s mail and listening to their telephone conversations. I was a little uncomfortable spying mostly on perfectly innocent civilians.

I knew French and thought I would be more valuable in France. I became an agent working with French intelligence. Soon I was in Paris, infiltrating communist rallies dressed as a Frenchman. I could pass for one if I didn’t talk long enough for my Quebec-American accent to be exposed.

I still had to spy on innocent people. One time I got orders to follow an American physicist, who had done nothing wrong except to have the bad luck of being born with Russian blood. I followed him everywhere and I felt rotten doing it.

Source: A Political Odyssey, by Mike Gravel, p.109-110 May 2, 2008

Moved to pre-statehood Alaska because no political elite

I had already thought long and hard about where I might move to position myself for a political career. I had ruled out New York and my native Massachusetts. Though very numerous, French Canadians did not do well in electoral politics in New England. There are many small towns in New Hampshire where 99% of the people are Quebecers but the mayor is Irish.

So I sought a frontier state, where a complete nobody could show up and set up shop without facing an established political elite. I narrowed it down to New Mexico and Alaska and, after much careful thought, made the final decision on a scientific basis: climate. I hate the heat.

Alaska had the added bonus of still being a territory, so there were fewer people living there. There hadn’t even been an election for a state legislature yet, but it was clear statehood was coming. Nearly all white people in Alaska were carpetbaggers or their parents had been. So I left New York for Springfield to pack up for my journey north.

Source: A Political Odyssey, by Mike Gravel, p.130 May 2, 2008

1958: Ran for Alaska Legislature as prep for US Senate

I never lost sight of my goal: to represent Alaska in the US Senate. Everything I did was geared to that. My ambition knew no bounds. Everyone I met I sized up as someone who could potentially help me. Self-promotion held no shame. It was the only way. Who else would do it for me if I wasn’t ready to do it for myself?

I talked my way into becoming president of the Young Democrats. I joined the Junior Chamber of Commerce, the Jaycees and I let them train me in public speaking.

Then I made my boldes move to that point. I ran for Alaska’s last Territorial Legislature in 1958. It had 16 senators and 24 representatives. I was 28 and had been in the territory less than two years. I ran my own extremely modest campaign with neither mentors nor money. I was learning the hard way. I put up my own signs. I had no platform. But I had an embarrassing slogan: “Gravel, the Roadbed to Prosperity.” It wasn’t good enough. I lost my election, but it didn’t discourage me. I knew there would be other chances.

Source: A Political Odyssey, by Mike Gravel, p.135-137 May 2, 2008

1965: False promise to opponent to get House speakership

Before the election [for House Speaker in the 1965 Alaska legislature] took place, [my opponent for the speakership] Warren Taylor came up to me and said he wouldn’t pull out of the race unless he got the chairmanship of the Rules Committee. Taylor was a bully and I wanted him off my back, so I said, “Fine, you can have Rules.” The Rules Committee is one of the most important as it governs the flow of legislation.

The vote was taken and I won. Then I announced the committee chairmen. Taylor said, “You promised me Rules.” I was convinced that the reason he wanted Rules was that he could hold up legislation for my entire two-year term. “Warren,” I said, “Yes, I promised you that. But I lied.” Taylor was my enemy for two years.

Some of the other old-timers took my admission of lying to Taylor and exaggerated it to make it look like I had promised chairmanships to everyone. So I had extra obstacles to overcome as speaker. If I’ve got to push people around, I push them around.

Source: A Political Odyssey, by Mike Gravel, p.145-146 May 2, 2008

1980: Forced into bankruptcy by bad real estate deals

I did general consulting in real estate and eventually started an extended-stay hotel using rental apartments. That enterprise failed when it started to compete with hotel chains that were converting their properties to extended stay. The Condo corporation was forced into bankruptcy. Since I had foolishly signed for a three percent interest in the Condo corporation I was forced into personal bankruptcy.
Source: A Political Odyssey, by Mike Gravel, p.205 May 2, 2008

Gadfly who’s mad as hell at Democratic Establishment

From the moment he bulldozed his way into public consciousness, maverick candidate Mike Gravel has been a pain in the ass of the Democratic establishment--exactly what he wants to be. For a year, the party mainstream had simply ignored Gravel, who declared his candidacy back in April 2006. Such a small and insignificant gadfly, it seemed, wasn’t even worth the effort of swatting. That attitude ended with Gravel’s appearance at a sleepy Democratic presidential debate in S.C. After challenging his rivals to end the war by legislative fiat--and make it a felony for the president to keep troops in Iraq--Gravel saw visits to his website zoom up, and YouTube clips begin drawing tens of thousands of views.

Gravel is less polite than Dennis Kucinich, whom he joins in challenging the other candidates on their timid and pathological centrist positions. One-on-one, Mike Gravel is jovial and mild-mannered; on stage with his rivals, he’s mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it any more.

Source: The Contenders, by Laura Flanders, p.193 Nov 11, 2007

Lost re-election after alienating every AK constituency

Born into a working-class French Canadian family in central Massachusetts and educated in Catholic schools, Gravel moved to Alaska after serving a stint in the Army Counter Intelligence Corps in the 1950s. He worked as a brakeman on the Alaska Railroad and made some money as a property developer on the Kenai Peninsula before winning a seat in the legislature and then the US Senate. He lost that seat in 1980, in the election that would send Republican Frank Murkowski to Washington. After twelve years in Congress, Gravel told Salon.com he had alienated “almost every constituency in Alaska,” and he was disgusted “with public service, with the way government operated.”
Source: The Contenders, by Laura Flanders, p.194-195 Nov 11, 2007

Blogosphere hails Gravel/Paul ticket with cross-party appeal

Mike Gravel declares, in his “National Initiative for Democracy”, in language to set many a progressive heart beating: “The central power of government in a democracy is lawmaking--not voting. Governments throughout history have been tools of oppression; they need not be.” He then, however, adds this caveat: “American citizens can gain control of their government by becoming lawmakers and turning its purpose to public benefit, and stemming government growth--the people are the more conservative than their elected officials regardless of political party.“ It’s this kind of rhetoric that is winning Gravel fans among libertarians, who have helped make him an unlikely favorite on user-generated news sites like Digg.com (where some are hailing a ticket of ”Mike Gravel/Ron Paul“ --or vice versa).

The idea of direct democracy might have broad appeal to an electorate sick of a political system mired in soft money, corporate cronyism, and partisan gridlock.

Source: The Contenders, by Laura Flanders, p.196 Nov 11, 2007

No-nonsense challenge to mainstream Democratic shuffling

Thousands of Americans who may have no intention to vote for gravel seem nonetheless delighted to hear such no-nonsense challenges to mainstream Democratic shuffling around the issue of war. They also, apparently, are entertained not only by his debate antics, but by his campaign ads, which became a sensation on YouTube.

In one, Gravel stares straight into the camera, his gaze steady, then finally he turns around and walks away along a shoreline. He pauses, stoops to pick up a rock, throws it in the water, and continues to walk into the distance. He speaks not a word.

The symbolism is explained by one pundit, “It would be the rock in the water and the ripple effect of the senator and his message and who he is, a man with an idea, who is little by little, day by day communicating that message.” Gravel himself was uncharacteristically blunt in response to ridiculing of the spots on Tucker Carlson’s show: “It’s a metaphor,” he said. “Why can’t people like you understand that?”

Source: The Contenders, by Laura Flanders, p.199-200 Nov 11, 2007

Wildcard independent run raises specter of Nader

The Democratic leadership is haunted by the specter of Ralph Nader. While Dennis Kucinich--all in all a more reliable and effective advocate for left-leaning positions--can be counted on to drop out after the primaries and support the Democrat, Gravel is a true wild card. What would happen if old man Gravel bolted to run as an independent in the general election, and stated pulling one or two or three points?

To make matters worse, Nader himself has praised Gravel. After hearing Gravel speak before the Democratic National Committee, Nader called him “a fresh wind coming down from Alaska,” complimented his National Initiative, and compared him to the Roman statesman and orator Cicero, who “defined freedom with these enduring words: ‘Freedom is participation in power.’”

Source: The Contenders, by Laura Flanders, p.201-202 Nov 11, 2007

Protests being cut out of debate as free speech issue

I’ve been in all of the debates so far, but NBC has decided to cut me out of the debate in Philadelphia. We’re going to have an alternate debate, where I will be involved in a debate about the debaters.

We need people to come in and protest. We need people who feel deeply about free speech; who understand the dangers of corporations taking control of our society through denying the American people the right to know what is going on. That’s what’s at stake here. This is corporate censorship.

Source: Protest about 2007 Democratic debate at Drexel University Oct 30, 2007

I believe in the power of love over the power of prayer

Q: Do you believe that, through the power of prayer, disasters like Hurricane Katrina could have been prevented?

A: What I believe in is love. And love implements courage. And courage permits us all to apply the virtues that are important in life. I was always struck by the fact that many people who pray are the ones who want to go to war, who want to kill fellow human beings. That disturbs me. I think what we need is more love between one human being and another human being.

Source: 2007 Democratic primary debate on “This Week” Aug 19, 2007

Decisive moment: realizing representative gov’t is broken

Q: Presidential biographers are always looking at the turning point in a life, the moment where an ordinary person went on the path to the presidency, the decisive moment. What’s the decisive moment in your life?

A: The decisive moment in my life came with the insightfulness of realizing that human governance is extremely complex and that representative government is broken. And so, there’s only two venues for change: One is the government, where the problem lies, or the people. And so the people must be equipped as lawmakers, the central power of government, in order to make decisions on all the policy issues that affect their lives, working in partnership with elected government. It’s a win-win. The people make the policy decisions, and we then would make the day-to-day operation of government work better.

Source: 2007 Democratic primary debate on “This Week” Aug 19, 2007

Leadership brings society to civic maturity on tough issues

When people tell gays that you can’t be married, what they’re telling you is there’s something wrong with you, you’re 2nd-class citizens. You’re not 2nd-class citizens, and the sooner our nation matures to that level--and I say “matures” because in many areas of our society we are adolescent, and so we have to mature. Leadership is the task of bringing us forward to civic maturity, and we don’t have enough of that leadership at the presidential level, and we haven’t had much of it for the last 50 years.
Source: 2007 HRC/LOGO debate on gay issues Aug 9, 2007

Leaders are seen as mavericks, and only later as courageous

The competition say they all want to lead. Well, what does a leader do? A leader stands up with a little bit of courage and does something. You know, I filibustered the end of the draft. I stopped the nuclear testing in the North Pacific. And I could go on. But back then, mainstream media marginalized me. Oh, I was a maverick, oh, kooky Gravel. Well, I’ll tell you what. All you’ve got to do is live long enough so they can look back and say, “My God, was he a courageous leader!”
Source: 2007 HRC/LOGO debate on gay issues Aug 9, 2007

Clintons & DLC sold out the Democratic Party to Wall Street

Q: With Bush, Clinton, and Bush again serving as the last three presidents, how would electing you, a Clinton, constitute the type of change your campaign has been talking about?

CLINTON: Obviously, I am running on my own merits, but I am very proud of my husband’s record as president. Look at the diversity you have here in the Democratic Party. Any one of us would be a better president than our current president or the future Republican nominee. I hope the people of this country will judge me on my merits.

Q: Do you have a problem with that?

GRAVEL: Well, yes, I do, a serious problem. The Democratic Party used to stand for the ordinary working man. But the Clintons and the DLC sold out the Democratic Party to Wall Street. Look at where all the money is being raised right now, for Hillary, Obama and Edwards. It’s the hedge funds, it’s Wall Street bankers, it’s the people who brought you what you have today. And they’re lock, stock and barrel in their pocket.

Source: 2007 YouTube Democratic Primary debate, Charleston SC Jul 23, 2007

GOP lost in 2006 because they were lousy; Dems must earn ‘08

I know you want to Take Back America for the left and for the Democratic Party. We did take back part of America in this last Congressional race. [It’s] not so much that we were so able, but that the Republicans were so lousy & the people rejected them.

But now we have the power, & we’ve had the power since January. Like many Americans, I’m distressed by the inability to use that power. If we don’t establish a record in the next 18 months, we may not deserve to have the White House and the Congress.

Source: Take Back America 2007 Conference Jun 19, 2007

Video “Fire” is metaphor for gathering & using experience

Gravel’s video, “Fire,” is stark. It shows Gravel gathering wood before cutting to a burning campfire that fills the screen for the next 7 minutes. “And that would be a metaphor for what?” Gravel is asked. “For what?” replies Gravel. “For a person who has the sticks under his arms, the wood--he’s got wisdom. And then he picks up some more, gets some more experience, and then sets a fire with the wood. And the fire is the epitome of contribution, meaning that it’s warmth, it’s wisdom, it’s light.”
Source: Wall Street Journal “Washington Wire” blog Jun 19, 2007

Video “Rock” is metaphor for causing changes in society

That was interesting, some have even said bizarre, MSNBC anchor Amy Robach says to Gravel in an interview after watching the “rock” video, in which the candidate, standing by a lake, seems to be playing a very long staring contest with the camera before ambling down a path, picking up a large rock and tossing it into the water. “What was the purpose of that?” Robach asks. “To get people talking?”

Not at all, replies Gravel, explaining that “It’s not a spot” ad but rather the brainchild of a couple of young men from California who sought to film a “metaphor of what they saw me as a person who’s thoughtful, who then wanted to make a difference. Throwing a rock in the water was a metaphor for causing ripples and changes in society, and then walking down and disappearing--isn’t that what life’s about? We start, try to do something, and then go on.”

Source: Wall Street Journal “Washington Wire” blog Jun 19, 2007

Did not plan on presidency, but candidates are frightening

Q: At a forum earlier this year you said it doesn’t matter whether you are elected president or not, so then, why are you here tonight? Shouldn’t debates be for candidates who are in the race to win the race?

A: You’re right. I made that statement. But that’s before I had a chance to stand with [the other presidential candidates] three times. It’s like going into the Senate. You know, the first time you get there, you’re all excited, “My God, how did I ever get here?” Then, about six months later, you say, “How the hell did the rest of them get here?” And I got to tell you, after standing up with them, some of these people frighten me. When you have mainline candidates that turn around and say that there’s nothing off the table with respect to Iran, that’s code for using nuclear devices.

Q: Who on this stage exactly tonight worries you so much?

A: Well, I would say the top tier ones. They’ve made statements.

Source: 2007 South Carolina Democratic primary debate, on MSNBC Apr 26, 2007

Let the people decide: Solution is with you, not leaders

Q: I wanted to ask about your slogan, “let the people decide.” You come into this race without a lot of name recognition, without a lot of money, without big organizations. Where do you go from here?

A: Well, the problem with not a lot of money can be solved by the people who hear my voice. All I need is a modicum of money, around $10 million and I’ll win. I’ll win because I’ll be able to get to the American people and say the solution is with you. It’s not with the leaders.

Source: SEIU Democratic Health Care Forum in Las Vegas Mar 24, 2007

Achieved much in Senate, but prefers governors for president

Q: You’ve been out of elected politics for some time. Why should Democratic voters choose you over all these other candidates?

If they like what I’m saying, that I’m not politics as usual -- and they could look at my record -- very unusual. I ended the draft, released the Pentagon Papers, stopped the nuclear testing in Alaska. You know, it’s all there. And I did all that within four years.

Q: And of all the other candidates you’re seeing running right now, if these voters aren’t going to pick you, who should they pick?

A: Well, I like the governors. For some reason, they bring more of an executive approach. And so if I were to pick right now, I’d say Vilsack first, Richardson second, because they have executive experience. Our record of people in legislative positions providing real leadership is very, very dismal. Governors have had to lead a state in a very personal kind of way, and so I would say that that would be the approach.

Source: 2007 AFSCME Democratic primary debate in Carson City Nevada Feb 21, 2007

US citizens should be allowed to vote for or against laws

We propose the National Initiative for Democracy--a legislative package that includes a constitutional amendment and a federal statute that empowers Americans as lawmakers. A majority of Americans, about 60 million, will have to vote for it in order to become the law of the land. I believe that we can have laws and policies that are more moral and more reflective of the public interest if citizens can exercise their collective self-interest by voting on major issues that affect their lives.
Source: Speech at Democratic National Committee winter meeting Feb 3, 2007

Came in 3rd for Vice Presidential nomination in 1972

Gravel actively campaigned for the office of Vice President during the 1972 presidential election. At the 1972 Democratic National Convention, he was nominated and addressed the convention and won 226 delegate votes, coming in third behind Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri, who was the convention’s choice, and Frances “Sissy” Farenthold, stealing 407 votes from Gravel in a ploy by McGovern who was blocking Gravel from securing the Vice-Presidential nomination.
Source: Wikipedia.org article, “Mike Gravel” Jan 1, 2007

Has campaigned in NH almost fulltime since April 2006

On April 17, 2006, Gravel became a declared candidate for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in the 2008 election, announcing his run in a speech to the National Press Club. Although Gravel’s campaign has been little-noticed by the national media, he has campaigned almost full time in New Hampshire, the first primary state, since his announcement and has won the endorsement of campaign finance reform activist (and New Hampshire resident and former Alaska resident) Granny D.
Source: Wikipedia.org article, “Mike Gravel” Jan 1, 2007

Citizen Power: democracy requires participation

There can be no democracy unless it is a dynamic democracy. When our people cease to participate then all of us will wither in the darkness of decadence.
-- Saul Alinsky
“Bull, Senator, it won’t work.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re talking about something that doesn’t exist. There’s no such thing as ‘citizen power.’ Not for people like us.” The black youth regarded me with open skepticism, challenging me to prove him wrong. The others nodded their agreement.

Sitting in Harlem in the middle of neglected America, I could readily understand why the idea of “citizen power” was greeted with contempt. What did that mean to these alienated young men & women?

“Wouldn’t you like to change that?” I asked. “Be a PART of the government instead of just under it?”

“Sure. But how?”

“You get together and make up a program--that’s all a people’s platform is--and then you present it to all the candidates. You tell them that they either support IT or you won’t support THEM.”

Source: Citizen Power, by Sen. Mike Gravel, p. 1-4 Jan 1, 1972

Other candidates on Principles & Values: Mike Gravel on other issues:
Nominees:
GOP: Sen.John McCain
GOP V.P.: Gov.Sarah Palin
Democrat: Sen.Barack Obama
Dem.V.P.: Sen.Joe Biden

Third Parties:
Constitution: Chuck Baldwin
Libertarian: Rep.Bob Barr
Constitution: Amb.Alan Keyes
Liberation: Gloria La Riva
Green: Rep.Cynthia McKinney
Socialist: Brian Moore
Independent: Ralph Nader
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