Like Phil, I was contacted by the Brandeis Hoot, who asked me some questions on Mike Gravel. Here’s what I wrote back (rather in a hurry, I might add):
1. What do you think of Mike Gravel coming to Brandeis? Should students go to hear him speak?
Mike Gravel is an important historical figure and took principled and brave stands in the Nixon years. I applaud his patriotism and his fight against the imperial presidency in those years. I hope every
Brandeis student will take the time to see him.
2. If students should, why?
First off, Senator Gravel made history in the 70’s. Releasing the Penon Papers into the Congressional Record was a very admirable thing. So he’s both a minor hero and a minor celebrity. There are reasons to go beyond the thrill of meeting him, however. In my opinion, students would be well served to hear alternative critiques of American society: as a former Senator with insight into the Nixon years, he can serve a useful role. As for his Presidential campaign…
I understand that he’s coming to Brandeis to promote his bid for the presidential bid. I really have little interest in that.
3. I saw that in the post that you mentioned that Mike Gravel is a “horrible presidential candidate,” could you explain this further? Is he “horrible” in that he isn’t a viable candidate and has no real shot at the presidency? Or did you mean that he would not make a good president? If so, why?
I consider Senator Gravel a vanity candidate. I do so not because of his poll numbers – I am a big admirer of Senator Chris Dodd, who had a similarly negligible impact on the electoral aspects of the race.
In his campaign for the presidency, Senator Gravel has run as a Democrat, endorsed a Green party candidate (Jesse Johnson), and is now running as a Libertarian, all in the space of a few months. Most tellingly, his campaign organization has been, and seems to still be, negligible. What canvassing has he done? How much fundraising, direct mail, media outreach, etc?
It seems that Senator Gravel likes the benefit of free media, but doesn’t want to put in the work that goes along with a real presidential campaign. The structure of televised “debates” is pretty silly – notice how there have been very very few environmental-related questions? Perhaps that’s because every debate has been sponsored by a coal industry front group – but I think the organizers were in the
right here. Just from browsing his wikipedia page, it seems that Senator Gravel has a habit of seeking media stunts without doing the behind-the-scenes legwork that usually accompanies and leverages them.
Someone once made an observation about Senator Gravel that I tend to agree with. If I remember correctly, it goes like this: “Mike Gravel is like that crotchedy old uncle at thanksgiving. Sometimes he’ll say something outrageously wrong or offensive. Other times he’ll say some embarrasing story about your parents or penetrating truth that you’ll remember forever.”
So, on one hand Gravel exposed uncomfortable truths about American Imperialism, Neo-Colonialism, the hawkishness of other candidates, and tried to dispel many of the right-wing myths regarding the September 11 attacks. On the other hand, he undermines progressive democrats, tries to accomplish his goals through superficial visuals instead of building coalitions, and, most weirdly supports the regressive “fair tax”.