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April 28, 2008
Caption : The left-of-center presidential candidate talks about the war, gay rights, and the environment.      

Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel speaks at the “Take Back America” political conference in Washington on June 19, 2007. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak).

Up until he joined the Libertarian Party this March, there was a third candidate vying for the Democratic nomination for president. He is Mike Gravel, and his team gets furious when he is left out of debates, ignored by the mainstream media, and largely written off as a bit of a loony. What does this former Alaskan Senator and champion of antiwar causes, the environment, and LGBT rights have to say to young people who think he’s spot on about the issues but still aren’t voting for him?

Campus Progress caught up with Gravel when he visited our D.C. office to talk about his crazy ideals, the current administration, and people who vote based on personality alone.

Campus Progress: People tend to put you and Dennis Kucinich in the same category: “I like his politics, but he’s unelectable.” What experiences in your past brought you to the progressive beliefs you hold today?

Mike Gravel: The only thing I can tell you is about my parents. My mother and father both came from Canada. They were immigrants. My mother had a high school education. She had a certain awareness of public affairs. By the time I was 16, I read a book called The Anatomy of Peace by Emery Reves. Emery was talking about global governance. This was a time when the United Nations was formed and he followed it very closely. I was informed by the book and it changed my whole approach ideologically.

You worked to end the Vietnam War. Do you see any parallels to what’s happening in Iraq?

I did more than work against the Vietnam War. I filibustered for five months and forced Richard Nixon to cut a deal to end the draft. I don’t think it will come back. I’m very proud of the fact that Bush doesn’t have the boots in the ground to invade Iran right now—which they want to do. The unintended consequence—and there are always some—is the fact that they’ve gone to a private military. That’s what Blackwater is all about. We have 50,000 mercenaries. It’s the mercenaries that I’m concerned about. We need to reverse this privatization of military activity. We have troops in over 100 countries and we have these mercenaries or representatives doing the jobs. And they do it for profit. Let’s make no mistake a about it: A person can go into the military and serve for love of country and career. But when a person becomes a mercenary it’s for money. It’s greed. It’s got nothing to do with human life—nothing to do with cause. And that, unfortunately, is what we have going on today.

A lot of people on the left argue in a half-joking way that if you’re supporting this war, you must support the draft because that’s the only way to sustain it without the use of these private security forces. Do you think that’s a possibility?

I don’t think we’re going to get a draft for two reasons. One is we’ll have to draft young ladies like you because there’s no reason only young men should be drafted. I think the religious right, who has a false view of womanhood, wouldn’t be able to take it. I tried to put legislation out when I was fighting the Vietnam War to put women in service. I believe in a volunteer army. When they’re well grounded in democracy, they will fight for democracy. What’s going on now and happened in Vietnam, it’s not the soldiers—they’re doing their job. They’re motivated by patriotism. But higher level—the Department of Defense, Pentagon level—they’ve misappropriated these soldiers to do things that shouldn’t be done. We shouldn’t have gone to war with Iraq. So here you have politicians who have appropriated the lives and careers of young people and use them to die in vain, to be wounded in vain. It’s a tragic thing to say. But those people were doing their duty. It was the people at the top not doing their duty. That’s what is wrong in Iraq and what was wrong in Vietnam.

Melissa Etheridge once pointed out that you’re surprisingly progressive on LGBT issues for a white man of your generation. What’s the deal?

For me, it’s a human rights issue. How can we think we can treat human beings different because of gender and sexual [orientation]? How childish this is. The tragedy with Larry Craig is that if he came out the closet, he would’ve been normal! I recommend this for anyone hiding the closet. Please come out of the closet. It’s so important that you understand with pride that whatever you are, you’re a human being, and it’s you. And you should be proud of what you are. We’ve got enough things messing up our heads than that hanging around.

When you were a senator from Alaska, you were known as a champion of the environment, another area that you’re pretty much the furthest to the left of any of the other candidates.

We’re going to cook ourselves out of this planet in a hundred years. The approach I would take is to put a tax on carbon and invite other countries to do the same thing. And then set up an international organization. It’s a global problem we’re talking about. It should be handled and treated globally. We should bring together the scientific and engineering community to get us off of carbon in a decade. I think we can get off of gasoline in five years and carbon in ten years. We should do it by the technology that is on the shelf now. We’re spending all this money on weapons, and people aren’t going to be able to put lights on in their houses.

If all the technology is available, what’s keeping us from implementing greener solutions?

All it takes is leadership. Then we can shut down coal plants and nuclear plants. I mean shutting down. I don’t buy this cap and trade. All that is doing is trying to maintain polluting elements in a grandfather clause. That’s terrible. I’m told for $2,500 you can tweak your car to take hydrogen. That’s awesome. The only polluting part of that is water vapor. Why are we messing around with all this other stuff? It’s the short-coming of representative government. That’s where we’re broken.

Hopefully young people will be able to look back and say that they knocked some sense into older generations.

Understand that countries like Spain, Finland, and Sweden can pay for the entire education of their children. The reason why we can’t is because we’re squandering money on the military industrial process which will then put you into wars and ruin your bodies and lives. What you need to do is protest this process. You gotta wake up. The only way to solve this problem is to empower yourselves as lawmakers. People will defer, "Oh, our leaders are in representative government." We’ll they’re not doing a good job and they haven’t been from the get go. There are two venues for change: One is leadership of government—where the problem lies—and the other is the American people. Empower the people with the central power of government to make laws and then you can make change and weigh in your life on issues and not just vote on personalities.

Tanya Paperny is an Outreach and Organizing Associate Manager at Campus Progress.

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