Monday, January 7, 2008

Mike Gravel

This is post six in my candidate analysis series, which is now going to be Democrat-oriented until the New Mexico Democratic Caucus is over. I'm covering Mike Gravel, not because it's particularly timely, but because his issues page is rather slight, and I wanted an easy follow-up to Hillary Clinton. This is not to outright discredit Mike Gravel's candidacy (though he is not yet on the ballot in New Mexico), but it does mean that I will most likely be back later this week with more elaborate posts concerning Barack Obama and John Edwards.

Mike Gravel through the lens of Kelsey Atherton


The War in Iraq - His positions are concise, but he still makes some nice points. He mentions the obscene number of Iraqi dead, which is an unprecedented in my survey so far of candidate issues pages. He calls for a "complete withdrawal from Iraq in 120 days", which one can assume he intends to have start after his election, though the wording is unclear. He mentions the hardship caused by the war that the soldier death toll doesn't cover, and most interestingly, he calls for a full US corporate withdrawal, trusting Iraqi companies to rebuild Iraq. It is interesting stuff, but it's all surface level, flashy statements without exposition. It fits a senate campaign, where broad views are stated, and then details fleshed out later. It seems half-assed for a presidential campaign.

The National Initiative for Democracy - This initially appears as a throwaway one-line statement, but the statement links here, and this page is worth reading. The national initiative for democracy intends to make it easier for citizens, as a whole, to propose and pass legislation, at all levels of civic organization. This is thought out and interesting, and the initiative exists without Mike Gravel's support, so the plan exists as an independent entity to be debated of it's own merit. It's huge and populist and is a radical restructuring of US legislative policies, and I am somewhat inclined towards the idea. It's also the kind of idea that needs more national press, legislative support, and a national movement to be put in place. Take note of the idea, but it seems an impossible thing for a president to get passed.

Iran and Syria - The extent of this section is the following quote: "Senator Gravel opposes a military confrontation with Iran and Syria and advocates a diplomatic solution to the current situation". There are also links, to youtube videos and a thoughtful editorial about US-Iranian relations. The editorial is worth a read, as it's well put together and addresses the problem of political necessity nicely - yes, we can disagree with Ahmadinjehad, and yes, he is fundamentally wrong about several issues, but he is also a world leader, and a world leader who we as a nation cannot afford to be in conflict with. Moralizing against Iran hurts diplomacy and makes war look far more likely than, say, cooperative work against Al-Qaeda. The editorial is really good, but it's an editorial, and not a plan, or a series of foreign policy goals, both of which I expect from presidential candidates.

Global Warming/Climate Change - He calls for carbon tax and an end to deforestation, acknowledges global warming as real and threatening, and says that the United States must work with other nations to fight global warming. Very good stuff, but mostly opinion, and while none of it is disagreeable, nothing is outstanding, either.

Progressive Taxes - a Fair Tax - He wants to abolish the IRS. And then institute an entirely new system of taxes. That is the reasonable part of his proposition, which reads like the kind of thing a 19-year-old libertarian blogger would hammer out, post as a shiny manifesto, and then distribute via anonymous mailings. While the ideas inherent in the plan are interesting, the formatting is off, like a typewritten and xeroxed one-page zine from the 1980s. Very weird, but we here at the internet take the weird at face value, and so I will admit the plan has a sort of appeal to it. The huge changes comes from abolishing the income tax, and having a national sales tax pick up the burden. Suddenly, everything would cost at least 25% more, but with no income taxed in any other way, taxes will only be paid when goods or services are purchased, letting those who buy less pay less taxes. Were I to start a new nation, I would take this into consideration as a tax scheme, but the potential for everything to go wrong is great, and I worry that reform would stop with "depriving the government of income" and never make it to "instituting new tax law".

Healthcare - this is linked to his tax plan, as everything he proposes that needs federal money will be, and so Mike Gravel proposes a universal healthcare plan that is fully funded by new tax code. Since I think the new tax code is many degrees of unfeasible, I can't count on any legislation that derives all it's value from such a shaky foundation.

Reproductive Rights - Very good stuff, including both the vital "...a woman's right to choose if and when...", and "...comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education, including accurate information about contraception...". No wrong marks, but little more that is solid. There is a mention of specialized healthcare being provided, but its put in as a good idea, and not as a developed plan.

Immigration - A standard "let's protect the border and make it easier to have both guest workers and legal immigrants" line is here, and I am a little impressed that such a line could have fallen into a standardized mold, but apparently it has. The really meat of this section is an attack on NAFTA, which is a favored far-left entree these days, but doesn't really address what positive action will be done. Yes, the legislation caused serious problems, and it is good to acknowledge them (and bonus points for acknowledging how it has hurt Mexico), but please, tell me what you will do about it, with clearer wording than "a discussion" and "reform".

LGBT Rights - Further differentiating himself from Richardson (whose section is titled GLBT Rights), Mike Gravel manages to ddress the same issues in a bland way, without any innovation or grandstanding. He supports rights, doesn't believe they should be restricted, and thinks that expanding LGBT rights to that of full citizens (you know, the kind that can get married) is a good idea. It is good to have the section, and it is good to acknowledge these issues, but it's lacking when compared to Richardson, and Richardson is not a particularly eloquent person.

Social Security - Change the fund from money paid by worker now for current retirees to money held by the government on behalf of individual citizens for their later use, and to pass on to their heirs. This plan doesn't agree with his tax reform ideas (no money pulled out of income, no government tracking of income), so the idea of the government holding money on behalf of 300,000,000+ individuals, which seems unlikely but doable at the moment, becomes an impossibility.

Education - There is no substance at all to this section, and pot-shots at No Child Left behind are really, really petty. He does attack the legislation for its inherent flaws, which compensates for the lame attack a bit, but it doesn't include any ideas for change. That isn't exactly true; lots of ideas for change are discussed, but no actual plan is ever mentioned. I trust that he would find a competent education secretary, and that he would have an openness to reform, but I don't see any impetus or any inspiration.

Veteran's Affairs - This is the first place I've seen a blatant lie (that I am aware of); Mike Gravel says he is the only military veteran in the race, and I hope he means the only Democrat veteran, as John McCain certainly has veteran status as an integral part of his personal and political identity. Moving towards his plan, he believes in fully funding the VA to do more than it currently can, and in allowing for more individualized care for veterans. The funding, I assume, will come from the proposed tax reform.

The War on Drugs - Here Mike Gravel makes a radical statement, calling for an end to the War on Drugs, an end to prohibition, and a combined platform of federal regulation of hard drugs with decriminalization of soft drugs. It's a very bold statement, and one with lots of support from some disciplines of social science, and it seeks to address both the problems of drug abuse and swelling US prisons. A bold statement, and interesting statement, but no more follow-through leaves this section, like so many of his, lacking.

Net Neutrality - Richardson being the only other candidate to have addressed this issue by name so far, it's exciting to see this section again. The internet needs to be in a free and neutral state to work effectively, and Gravel acknowledges that. Acknowledgment is enough here - the immediate threats have all been dealt with, and having a president aware of the importance of a free internet is all that can be asked for right now.

Human Rights - "Senator Gravel is adamantly opposed to torture, indefinite detention, and the deprivation of lawyers/speedy trials. He opposes the Military Commissions Act, flagrant ignorance of the Geneva convention, and Guantanamo." Clearly stated support of human rights is good. A line or two about "appointing judges who respect the sanctity of international law/human rights" would have been good, as those two sentences, while solid sentences, are rather empty.



My impression of Mike Gravel is can best be summarized in two words: he's redundant. Dennis Kucinich seems to be the inspiring far-left candidate, who neatly combines all reasonable far-left stands. Mike Gravel seems to me to be fated as an also-ran, possessing neither electability or fanatical supporters. Gravel's ideas are radical, truly radical, and they place him much further to the left than even Kucinich, but they are also kind of wrapped up in how far-out they are, leaving the careful thought and deliberate action (that should be the meat of politics) missing. His opinions overlap with Dennis Kucinich (whose similar ideas are better thought-out) when they don't overlap with Bill Richardson (who is far more moderate on most everything, and seems more electable). The radical departures are interesting, but complete tax reform, a new legislative mechanism, and decriminalization of drugs are all destabilizing mechanisms, and would require moderations and tempering to even be introduced to congress - if written under a Mike Gravel presidency, they would be so altered by the time he was able to sign them into law that I can only imagine he'd veto his own bills.

Mike Gravel would not make a great president. More than anyone else, he would be a lame duck upon election, a victim to a legislature that could all work around his obstinacy. He isn't even really a feasible running mate, and i am hard pressed to find a secretary seat that would suit his talents well. Perhaps, in twenty years, some of his ideas may be more reasonable, but for now, he seems to be in the running to be in the running, and the idea of his winning cannot have occurred to him as a genuine possibility. If it had, he might have put some effort into it.

1 comment:

Kenneth said...

I've found my way to your blog from Christine Robinson's, and have yet to make it through all the profiles you have posted thus far. I thought it interesting that you didn't mention Unitarian Universalism in this post. We've published an interview with Mike Gravel on that you might be interested in: