Mike Gravel is a former Democratic United States Senator from Alaska, who served two terms from 1969 to 1981, and a former candidate in the 2008 presidential election. He is chiefly known for his efforts in ending the draft following the Vietnam War and for putting the Pentagon Papers into the public record in 1971.
Born in 1930 to immigrant parents in Massachusetts, Gravel enlisted in the Army in 1951 and served in West Germany. A self-stated dyslexic, Gravel was educated at Columbia University%u2019s School of General Studies in New York, where he drove a taxi to support himself. Gravel's first steps into politics were in the Alaska House of Representatives, before he won his party's nomination to the U.S. Senate in 1968. During the 1980s, after Gravel lost his senate seat, he worked as a real estate developer, consultant and stockbroker.
Gravel is a strong supporter of direct democracy, and specifically, the National Initiative, which refers to proposals to allow for ballot initiatives at the federal level.
Question: What political party do you identify with?
Mike Gravel: If truth be told, I don’t wear political party partisanship very well. When I was in the Senate, I was a Maverick. The Democrats didn’t like me any more than Republicans like me. I left the Democratic Party. Well, let’s say, I think the Democrats pushed me out—they didn’t want me in the debates, and so it really was General Electric that pushed me out the debate in late September of ’07, five months before the first primary. That was a Democratic Party sanctioned debate, so literally the leadership of the Democratic party had to buy in to the decision. Now, people say, “You know this was an MSNBC debate, now how dare you attack General Electric?” Well, it was an interesting thing that occurred. A friend of mine who was in the New Delhi, India wrote an email to General Electric saying, “How dare you cut Senator Gravel out of the debate? He’d won a couple of debates.” Most people didn’t realize I was getting some traction, and a lot of people were saying, “Well, this guy is interesting. He’s telling the truth.” I was destabilizing the system of elites in our society, and so the PR person for General Electric—who should have sent the email to MSNBC—he sent an email back to New Delhi telling the guy, “Well, Senator Gravel does not meet our criteria.”
Now, isn’t it interesting that I did not meet the criteria of General Electric, one of the nation’s largest military industrial contractors. I did not meet their criteria, and of course the other networks wanted me out of the picture anyway, so they did it. From then forward, I was no longer part of mainstream media. I was made a nonperson.
What’s an interesting phenomenon is that the other candidates, all the other Democratic candidates—it’s a little bit like the politburo under Stalin. This politburo member disappears and at the next membership the politburo, nobody makes mention of the fact that this guy is gone. Nobody makes mention of the fact that Mike Gravel is no longer in the debates, like he didn’t exist. This is a very interesting process. I jumped all over Kucinich. I jumped all over Biden. You’re going to be next. And of course they all dwindled down.
It says something about these people’s attitudes towards Democracy. Well, what are they afraid of? I was obviously challenging very aggressively what was going on in these debates. I was saying, “Why do we have to have a war on drugs? It makes no sense at all. There’s no evidence that this is working. Prohibition didn’t work for alcohol. It’s not working for drugs, and yet we continue to spend millions and millions of dollars,” at the Howard University debate, which is the one that I won.
How did I know? Because they took a poll at Howard University and I won it. I was trying to give some cover for Obama and others so they would feel a little free to take some positions. What did Obama do the first thing he is president? He appoints a drug czar so it continues this unbelievable tragedy that’s going on in the inner cities. Who’s damaged most by the drug war? It’s the blacks in the inner city that we load up in our prisons. I can go on from there, but this is the tragedy of what went on in these debates. It was the same old, same old—and one of the things I kept saying in the course of these debates, “Follow the money and you’ll see the government you are going to get.” And that’s the government we’re getting. It’s what’s paid for the election process.
Question: Are you glad that Barack Obama was elected President?
Mike Gravel: I’m delighted. I was ecstatic when Barack Obama became president. Like anybody else, I was just proud that he became president. I was very happy when Nancy Pelosi became speaker, but she’s no different than any other speaker we’ve had. She’s part of the military industrial complex, Barack Obama is part of the military industrial complex, part of American imperialism, part of American triumphalism. It’s very sad, he’s very bright, and I’ll point out to you that Barack Obama may go down in American history for his accomplishment of becoming president, not being president, because he hasn’t really demonstrated to me that he has done anything unusual as being president. If he keeps on, he is not going to do anything unusual being president. It’s going to be the same old, same old—only more gracefully, more velvety, more pleasingly packaged.
That’s not change, and fundamental change is not on the horizon within the context of Representative Government. If you want to begin to see and assess how it will come about, first off you must understand that the powers that be—the money that bought the campaign, the elites that control the government—not only control the executive, they control the Congress.
Barack Obama doesn’t understand: his problems aren’t abroad. His problems are in the Congress. So those who control the executive also control the Congress, and if they don’t like what he is doing they’ll play the Congress off against him and vice versa. Jack Kennedy had a great statement: when the people came up with a good idea, he’d say, “This is a great idea. I wish we could get the government to do it.” The government is very unwieldy.
Recorded on: July 1 2009
Mike Gravel chronicles his struggles to operate independently during the 2008 election, and bemoans the impossibly of a electing a President capable of bringing about real change.
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