On May 12, I had the honor of interviewing Senator Maurice “Mike” Gravel via telephone. Gravel represented Alaska in the United States Senate from 1969-1981. Among his accomplishments, Gravel placed the infamous “Pentagon Papers” into the congressional record. Senator Gravel announced in early April that twenty-five years after leaving the Senate, he would seek the Democratic Nomination for President in 2008.
(I have cross-posted this interview at DailyKos.)
BSO: Assuming you wouldn’t have challenged President Clinton in 1996, five opportunities have passed since you left the Senate in 1981. Why 2008?
SEN. GRAVEL: I came to the conclusion that unless I ran for President, there would be no device to bring the National Initiative to attention, to allow it to become law. One year ago, a supporter came to me, and told me I should run for President, to bring the National Initiative to the center stage. My first response was “that’s ridiculous,” but, it really was the only way to get attention to let the people decide. Last fall, I made preparations, had my health checked, and had intended to file in January. We got held up — and filed in April.
BSO: So…are you running to win or simply to push a national Initiative?
SEN. GRAVEL: Intitially just to promote the National Initiative, but after listening to the “candidates,”–saying nothing — only nibbling at issues. We need reform — the power is being taken out of the hands of the people. There is no way we can get an agenda passed through congress, which is gridlocked by special interests. I do have a shot — long, but realistic.
BSO: Can the National Intitiative work hand-in-hand with the current system?
SEN. GRAVEL: absolutely, the two can work hand in hand. With the National Initiative, the people become the “Senior Partners,” with the law makers. From a young age, we are told that it is our civic duty to vote in November — we are only voting for those to make decisions for us.
BSO: You propose abolishing the electoral college. Doesn’t that mean that states like New Hampshire will no longer play an active role in the selection of the President?
SEN. GRAVEL: Quite contrary, Benjamin. New Hampshire has the First-in-the-Nation primary. The Electoral College gives an unfair advantage to smaller states, such as Wyoming, or Alaska. Generally the larger states have four times that of the smaller states. We saw problems such as this in Florida in 2000, and Ohio in the last election. When the people become “partners” in the “Senior Partnership.” Remember that any amendment needs 3/4 of the states — 13 states could block an amendment. 13 chambers could block an amendment– a very distinct minority. We have no alternative but to empower the people. With the National Initiative, the people can amend to any degree.
BSO: On your website, you propose Universal Health Care. Can you tell me about your plans and your thoughts on the recently passed Massachusetts plan?
SEN. GRAVEL: The Massachusetts plan was recently passed – I’ve heard positive critiques. This is how the woman’s right to vote came about — initiative and referendum. Congress had to act in 1919 and 1920. We need to pass a universal plan — the insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and special interest groups have enough power to block significant progress. I’m on Medicare, and I can tell you that it works very well. We can expand Medicare to cover everyone in the US. Those covered do not get enough “bang for the buck.”
BSO: What are your thoughts or plans regarding Iraq?
SEN. GRAVEL: Immediately pull out. George Bush lied to pursue Saddam Hussein, who was not a threat to the United States. Sanctioning for ten years cost 50,000 Iraqi children’s lives, but Saddam never missed a meal. If you or I make a mistake, we back out. Now, Iraq is in a civil war — one, two, three, four Americans are killed [daily] in roadside bombings — no perceptive mistake. It’s not worth one more American life.
BSO: What is your stance on US funding to the Hamas-Led Palestinian National Authority?
SEN. GRAVEL: It was a mistake to withdraw funding — a form of sanctions — punishing the innocent to hit the powerful. Sanctions don’t work. The Palestinians elected Hamas, who are no question taking a hard line in respect to Israel. When I am President, there WILL be peace in the Middle East.
BSO: What should the United States do to decrease our dependency on foreign oil?
SEN. GRAVEL: Coming from an Oil State, Alaska, I have experience with oil. As President, I would invite the World Scientific to lead up the charge, much like NATO. We would put up the monies — whatever it takes to get beyond our dependency. Japan has problems, England has problems, China has problems, South America has problems — much of the world has problems. We need one single effort. We would put up the lionshare of the money and lead the way. The Bush Administration is doing literally zilch. Within ten years, the Scientific Community could have a breakthrough. Now, I had a bias for fusion, as there is no pollution, but I am not a scientist. By putting the National Initiative in place — finding a solution is just one example. How can we fight terrorism? With an international effort, we can root out terrorism. How can we approach terrorism globally when George Bush can’t connect the dots between the CIA and the FBI? What we need is a global effort lead by the US.
BSO: As President, how would you have handled the 18-page letter from the President of Iran sent to the White House?
SEN. GRAVEL: I would have answered Iran, and agreed and smiled. How can we say that Iran is not worthy to speak to? Iran’s people are frightened of the US — as is much of the world. Unless we’re talking, we’re killing — it’s ‘democracy at the point of a gun barrel.’ We should have done this after the hostage debacle during the Carter Administration. We should have developed discussion after Vietnam. We wasted time because they ‘didn’t let us win the war.’ With Iraq, I would pursue aggressive democracy.
BSO: Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to the readers of the Presidential Observer and the Blue State Observer?
SEN. GRAVEL: Compare me to the other “candidates.” Look at Senator Russ Feingold — a fine Senator — I recently learned said that ‘Iraq [sic] has no right to have a nuclear device’ — we’re prepared to wage war. We did not stop Pakistan from selling nuclear plans to terrorists. There were tests right on the Iran border. For the US to speak against Iran, while we produce extra atomic bombs — “you can’t have them.” We need to communicate via letters, not bombs. If your constituency agrees with the message I am sending, I hope that they will visit the site — gravel08.us — and give a modest contribution. Our first contribution was $1 — which I value mroe than … imagine, if ten million people gave one dollar — it’s be $10 million more than we have. The other candidates are ‘sniffing’ to see if they can raise the money. I had the confidence to stand up. Next year, I intend to challenge Hillary in the debates, regardless of where I stand in the polls.
Sorry for the delay — we were hoping to use our interview with Senator Gravel to launch “PresidentialObserver.com.” I felt we could not wait any longer. Thanks to Senator Mike Gravel, and his staff for setting up the interview!