Senator Maurice Robert "Mike" Gravel (D-AK).
Interview with Senator Mike Gravel
Democratic Presidential Contender from Alaska.
-- Alan Tuttle
Mike Gravel was a United States Senator from Alaska from 1969 to 1981. Before that, he served in the Alaska House of Representatives from 1963 to 1966. As a U.S. Senator, he is primarily known for his efforts in ending the draft after the Vietnam War and for having put into the public record the Pentagon Papers in 1971.On April 17, 2006, Gravel declared his candidacy for president of the United States in the 2008 election.
Our Alan Tuttle interviewed Senator Gravel before a recent campaign stop in Philadelphia.
PJV: Many feel that you make the Democratic debate more lively, but in the June 2 debate you were only allowed to speak 5 1/2 minutes out of two hours. Can you comment?
Yes, I think it is unfair. That’s the understatement. But it is interesting that somebody in California took
the five minutes, and just the five minutes, and put it up on YouTube and it carried the day on YouTube I think for the first 24 or 36 hours, getting the biggest hits. It says there is a thirst out there for people wanting to, sort of, what I characterize this, talking truth to power. Or the characterization I get most recently is "you’re a breath of fresh air," meaning that you’re saying what’s on your mind, plus, I have a lot of experience so I can really inform the people as to what’s going on, what my perceptions are of that, and what my analyses are of that. And that’s what a presidential campaign, or any political campaign, should do. It should be to edify the people so they can make a better choice.
PJV: You say you don't trust the other Democratic candidates. Will you support them if one of them is ultimately nominated?
I already laid down the gauntlet at the first DNC [Democratic National Committee] meeting and that was that I do not feel that anyone who voted for the war is qualified to be president of the United States. And so I guess I would have to rest on that definition. Would I support someone who’s unqualified for the position? I don’t think so, but let’s wait and see how this thing shakes itself out.
Clearly, those who voted for the war have an opportunity to redeem themselves if they would end the war now. But they’re not doing anything in the Congress to end the war. And that includes Obama, because he didn’t vote for the war, but he’s not doing anything to demonstrate that he would alter the situation. So, I’m very fearful, other than Kucinich, and I don’t think he’ll win, that any of the others are really going to end this war.
PJV: In 1971, you conducted a filibuster opposing the Vietnam draft. What is your position on a draft today, especially the argument that a draft would make the elite more aware of the human cost of war, and get us out of Iraq sooner?
First off, we don’t need the draft today. My position has not changed one iota. I think if we’re a peaceful country, we can live very well within our military means with a volunteer Army. The argument -- that if we had the draft today that would cause a more egalitarian participation in the war -- not so. Bill Clinton didn’t go into the Vietnam War. George Bush hid from the Vietnam War. The neocons [neoconservatives] who are responsible by and large for the present war, none of them saw service in the military, other than [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld.
And so I would say that of the present candidates running for the Democratic nomination, none of them has any military service. And I enlisted in the service.
Energy & The Environment
PJV: Energy, the environment, and foreign policy all seem to be linked through our dependence on oil. What are your thoughts on this? And since you are from Alaska, what is your position on Arctic National Wildlife Refuge [ANWR] oil production?
I would just drop ANWR like a hot potato. At one point in my career I was very supportive of that. I think that we should end it, because I see that off Florida people don’t want any drilling. What we need is to get off carbon, and so the way to do that, from my perspective, is to put a carbon tax on at the source, at the barrel of oil and at the ton of coal. And it filters up through the system in a fair fashion and that would contribute.
Now, what we would do with the income from that tax would be to invite other countries to join us to put a carbon tax with their people, and set up an international or a global organization because energy and the environment are global problems, and to turn around and take that wealth, and I think you’ll be surprised. I would say that energy-producing, old-producing countries who join that, they’ll put a carbon tax on their people, and then what it would do would be take that money together under this international or this global organization to integrate the engineering and scientific communities to get us out of carbon in a decade. And I firmly believe it can be done. I’ve just got no doubt about it at all.
Because what we can do, and this is new knowledge that has recently come to me from a new advisor I’ve acquired, is that we can get on hydrogen, liquid hydrogen, within a decade. And we can turn around and take all our filling stations, our gas stations, and convert them to hydrogen stations so we wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel at every step of the way.
Judaism & Israel
PJV: Why did you not participate in the recent annual
National Jewish Democratic Council’s Washington Policy Conference? All the other Democratic candidates did. [Biden,
Edwards, Kucinich, and
My understanding was that I was invited, and then they told me it was postponed. No, I would break a leg to attend any invitation. I was not invited by AIPAC. I was invited by a Jewish group in Maryland and I was delighted to go speak with them.
I have very strong positions on all of this. I was raised in Jewish community in Springfield, Massachusetts. Our house was located within five blocks of three synagogues, and I’ve always been very, very supportive of Israel. My record indicates that. And I have an identical record while I served, identical to
Sen. Jake Javits (R-NY) and identical to
Sen. Abe Ribicoff (D-CT). So, my record is there.
However, I am very much my own man, and I make no misrepresentations about that. I will not be controlled by any group or any pressure group in this country with respect to bringing peace to Israel. And I made a pledge to the group in Maryland, the Jewish group in Maryland, that bringing peace between Israel and the Palestinians is going to be the first priority of my foreign policy. And I will use whatever political capital I need to disburse to bring peace about. And I will be very tough about making sure that it is brought about.
Now, I exclude the war, because I think the war could be ended now if we had some leadership in the Congress, but if the war is not ended, I’ll end the war immediately, bringing the troops home in 120 days. And I will work to recognize Iran and Syria and have them help end the civil war.
But now, with respect to Israel, the approach that I would use would be to use the full force of the American government in a diplomatic effort, backed by the European
Union, Russia, China – all the countries who have a stake in the stability of the Middle East – to meld them together to provide a cocoon of safety for the moderates in Israel and the moderates in the Palestinian community to come together to fashion a deal, to fashion an agreement that would be along the lines, which we all know what they are, the 1967 borders, tweaked to satisfy some vital interests of Israel and to satisfy some vital interests of the Palestinian community.
Now, with that cocoon of security, marginalizing the violence that will occur because the crazies on the margins will always try to destabilize an agreement with their violence. We can’t let that happen anymore. And so this cocoon of moderates would arrive at an agreement and that agreement would be put to the people in Israel for a plebiscite, and for the people of the Palestinian community for a plebiscite. This is not a deal made by the leaders; this is going to be a deal bought into by the people themselves. And as a result of that, we will commit, under our leadership, a global effort to raise the standard of living in the Palestinian community equal to that of Israel and free up Israel so it can stop spending so much of its wealth on its defense posture. And that way, even improve its own society, because there’s a lot more poverty in Israel than people own up to, a lot more, and its tragic.
I can only say this about the Israeli leadership, and it applies equally to the corruption that exist in the Palestinian leadership, and the Israeli leadership is not without corruption. But, I have no stomach for hawks who lead the United States of America, and I have even less so for those who lead the nation of Israel or the Palestinian community. So, I make a pledge, a solemn pledge, and I think I can do it, I know I can do it. I will bring peace between the Israelis and Palestinians and thereby diffuse the entire confrontation between the Islamic world and the West. That is worth doing. And I will not be deterred by any lobbying force from that goal.
PJV: You criticized Senator Obama for not taking the military option off the table regarding Iran. What should Israel do if Iran looks like it has or will acquire a nuclear weapon?
Should do nothing. Should do nothing. My God, it’s none of their business if Iran has a nuclear weapon. The reason why Iran is breaking a leg, and its interesting, but [Iran's President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is so panicked that he’s trying to act like they’re going to have the bomb tomorrow. Scientist tell us they won’t have it for five to 10 years.
But they are so afraid of us, with our stupid statements about the axis of evil.
You don’t think that they’re not afraid of us? Why did Israel acquire the bomb? For defense. Israel’s not going to unilaterally use this against anybody. And so, when the United States, for the last 50 years, has left on the table the position that we’re prepared to use armed nuclear devices at our discretion whether its valid or not.
And so for Obama and
Hillary and the others to pledge that this is an option, it’s an immoral option, that’s all it is. And we should change that policy, and I will as president.
Now, Iran, interestingly enough, if you look at the record, has not started a war or invaded anybody for the last 110 years. It was [Saddam] Hussein who invaded them. The only threat that Iran offers today is that you have a guy like Ahmadinejad that shoots his mouth off without engaging his brain. He goes into silly areas of having an anti-Holocaust convention in Iraq. I mean, this is just stupid stuff. And he’s intelligent; the problem is, he’s got terrible judgment.
PJV: Moving on to the issue of the Holocaust, in June 2004 you gave a speech on direct democracy at a conference hosted by the American Free Press, and cosponsored by the Barnes Review, a journal that endorses Holocaust denial. American Free Press is very much anti-Zionist in this country. Can you address this?
Yes, I can elaborate on that very well. I thought that I was being invited by the American Free Press, which is a very conservative newspaper, and takes very conservative positions. And one of the conservative positions they take it to endorse the national initiative to empower the people because they feel once that people are empowered, we’ll have a better chance of controlling the growth of government.
So, when I was invited to address the convention of the American Free Press, I said yes. I showed up and was there probably a half-hour. I sat up on the dais; there was a guy with a cowboy hat maybe two persons away who was engaging me in conversation while I was being introduced. I could tell this guy was a little…, a little….you know, with a cowboy hat. And then I got up, made my pitch and took a few questions. I thought the questions got a little edgy. Not anything about the Holocaust, just edgy. You know, whenever you hear somebody that wants to do away immediately with the federal reserve system, and you get conspiracies, you pretty well know the group you’re talking with. So as soon as I got a feel of that, I took about three or four questions, and I had to excuse myself so I left.
And so the person who blogged me, on this issue, said there was a table there with all this literature. I didn’t see it, I didn’t look for it, I didn’t see it and I didn’t know about the Barnes Review until this whole thing came up as an issue in the blogging. When I made an investigation of the Barnes, there is no question they are deniers. And the person who invited me to speak at this convention, I since talked with that person, and I was just chewing him out, plus I respect him, but he told me he didn’t believe in the Holocaust. I was just blown away by a reasonable person that could hold that view. I made a joke that if they invited me back, I would tell them they’re nuts. Soon enough, they did invite me back and I didn’t take the invitation because I didn’t think it would serve anything to go there just to insult them. And they would feel insulted because they would feel they know what went on.
I think the comparison I made was how can you deny the film footage, when you’re watching Dwight Eisenhower walk through Auschwitz, Buchenwald or Dachau, one of them. And I’ve been very taken by the whole issue of the --- if you stop and think; the war ended when I was 15 years old – so for me and with anybody with any degree of sensitivity, when you look at the Holocaust, and I’ve got to tell you, when they use the statement that the Great American Century was the 20th Century, I’ve got to tell you, we can’t be too proud of the American Century because it was one of the greatest bloodlettings in all of human history.
And so I am taken deeply, deeply with the Holocaust. And I’m almost Jewish in that regard. Whenever something comes on TV, I stick on that channel and see it through. And it moves me to no end, how one human being could treat another human being that way. This is the land of Goethe, the land of Beethoven, and you tell me that we can’t have something similar happen in this country? If it can happen in Germany, it can happen anywhere in the world. All the more reason, in my mind, why we have to solve the problem between the Palestinians and Israel.
Economy & Government
PJV: You have said you support the ‘FairTax’ proposal that calls for eliminating the IRS and the income tax and replacing it with a progressive national sales tax of between 19 and 23 percent on newly manufactured items and services. Doesn't a sales tax place an unfair burden on the poor?
No, not at all. The unfair burden right now on the poor is with our income tax, which has been gamed by wealth so the burden is carried by the average American. In addition to that burden, let’s look at the way our present system, which nobody is talking about changing, handles the poor. If you’re poor, you have to have income. Otherwise you can’t get this credit, the earned income credit. You have to have income. What happens to the poor who have no income? You lose your job and you’re poor. You have two choices: go sleep under a bridge or turn around and go on welfare. That’s the way our present system handles the poor.
Now, with what I call the fair green tax, first off what we would do, is there are no exceptions; there would be total transparency. I know what you’re paying because whenever you spend money to buy something, you’re going to pay the same tax as I pay when I buy something. So it’s very progressive. The more you spend, the more you pay. So if you buy a $5,000 suit and I buy a $200 suit, you’re going to pay more in taxes than I do. If you buy a meal that costs $200, then you’re going to pay more than I pay if I’m getting a meal at the Golden Arches.
So now, you come down to how do we make the sales tax more progressive than it is.
If you've got more money, you’re going to spend less on the essentials of life, it’s just the nature of it, whether it’s an income tax or a sales tax.
What are the basic, important things, the essential of life? Food, lodging, clothing, medicines and transportation. So those items, you can’t give an exception for those items because the minute you give exceptions you open the door to other exceptions and you’re back in to gaming the system.
But what you can do to level the playing field. You can estimate what the cost of these essentials of life are for the average American or for the person at the poverty level. That’s not hard to figure. Then let’s take the tax, anywhere from 20-24 percent and apply it to that. That gives us a sum of money that we can turn around and send you a check every single month, so that you now get this check for the tax you would be paying, and then you go get your paycheck and there are no deductions. Isn’t that an interesting cash-flow for you, as an average American or as a poor person? This will be the first time in the history of the nation that a poor person would have a cash flow coming to them regardless of what the situation is.
PJV: You support legalizing marijuana. Why? What is the distinction between it and other drugs?
Studies show overwhelmingly that marijuana is not addictive. And if it were, it’s no more addictive than alcohol. And so we know in American culture, almost every American knows, of the social failure of Prohibition during the 20s. What we did was, we created a criminal class, which metastasized into the Mafia, which is still around, and organized crime. We created a disrespect for the law which was engineered by people – speakeasies –people who were not going to obey the laws on alcohol, period.
Now let’s look at our present situation. You’d think that that experience would have informed us that when we began a generation ago our war against drugs – first off, it isn’t a war, it’s a problem of public health. Addiction and drugs are a public health problem and when we criminalize it we fail to address it as a public health problem…then subvert basic elements of our society, including the justice system.
We’ve developed a population in our jails of 2.4 million people. More than anybody else in the world. Shame on us. And that’s a product of our war on drugs. And we’ve destabilized countries like Afghanistan and Vietnam, Bolivia,
Colombia, Mexico, Panama. There’s just no end to the damage this has been doing on our global relationships and to the American people and it has not diminished regardless of the figures the government pumps out to rationalize spending $50-$70 million a year. It has not diminished our drug dependency. We need to focus on drug dependency and you do it as a health problem, not as a criminal problem.
Look at how we’ve succeeded with the alcohol problem and with Alcoholics Anonymous. We need to do the same thing with popular drugs.
- June and July 2007: Sen. John Edwards,
Sen. Joe Biden,
Sen. Chris Dodd,
Sen. Barack Obama,
Sen. Hillary Clinton and
Gov. Bill Richardson
speaking at the NJDC
- May 2007: Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA 7) speaking
at CAIR, and interviews with
Marc Stier and
Andy Toy, Philadelphia
City Council candidates.
- April 2007: Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA 13)
- March 2007: Judge Anne E. Lazarus
candidate for the PA Superior Court.
- February 2007:
Rep. Mark Cohen,
Democratic Caucus Chairman
- January 2007:
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN 5), first Muslim elected to Congress
- November 2006: Candidates Lois Murphy and Jim Gerlach,
Pennsylvania's 6th district.
- October 2006: Patrick Murphy, candidate
for Congress in Pennsylvania's 8th district.
- September 2006: Alan Schlesinger, Republican
Senate candidate in Connecticut.
- August 2006: Peter Edelman, President of the
New Israel Fund
- July 2006: Joe Sestak, candidate for Congress
in Pennsylvania's 7th district.
- June 2006: Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY 2).
- May 2006: Charles Smolover, Vice-President
of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice
- April 2006: Ira Forman, Executive Director
of the National Jewish Democratic Committee
- March 2006: Alan Sandals, candidate in the Democratic
Primary for U.S. Senate
- February 2006: Matthew Brooks, Executive Director
of the Republican Jewish Coalition
- January 2006: Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA 2).
- December 2005: Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA 6).
- November 2005: Gov. Howard Dean, Chairman of
the Democratic National Committee
- October 2005: Bob Casey candidate in the Democratic
Primary for U.S. Senate.
- September 2005: Pennsylvania State Representative
- August 2005: Lois Murphy candidate for Congress
in Pennsylvania's 6th district.
- July 2005: Chuck Pennacchio candidate in the Democratic
Primary for U.S. Senate.
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