Considered a marginal candidate by the vast majority of political observers throughout the political spectrum, former 77-year-old Alaska Senator Mike Gravel’s outspoken, curmudgeonly populism is nevertheless an intriguing contrast in comparison with the smooth, relatively young, mainstream candidates. While many of his positions, including those on the Iraq war and marijuana might be viewed as “far left” by some, other positions are more quirkily conservative. Notably, he supports school vouchers and a tax plan calling for abolishing the IRS and replacing it with a progressive version of a sales tax. (Republican Mike Huckabee supports a similar concept.) He remains best known for his often humorous and impolitic statements in debates, and for an eccentric symbolic YouTube campaign video that has aired on “The Daily Show” and elsewhere.
Born in 1930 in Springfield, Massachusetts, Senator Gravel was raised in a working class atmosphere. A dyslexic, he dropped out of college after one year and joined the U.S. army where he worked in counter-intelligence during the early cold war era. After finishing his service, he attended Columbia University in New York City, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in economics.
Deciding that the U.S. territory of Alaska was the most likely spot for the aspiring politician to get elected to office, the aspiring politician made the trek northward. As the territory of Alaska became the state of Alaska, Gravel worked in a variety of fields, married and had two children with a former beauty queen, and, after some false political starts, was finally elected to the Alaska House of Representatives in 1963.
In 1968, he initiated a successful primary challenge against an 81-year-old congressman, former governor Ernest Gruening. Although privately a staunch opponent of he Vietnam War, Gravel admits that he won partially by espousing a deliberately vague position, which Gravels says caused many in the largely conservative state to assume wrongly that he was actually more in favor of the war than Gruening.
Once in the senate, he followed a liberal line on most, though not all issues. His bold stance against the Vietnam War, however, wound up making history when he inserted thousands of pages of the so-called Pentagon Papers into the congressional record, thereby guaranteeing that the controversial manuscript would be made public. He also led a one-man filibuster against the military draft, which ended shortly afterwards. His record on environmental matters was more mixed. Although he opposed underground nuclear testing in his home state, following on Alaskan pro-development sentiments, he was a supporter of the controversial Alaskan oil pipeline project of the mid-seventies.
Overall, Gravel’s gadfly style, including a maverick run for the vice presidential nomination in 1972, did not endear him to many interest groups or fellow politicians. He was unseated in 1980, ironically by a primary challenge similar to the one he waged in 1968. According to Gravel, this was followed by a period of depression and the end of his first marriage. Gravel then reentered the business world. He married his current wife, Whitney Gravel, in 1984.
In 1989, Gravel reemerged in public life with an effort to promote a constitutional amendment that would allow more direct democracy, in this case a variation of the controversial ballot initiative process used in many U.S. states. He spent a good part of the next decade furthering the idea, known as “the National Initiative,” and today he cites it as a major reason for his presidential bid.
In 2006, despite health problems and financial woes, Gravel was the first democratic candidate to openly announce his run for the White House. Since then, the septuagenarian Gravel has positioned himself as the ultimate outsider candidate. Less of a left-liberal standard bearer than fellow insurgent candidate Dennis Kucinich, and with an unpredictable style and a resume likely to worry most potential supporters, he has no apparent constituency other than those voters whose distrust of traditional politics has reached critical mass.
Mike Gravel on the Web
Mike Gravel ‘08
The official web site of the Gravel campaign. Includes links to the Gravel campaign’s several online homes, a blog and a forum.
Mike Gravel in Second Life
Learn how to virtually meet Mike Gravel. “There are several unofficial presences by contenders for the US Presidential Nomination, but Sen. Gravel’s campaign has become the historic first in endorsing the Second Life support efforts.”
“Don’t Worry, Be Mike Gravel”
A Salon profile of Mike Gravel and his campaign by Alex Koppelman.
Gravel Explains YouTube Spots
On the intended symbolism of the Gravel videos.
“Why Hillary Scares Me”
A blog post by Senator Gravel, from the Huffington Post.
A detailed biography of the senator’s unusual career.
Mike Gravel looks into the camera for over a minute, and then throws a rock in the water. The video that started it all.
Senator Mike Gravel Visits My Dorm Room
James Kotecki, a.k.a. “Emergency Cheese,” discusses the war in Iraq and other issues with Gravel in, of course, Kotecki’s dorm room.
Senator Gravel discussed President Dwight Eisenhower’s famous speech on the dangers of excessive militarism.
Mike Gravel starts a fire in a clearing. The shot of the fire lingers for five minutes. The other symbolic video.
The Official Mike Gravel YouTube Channel
Includes hundreds of supporter videos but not, apparently, “Rock” or “Fire.”
On the Campaign Trail
As of fall of 2007, Gravel was starting to become little more than a punch line for nighttime comedians discussing the Democratic primary, though his poll numbers were only slightly worse than more conventional dark horses Joe Biden and Chris Dodd.
Senator Gravel made news however when, excluded from an MSNBC debate on the grounds that he had raised insufficient cash, a supporter offered to put up a million dollars of his own money if it could guarantee a seat on the debate. Instead, Gravel staged his own alternative event across the street from the Philadelphia location of the debate, where he answered the questions posed to the other candidates in real time on his own webcast. A blogger for the Philadelphia Weekly cheekily suggested that Gravel had won his own debate.
The Quotable Mike Gravel:
On senatorial collegiality:
“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?’”
On the costs of war:
“The entire deaths of Vietnam died in vain. And they're dying in vain right this very second. And you know what's worse than a soldier dying in vain? It's more soldiers dying in vain. That's what's worse.”
On foreign policy:
“We have no important enemies. What we need to do is to begin to deal with the rest of the world as equals, and we don’t do that. We spend more as a nation on defense than all the rest of the world put together. Who are we afraid of?”
On the foreign policy positions of rival Democrats:
“They 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 nukes.”
On gay rights and what the world needs now:
“…Love between a man and a woman is beautiful, love between a woman and a woman is beautiful, love between a man and a man is love…is beautiful too. What this world needs is a lot more than what we presently have.”
Comments, questions and suggestions can be sent to Gerardo Orlando at firstname.lastname@example.org.