He was the earliest candidate in the history of presidential elections to announce his candidacy. After shaking things up at the first Democratic debate, he is polling around 1 percent. The funny thing is, he actually thinks he can win.
Mike Gravel left politics a quarter of a century ago, pretty much disgusted. Before then, representing Alaska in the U.S. Senate for 12 years, he once led a five-month filibuster resulting in the end of the military draft. That same year, 1971, he read the Pentagon Papers into the public record. Fast-forward to April, 2006: Gravel embarked on his most quixotic mission yet.GOOD: You left public office in 1981. Over the years, have you often wished to be back in the Senate?MIKE GRAVEL: Only on the 11th of October, 2002, when the Senate approved the Iraq War resolution. I'd have filibustered that sucker and stuck it up their nose with a pitchfork.How come nobody did that?No guts. No guts. No guts.Why?No guts. You hear all the time, "We've got to compromise. We've got to get along and go along." There are times to compromise. But a lot of times when you compromise, all you get is a big plate of mush. When principle is at stake, there is no compromise. That's the reason I was not loved by my peers in the Senate. Many of them hated me.So why run for president now?A friend of mine called me. He was down in Mexico. He says, "Gravel, I've got the answer. I know how you can bring national attention to the National Initiative-you're going to run for president." I told him he was nuts. I maybe used an expletive or two, and that was it. And about three months later I came to the conclusion that he was right. If I was going to live to see this happen, I would have to run for president and use the celebrity nature of the contest to focus attention on the federal ballot initiative called the National Initiative.That is the cornerstone of your campaign and would be the foundation of your presidency. How would this be a departure from current policy?The major part of my activity is to make people lawmakers. In fact, I firmly believe that the people should make 100 percent of the policy decisions that affect your life. And I will provide the leadership for them to do that. That's when the Congress will shape up, because when the people have this kind of power, Congress will do a better job. If they don't shape up, the people will have the power to wipe them out.You announced your candidacy more than a year ago. Are you usually so ahead of the game?We just got out there. And we didn't form an exploratory committee. We just did it. And we had about $3,000. The announcement cost about $5,000. And I would always say, "Well don't worry, I'm not going to get elected," and, "I don't care if I get elected or not, I'm doing this to bring attention to the National Initiative." Well, after about a month of that, several friends said, "Listen Mike, we believe that you can get elected, and you're demoralizing us with your attitude." And so I shut up. I didn't change my mind-I just shut up.But now you think you've got a real chance?Oh, very much. I started to pay attention [to the other candidates' statements]. They're not talking about solutions-it's all politics as usual. And this country is in serious difficulty. So I came to believe that, hey, I can win, because I'll whip them in debate.Mike Gravel sizes up Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.If elected, you will be 78 when you take office. What do you make of the age issue?I'm an elder statesman, and in most other societies elder statesmen are revered. Only in our society are people so enamored with youth and svelteness.How many times must the media mention Barack Obama's "rock-star allure" before people buy it?I don't know. The celebrity nature of politics is very strong, but it's not that strong. Particularly what we're coming into: a climate where the people have been snookered by the parties and by phony candidates. I think the people are too fed up. Right now all we're having are beauty contests.Speaking of which, do you get $400 haircuts?No, but I pay more than I should. I pay about $30. I can't afford it, but I've enough vanity that, as I'm losing my hair, I want to make sure that it flops the right way.Without an extraordinary fundraising campaign, can you really expect to win?Yes. It's not a game of money anymore. I came from negative in the polls to, in some polls, I'm 3 percent. I'm equal to Biden and to Dodd, and both of those guys are in the press every week. Here, I'm taking the bus back to Washington because I couldn't afford more than $25. But my voice is out there.Does it strike you as ironic that young Americans seemingly get more fired up about voting for dancing stars than for real issues?It takes time. There's no question we all have round heels to celebrities. I get impressed seeing movie stars. They get impressed seeing big politicians.If elected president, you've said the troops will be out of Iraq in 60 days, is that right?You better believe it. First thing we'll do is blow up Abu Ghraib before we leave. And then we'll blow up Guantánamo, so we can communicate to the world that we don't torture people. We are Americans and we are going to be calling upon a higher moral standard than we've seen in the last 50 years.And the prisoners would be moved before the bombings?Of course. Not only that, they're going to be assigned public defenders, by the government.What would you do with our overcrowded prisons?I'd empty them. I couldn't pass the law, but I will bring to the American people a law saying that we will do away with sentencing and we will educate people. The sooner we get them educated and bring them back into society and making a contribution, the sooner we will advance our society. And, of course, I believe we have to stop this war on drugs. It's ridiculous. Drugs are a public health problem; they're not a criminal problem.What will George W. Bush's legacy be?The worst president in U.S. history. There are presidents that are pretty bad because they did nothing. He did something. The worst. The worst.Fill in the blank: America is in huge trouble if ___________ is elected president in 2008.Any one of the Democratic candidates other than myself.And what about the Republicans?Worse. We're in deep, deep trouble on every issue, and we've got to turn it around or we could be in a depression. And I mean depression. I'm not talking about a recession. It could happen tomorrow, it could happen a year from now, it could happen 10 yearsfrom now. But when it does, we'll drag the world down with us.That's pretty bleak.Oh, it is. But there's reason to be positive: There is a solution. It's the people. If the people could make laws today, we'd be out of Iraq in 60 days. If the people could make laws, we'd have universal health care. If the people had power today, we could have a new tax structure that would change the nation from a consumptive nation to a savings nation.Do you consider yourself radical?I suppose so, because many of the things I'm advocating are out of the box. Is that radical? That means we need change-is that what radical means? If it is, yes. But I find people, when they listen, my God, they're awestruck with the possibilities that exist. Here's what I'm doing: I'm trying to put power into the hands of the American people. And with that power, they can unleash their awesome creative ability.You're offering the country hope?That's right-with substance. Hope with substance. Not the name of the city. Not the name of a book. There's meat on the bone with what I'm talking about.