WASHINGTON — Ron Paul is the easy response to libertarian calls for a candidate with a passion for downsizing government. But it remains unclear who the much discussed “liberaltarians” could turn to. Reason‘s David Weigel notes that in 2005, the Cato Institute gave former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson a B on his fiscal policy report card — higher than Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. (Richardson’s grade dropped to a ‘C’ last year, something he’s unlikely to bring up.) But Richardson doesn’t stand alone in his liberaltarian appeal. He has to look out for Mike Gravel.
Gravel, the former two-term Alaskan Senator, is a dark horse candidate to be sure. But his presence in the debates has injected policy positions that Richardson himself has not volunteered. He supports the Fair Tax, the National Ballot Initiative, and an immediate pull-out from Iraq. Now, in an exclusive interview with Brainwash’s Dorian Davis, the Senator explains his libertarian streak, his tax plan, and his reservations about Hillary Clinton.
DORIAN DAVIS: As I mentioned, Brainwash is a libertarian magazine…
SENATOR GRAVEL: I have a libertarian streak.
DORIAN DAVIS: Well, this is one reason we wanted to speak with you.
MIKE GRAVEL: Good.
DORIAN DAVIS: There are 8 candidates running for the Democrat nomination in 2008. Why are you running?
SENATOR GRAVEL: Well, the first reason I want to be president is that I want to empower the public to make laws in partnership with its elected officials. You are as qualified to vote on issues as anybody in Congress, and you don’t need someone to tell you what to do. The second reason I want to be president is that I want to end the war in Iraq and get a handle on the Military Industrial Complex.
DORIAN DAVIS: Your competitors, Senators Clinton and Edwards, were caught on tape after the NAACP Candidate Forum calling the second-tier Democrat candidates unserious, and planning to “cut the number” involved in upcoming debates. What did you think about that?
SENATOR GRAVEL: What Hillary owned up to is that her organization has been trying to keep Gravel out of the debates. Then she went on to add, “Our guys should talk about this.” Well, the response killed everything in that regard and made it difficult for future debates to exclude me. But Moveon.org did not include me in its first town meeting. I understand it will now include me. Then HRC [Human Rights Campaign] was not inviting me to its debate in Los Angeles [on August 9] when it was inviting Hillary, Edwards, and Obama, who all have some trouble getting their hands around the [same-sex] marriage question. Why it would not invite me, with my record on civil rights, I do not know. Hillary’s statement was a categorical admission that her camp has tried to cut me out, though, and a real look at her character.
DORIAN DAVIS: Since you brought it up, I know you are in favor of same-sex marriage. Why do you think the other contenders for the Democratic nomination have stumbled so much on the marriage question?
SENATOR GRAVEL: Because they’re gutless. Their sense of civil rights goes to what is acceptable politically. But when candidates step out and take the right positions on principle, then they move the American public to a principled position.
DORIAN DAVIS: Unlike the other candidates, you are advocating a Fair Tax, which would replace the income and payroll taxes with a national sales tax, among other things. Explain how that works.
SENATOR GRAVEL: Well, the biggest problem we have domestically is our tax system. Under the current system, if you’re poor and have no income, you get nothing. Average people carry the load, and the poor are unattended. So, I advocate a Fair Tax. What we’ll do under this plan is send you a check every month for the sales tax that you will pay on the essentials of life. This will protect the poor. It will cover their basic expenses. The rest of us will pay as we spend. The more you spend, the more you pay. If you don’t want to pay, don’t spend. So, this will create a cash flow to the poor, not only to the average citizen.
DORIAN DAVIS: One question sure to come up in the HRC/LOGO debate on August 9 is the future of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” How do you stand out from the rest of the Democratic field on this?
SENATOR GRAVEL: Hillary promised to solve this problem in 1992 and wimped out. Now her defense is, “It was a transition policy.” Transition, hell. It’s been here for 14 years. Obama is doing the same thing. He says we need more troops. What we need to do is not throw soldiers out who have a different sexual orientation. Obama is drinking the Kool Aid, like all the other politicians who have bowed to the Military Industrial Complex.
DORIAN DAVIS: Senator, I’m going to publish this and, inevitably, someone will say, “The Senator is anti-military.” How do you respond to that?
SENATOR GRAVEL: I’m the only person on the Dais who has served. I enlisted and served three years [1951-54 in West Germany]. I get my medicines from the Department of Veterans Affairs. What I resent is that the Military Industrial Complex has imbued our culture with a sense of militarism; a sense that everything the military does is good. The best way to support the troops is not to send them into fraudulent wars. Our soldiers died in vain in the Vietnam War. The same thing is happening in Iraq. More soldiers are dying because we lack the leadership in the Democrat-controlled Congress to end the war.
DORIAN DAVIS: In the CNN/YouTube debate, Senator Biden said that a pull-out would result in a civil war, and threaten the lives of the 3,000 American civilians we have living in Iraq. How do you respond?
SENATOR GRAVEL: All the statements made that it will be a bloodbath are correct. There is no question. But we instigated it. We brought it about. There is nothing we can do about that. Now, we must dislodge ourselves. The answer is to engage with Iran. We forget that Iran helped us to whip the Taliban in Afghanistan. So, countries like Iran and Syria ought to be engaged. These countries have a greater stake than we have in the stability of the Middle East.
DORIAN DAVIS: Earlier, we talked about the HRC/LOGO debate on August 9. Senators Clinton, Obama, and Edwards have opted out of another controversial debate, the Fox News debate, in September. Will you be there?
SENATOR GRAVEL: I sure will. The Fox News debate is co-sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus. The fact that the others won’t attend is rank hypocrisy. There is no question that Fox News leans conservative, but think about this: Fox News is owned by Rupert Murdoch, a greedy expansionist, who has dumbed down the world’s media. He has held a fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton. Now, she won’t go to the debate because Fox News is biased. Is there anything that rings truer with respect to Hillary’s character?
DORIAN DAVIS: Speaking of Senator Clinton, her campaign has raised more than $50 million. Obama’s has raised more than $40 million. Are you at a disadvantage, as far as fundraising?
SENATOR GRAVEL: Money is the corrupting influence of our political system. These people are compromised by the special interests. I am not.
Mike Gravel represented Alaska in the U.S. Senate from 1969 until 1981. He is the author of Citizen Power, and founder of The Democracy Foundation, an organization that promotes direct democracy. To learn more, visit him online at http://WWW.GRAVEL2008.US.
Dorian Davis is a writer living in Washington, DC.