Mike Gravel: The Candidate You Didn't Know You Wanted (And Probably Didn't Vote For)

Did you vote yet? Are you a Democrat bemoaning the departure of Edwards, Kucinich, Richardson, et. al. or are you conflicted about Obama vs. Hillary? Take heart: Mike Gravel is still in the race! (In states where it isn't hugely expensive to get on the primary ballot, that is). Gravel is experienced: he has been a state legislator and a Senator, run a business and spent a few years working, without a salary, for a non-profit dedicated to getting Americans the right to ballot initiatives on the federal level. He's angry about the war too! (He thinks WWII was the only armed conflict that was absolutely necessary). And he's supportive of women's rights. In fact, speaking of women, when many of you took a candidate-matching survey a few months back, he ranked at the top of many lists, but I'll bet most of you didn't take a closer look. Why is that? Well, Mike's got some answers; our interview, after the jump.

Megan: So, the reason I wanted to interview you is that a couple months back, Jezebel invited its readers to take a candidate match survey and an absurd proportion of readers found you at the top of their lists when going on issues alone. Mike: Actually, I get that a lot. It's really interesting to me because it just shows that when people know where I stand they end up finding out we have a lot in common. The problem is that the corporate owned media has gone out of its way to stop me from being visible.

Megan: So, it's not just Jezebel readers? Interesting. I did notice that you were kept out of the (many) recent debates, and then they did it to Kucinich too.
Mike: Kucinich didn't lift a finger when they did it to me, actually.

Megan: Sort of like, when they came for the labor unionists, I didn't say anything, huh? But, why do you think that is that they decided to keep people out? It's not like you got an equal amount of time to talk, or that the most recent debates were more interesting because they were smaller.
Mike: In my case, I'm well know to the Powers That Be, and they know that I'm not politics and usual and that I'm not afraid to go out and do stuff even if people disagree with it. Those that are informed, particular those companies [like GE, parent company of NBC] that are part of the military industrial complex, they know me very well and they know that I'm the last person in the world they want to see in power. Unless they're looking for good government, they know there's no way to influence me.

As for the body politic, the elected officials in Washington, they don't understand that the most important change we can make is to empower the American people with the same power they have: to make laws. They're opposed to that. They don't even understand it. What I want to do is give the power of lawmaking back to the people, by allowing ballot initiatives and referenda at the federal level.

Megan: Well, by those metrics, how do you think your campaign is going so far? It's obviously been difficult attracting attention despite a relatively simple series of policy messages.
Mike: Well, I've spent $300,000 so far, half of which came from me and the other half from small, individual donations. It makes it hard to compete with candidates that can and will spend $300 million and more. But, we're getting along. I'm getting some earned media, like this interview, based on my positions which is really helpful.

Megan: Well, that's kind of cool. But, if you wouldn't mind a terrible segue, can we talk about some of your positions? One of the issues of utmost importance to Democratic voters is the War in Iraq. You've been a strong anti-war advocate for your entire political career. Has there been a war you were keen on?
Mike: I am strongly against war- all of them. Vietnam, Panama, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and soon Iran. While I think that World War II was necessary, it only became necessary because Woodrow Wilson got us involved in World War I and the aftermath of that.

For me, that's the crux of the matter. Wars do not solve problems, they merely beget other wars. That's the tragedy of history... Iraq is not a problem. The problem is that we will go into another war, in part because the military-industrial complex needs conflict to justify production. The underlying structure that permits this to go forward is this attitude of American imperialism. We have a military presence in 130 countries and 700 military bases around the world. If Americans understood this, they wouldn't be for it. They don't want to to be the world's policemen- not when we have an educational system that is shameful, a health system that is shameful and a crumbling infrastructure. What we're doing is following the pattern of prior empires, particularly the Spanish empire who became the sword-makers to the world and were lost in the fog of history.

The people that are running for President, that are left on the scene today, are all supporting this imperialist trend, particularly McCain and Hillary Clinton and even Obama, who doesn't even know that he's supporting it.

Megan: But, let's draw a distinction between you and another candidate who's against American imperialism — Ron Paul. He's for isolationism. That's not your position, I'm given to understand.
Mike: Oh, goodness, no, I'm not an isolationist. Ron would retreat to Fortress America. What I want us to do is to take our place as an equal in the world and commit to the United Nations and work for world governance and world peace. We now have globalization of the economy; of science; of the ability to destroy the planet; and of the environment. You can't just turn back time. He's steeped in that redneck philosophy that we can't give up sovereignty. I'm suggesting that we move some of that sovereignty away from the nation-state structure and into a world governance structure. We will never have peace on earth until we have global governance. The United Nations is a good charter but it's not functioning on its charter, it's become paralyzed and non-functional as states seek to use it to protect sovereignty at all costs. That's not how to get to world peace.

Megan: That's an interesting perspective. Not too many candidates are advocating world government, so to speak. How does this tie into your position on immigration? Do you feel that your experience as a first generation American informed your position on immigration?
Mike:: Although my parents were both French-Canadians who immigrated here in the twenties, I wouldn't say that their experience motivated my position on immigration, except to realize that you come to love your country through choice. They were really proud to become Americans. My attitude toward immigration comes from living various parts of the country, knowing a lot of various minorities in the community I grew up in and where I studied ... I was never exposed to Latinos until I lived in California when I developed a great deal of respect for their willingness to work hard in this country, which is a value that I got from my father.

But, the immigration issue is nothing more than scapegoating. We have an immigration problem in the minds of our leaders, not in the economy. Because our economy is failing, though, they're looking for someone to blame. There's an interesting parallel: the EU, which is surging ahead of us in many facets of development, they just had 6 countries which lowered all their barriers to the movement of people and capital. But we're erecting a fence on the Southern border. If I were President, I would lower barriers, and I would like to see some of further unity in North American, some sort of central economic entity, to try to match the EU and China on the global stage

Megan: Ok, I apologize, I'm really awful at interview segues, but I do want to take a minute to talk about women's issues for our readers. You are a really progressive candidate on the issues of importance to Jezebel readers, and I just wanted you to talk about them for a minute.
Mike: It's not just women's issues. It's gay rights. It's the drug war, too. It's about individual rights. Let's start with the drug war. Everyone knows marijuana isn't addictive or a gateway drug or anything. But, we arrested 800,000 people last year for marijuana crimes. This is appalling, especially when you consider that we could have spent this money on things like health care. Women are in more danger at childbirth than in any other major industrialized country in the world. It's appalling, and yet we're spending the money that could change that on jailing people who smoke marijuana.

When it comes to abortion, we have a government that, whether it's run by Republicans or even Democrats, has failed to make education about sex, sensuality or love the preeminent education of our children. What is more important in life than that? We make out that something's dirty about sex, and let religion get a hold of what we can do in the bedroom. It's appalling, and there's no reason for this. We're free people, and the definition of freedom is the participation in power. When you as a woman lose power over your body by virtue of people determining when you can procreate, then you're not free. Whether you want to talk about LGBT rights or sex education or anything to do with procreation, the dispensing of condoms, needles... health should be the preeminent concern and the government should get out of the equation after that.

We need more women getting elected to public office, definitely. But I have not seen in my career that women who get into power act that much differently than men. For instance, since I'm in California, Barbara Boxer is very liberal and very good, but Diane Feinstein is more politics as usual. Nancy Pelosi is a liberal politician by virtue of her district, but as Speaker she has governed the same way as any man did before her, and it's disappointing. I would love nothing more than to see a minority or a woman as President. But I want the right woman, or the right minority person: one who believes in civil rights, and who believes in peace and not in defense spending. Otherwise, what's the use? It's just voting for the same policies in different clothing.

Megan: That's a really harsh indictment of some pretty seniors Democratic politicians, and I'm not brave enough to delve any deeper than that. So, let's talk a little about you. On a more personal note, what would you say is your biggest regret?
Mike: My biggest regret was when I was in the Senate, I was very controversial. I was a maverick. I used to get a lot of pressure from my staff, and peer pressure, to be more like everyone else. And I regret not being hard enough, not being more partisan, because that's when I got things accomplished. Today there is this whole attitude that we have to reach across the barriers of parties to accomplish anything. But, by reaching across barriers, they don't actually end up accomplishing anything. Whether it was ending the draft or building the Alaskan pipeline, reading the Pentagon papers or stopping nuclear testing in the North Pacific, all of that was done in my first four years, and none of it was done by reaching across the aisle. By reaching across, what it means is that you put the lobbyists in charge, by giving them more control.

Megan: One thing I hear a lot from some readers is that it's supposedly really important to band together and vote for the candidate most likely to win against the "other" guy rather than voting one's conscience. It's something that really frosts my ass [Yes, I really said this] because it seems to me that it flies completely in the face of the whole point of voting. I thought you might have something to say about that.
Mike: You have it absolutely right. If you vote for power over substance, then you won't ever get either. You've got to vote for substance regardless of who you think will win, because you'll see that substance will win out in the end.

Megan: Any last thoughts?
Mike: The key to everything I stand for is: the definition of freedom is participation in power. The American people at the federal level do not participate in power. They give it away on election day, because they vote for people to make laws rather than the laws themselves. So, we don't have the freedom we think we have, and it shows.

Related: Should I Vote For Clinton Or Obama? [Salon]