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My Strange Day With Mike Gravel By: Jamie Weinstein
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Former 2008 Democratic presidential candidate Mike Gravel will be in Denver this week seeking the Libertarian Party nomination for president. On the day of the Iowa caucus in early January, I found myself in New Hampshire following the irascible former Alaska senator around.

By the time I met up with the long-shot presidential hopeful, his 15 minutes of fame had come and gone and he had faded from the public scene, having been excluded from the Democratic primary debates. While the political world was focused on Des Moines, he started his day speaking at a Rotary Club in the Granite State.

To my surprise, the room was full with over 100 people. Before the event began, I introduced myself to Gravel's two 20-something-year-old staffers. They were excited to see a member of the press in attendance and they immediately invited me to join them at other campaign events throughout the day with the one other journalist who was there.

By reading interviews Gravel has given and watching him on television, it is easy to get the impression that he is bombastic, loose-lipped, and often angry. His speech to the Rotary Club didn't do much to diminish this image.

He condemned corporate control of the media and of American society itself. Gravel gave the appearance that he really hates money, likely because he has so little of it.

"So what has the media fed you?" Gravel asked the crowd. "Those who have the most money are most likely to become president. Well, that is code for those who are the most corrupt are the ones most likely to become president of the United States."

Mainly, Gravel trumpeted his National Initiative for Democracy, which is essentially a proposal for more direct democracy since he believes our current system is broken. But since few people have been won over by this idea, Gravel believes the problem lies with the media, not with the message or the messenger. This is a common excuse offered by candidates who fail to register support. Just look at Alan Keyes on the Republican side.

Another major theme of the Gravel campaign seems to be that America is no better than any other country in the world.

"We say we are number one? We are not number one in the world in any indices that count . . . We are number one in delusion," Gravel preached to the Rotary Club. He would later tell a group of students to "Bow your heads down we are so bad."

As soon as the speech ended, I hurried out of the Rotary Club to follow Gravel to his next event at a local high school. I told his staffer that I would follow their car, but if he lost me I had a GPS system in my rental car to get me there. This soon became relevant.

As I followed Gravel's Toyota Camry, it became clear that the senator and his staff were completely lost. It was only a matter of time before I and my GPS were asked to lead the way. Gravel may think Americans are dumb and the country in need of redemption, but thanks to American technological innovation he got to his event.

I soon regretted my decision to lead the senator to the high-school, however. In a classroom full of about three dozen students, Professor Gravel gave a Howard Zinn-like American history lesson.

As such rants so often go, Gravel turned to the topic of the "military-industrial complex."  After noting how much more the United States spends on defense than every other country in the world, Gravel asked almost insanely, "Does anybody know who our enemy is? I don't know of any enemy. Do you know anyone in the world who would dare attack us?"

With comic timing, one alert student promptly blurted out "Al Qaeda."

In an interview late in the day, Gravel came across as friendly and likeable, even if much of what he advocated was abhorrent and silly. He called President Bush "idiotic" as well as "an alcoholic" and a "religious nut."  Though supportive of more direct participation in political decision making from the masses, he took a more elitist stand that there should be some limitation on who can run for president. He couldn't really specify what credentials one must have under the Gravel standard, but it was clear that he thinks he would pass the test. After all, he said, without such a standard, "you get 50 nutcases running."

Imagine that.

Pressed on what he likes about America, Gravel threw out some pleasantries about the great resources the country possesses before adding that Americans "are a violent people. We've been made violent by slavery and the way we've acquired our land, taking it from the indigenous people."

At 77 years old and with less of a chance of becoming president than Gary Coleman had of becoming California governor, one must wonder, as I still do, why Gravel is doing this. Is it an act of ego? A way to get publicity for his recently released book? A late-life crisis? Or does he actually believe he is making a difference? My guess is a combination of all of the above.  

Gravel no doubt hopes that he will find his golden ticket in this weekend in Denver. Given Gravel's tone, demeanor and many of his policy stances (such as his support for universal health care), however, it is hard to see how he could emerge from the Mile High City triumphant.

Jamie Weinstein is a syndicated columnist with North Star Writers Group.

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