May 17th, 2007 by alex
Former U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel, D-Alaska, is running, at age 76 and after years out of the public arena, the longest of long-shot candidacies for the presidency.
Gravel, now living in Virginia, served in the U.S. Senate from 1969 to 1981. He’s most well-known for releasing the Pentagon papers during the Vietnam War. His iconoclastic campaign contains a call for complete withdrawal from Iraq in 60 days, decriminalization of drugs and a national sales tax to replace the current income tax system.
With his colorful confrontations of other Democratic candidates during a recent debate in South Carolina, Gravel has generated some buzz in the liberal blogosphere — and he even earned some time with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.
Gravel conducted a one-on-one, 45 minute conversation with Iowa Independent fellow Douglas Burns.
The following is a transcript of that exchange.
Douglas Burns :: Fmr. Sen. Mike Gravel: Unfiltered
Iowa Independent: When I watched the debate the other night, and don’t take this the wrong way, but you seem awfully angry for a 76-year-old. Why are you so angry?
Sen. Gravel: I’m angry because every day you and I are talking about this thing people are dying. How would you feel if you were over there (Iraq) getting shot at, getting crippled, because your leaders didn’t exercise proper judgment. What about the people who are going die between now and Christmas because we don’t end the war? That’s a reason to get angry. That’s blood. That’s people dying and we sit here complacently and say, “That’s far away.”
Iowa Independent: Your campaign has a complete platform, but with the lim-ited exposure in the debates and media, do you plan on developing a signature is-sue, like say your position on Iraq, that we should get out completely in 60 days?
Sen. Gravel: That would be a major issue there’s no question about that. But the signature issue is the empowerment of the Ameri-can people. I think we’re in the point in history where we’re in very serious diffi-culties. Politics as usual, electing people who are part of that process, aren’t going to be able to cut it.
The only way we can solve the problem is to empower the people.
(Gravel urges people to go to Web site — www.nationalinitiative.us — and support a national initiative process. He believes there should be direct democracy with citizens voting on more issues.)
Iowa Independent: Isn’t there a concern that you turn our democracy into a version of “American Idol.” In some sense, with fewer people voting at least these people are allegedly in-formed. To have that kind of a remote-control democracy might create an effect where you have some peo-ple that aren’t necessarily thoughtful making deci-sions on complicated matter now before specialized con-gressional or statehouse panels.
Sen. Gravel: What makes you think we have that in the Congress right now? It’s true. Most people question the efficacy of direct democracy and the people because they don’t have any experi-ence in this. All they know is the ills they see in government, whether it’s slavery, whether its wonton spending.
The studies show that in the states that have initiatives, where the people make laws, that those states are better governed. There’s no reason why the people can’t do a better job.
Iowa Independent: So, for example, the Farm Bill 2007, do you think that should be determined by direct democracy? I for one trust both of our senators, Tom Harkin and Charles Grassley, Democrat and Republican, on agriculture. They have years of experience, expert staff. I think they’re more capable of making an intelligent decision about the future of agriculture in Iowa than I am or my neighbors.
Sen. Gravel: Well I’m not entirely sure of that. Why should not the American people become educated on the problem of agriculture in Iowa and Nebraska, and any other state — or California.
It’s an important part of our entire economy. Why should you just think that because you have two senators that they know what’s going on. What we need to do on all forms of governance is to educate the people as to what’s going on and let them make a decision.
You may be happy with what they do with agriculture but how happy are you with what they do or cannot do with respect to the military-industrial complex controlling the government lock stock and barrel and controlling American cul-ture entirely?Go to Harkin and others and see if they can make a change. I have not seen a change happen in 50 years.
Iowa Independent: Moving on to another issue, generally calls to abolish the income tax and move to a national sales tax come from conservatives. What are you seeing that other liberals or progressives are?
Sen. Gravel: I see is as a solution to what is wrong with the country. We are spending more than we earn, and we cannot go very long on that. In fact we are going to have a fiscal gap on the order of $50 trillion to $70 trillion, and that is unsustainable. So what we have to do is change our ways. We have to become a savings society, not a consuming society.
The congress won’t enact that. They won’t bring that about. Politicians do not have the courage do this. It takes discipline and the people are prepared to discpline themselves.
Your people in Iowa, they’re conservative farmers. They know that you can’t live on more than you take in. They just know that. But the Congress doesn’t know that.
The only way to reverse this is to reverse it with our tax system. Our income tax is totally corrupt. The code stands 4 feet high.
Wealthy people game the system. (The national sales tax which Gravel thinks should be 20 to 25 percent) is the only way to start fresh, and have a tax system that I know what you’re spending, I know what you’re paying, you know what I’m paying, I know what the farmers are paying.
Iowa Independent: The Progressive magazine reports that you think mari-juana should be legal and available next to beer in liquor stores. Is that true? What about cocaine and methamphetamine?
Sen. Gravel: It sure is true. When are we are going to learn. We went through the Depression and we realized how we created all the gangsters and the violence. When FDR came in he wiped out Prohibition. We need to wipe out this whole war on drugs. We spend $50 billion to $70 billion a year. We create criminals that aren’t criminals. We destabilize foreign countries. With respect, to marijuana, Doug, I’ll tell you what: Go get yourself a fifth of scotch or a fifth of gin and chug-a-lug it down and you’ll find you lose your senses a lot faster than you would smoking some marijuana.
Independent Iowa: Yeah, I’m 37, I think most people in my generation agree with that point on marijuana. What about cocaine and meth?
Sen. Gravel: We need to legalize the regulation of drugs. The drug problem is a public health problem. It’s not a criminal problem. We make it a criminal problem because we treat people like criminals. You take a drug addict, you throw him in jail, you leave him there, and he learns the criminal trade so that when he gets out you have recidivism.
Iowa Indepdendent: Within the last week I heard you and the actor-activist Sean Penn make very similar statements. You both said you believe President Bush should be in jail for his manipulation of information with regard to Iraq. Could you explain that and defend that?
Sen. Gravel: If you had an FBI agent knock at your door today and you lie to that agent, you commit a felony and you go to jail. If that’s the way it is for ordinary citizens what about the president of the United States who lies to the American people, fraudulently sells them on a war that 50 million Americans don’t want and over 3,000 Americans get killed as a result of that and thousands and thousands or Iraqis gets killed do you not think that’s a felony? It’s criminal.
Iowa Independent: You are responsible for one of the most significant anti-war actions in American history, the release of the Pentagon papers during the Vietnam War. Where has your anti-war voice been since you left the Senate in 1981? I’m a close student of politics, and no offense, but I had not heard of you until I saw you on the stage the other night.
Sen. Gravel: I left the Senate in 1981 disgusted with government, disgusted with politics, and left and I hid for a decade. Then I came out of it because I’m a student of politics and I started to analyze, well, what is the solution to human governance. That’s when I came to the conclusion: It’s very simple. The answer is with the people, not the leaders. The leaders cannot address the needs of the people.
Iowa Independent: Senator, do you plan on campaigning in Iowa or are you going to hit some of the bigger states that have moved out their dates.
Sen. Gravel: I’ve already been to Iowa. Enjoyed it.
Iowa Independent: Do you honestly think you can win the Democratic nomination?
Sen. Gravel: Yes, I do because think Americans are fed up. I think the people in Iowa are fed up with politics as usual. What do they see: the same old politicians saying the same old things, dodging the same old questions whether its drugs, whether its abortion, whether its true to power. Listen to them in debates.
Iowa Independent: Since you’re confident that you’ll win if I bet you $50 that you won’t win the nomination, and gave you 20 to 1 odds, would you take it?
Sen. Gravel: Oh, God yes. Put that in writing to me, Doug, as soon as you can. I’d be happy to take that.