4/30/2007

The Legend of Mike Gravel

The most colorful figure in last week's Democratic presidential debate was former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel (official campaign site). From the very beginning he established himself as the unvarnished loose cannon who was not afraid to speak truth to power. Seeing that he really had nothing to lose, he came out with his guns a-blazing.

But did he actually hit any targets?

In my estimation, he actually did.

Let's be clear. Mike Gravel is not going to be the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee. However, he has already made a tremendous impact on the psychology of Democrats and Democratic legislators.

Let me explain. During the debate, Gravel fielded a question about how he would resolve the conflict. He said we should "get out" because "the Iraqis don't want us there, but we insist on staying!" He then said he would "make it a felony" for Bush to continue to prosecute this war and urged the other Democrats on stage to pass a law instead of a resolution to achieve this. After all, he reminded everyone, Bush said earlier that America was not pulling out of Iraq on his watch and that it would be a decision for "future presidents" to make.

That certainly got liberal antiwar Democrats fired up.

But then he went a step further. He said Pelosi didn't have to worry because she had the votes in the House of Representatives to keep passing bills ending the war. But for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), he said he should show some backbone and not worry about Republicans' threats of filibustering. Instead, he should schedule a cloture vote every day to get that bill passed. And if he did that while the Republicans continued to filibuster or Bush continued to veto this legislation, "it would be clear to everyone who was prolonging this war." (That's not an exact quote because I don't have the debate transcript with me, but that's the gist of what he said.)

And you know what? That's close to what the Democrats are going to do now. Even though Bush said he would veto the bill, the Democrats have said they will send him the bill anyway. Some Democrats have suggested they will send him the bill several times. I am not sure if they adopted this strategy before or after the debate, but at the very least, even if this idea did not come from Gravel himself, he still forcefully advocated this approach, which likely did not fall on deaf ears.

And by doing this, he showed the Democrats how to fight.

There's some debate about whether longshots should be allowed to participate in presidential debates because they often take precious time away from more viable candidates to express their positions. However, they can be beneficial in that they can throw more established candidates off script. In Gravel's case, it may behoove Democrats to keep him on the stage at the debates because he may be quite instructional to his colleagues in Washington and activists everywhere. Of course, Republicans will love to give Gravel as much exposure as possible because it would allow them to tar all Democrats as "far left lunatics." But I think most responsible voters see Gravel as a fringe candidate based on his lack of decorum alone.

National Journal was really miffed by his "rudeness" and dropped him from their biweekly race rankings. I think that's a mistake. My view is that knowledge is everywhere. You just have to know how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Even if Gravel comes across as something less than what is commonly considered senatorial or presidential, his advice about resolving the Iraq impasse suggests to me that people are giving him far less credit than he deserves.

Update: According to Parker (check the comments to this post), John Edwards advocated the exact same approach that Mike Gravel mentioned in the debate. Again, according to Parker, John Edwards stated this on NPR "about a month ago." If John Edwards owns this strategy, then Mike Gravel may have further validated it. At the very least, this is very favorable for John Edwards and really puts Barack Obama on the spot.

3 comment(s):

Parker said...

For your information, I heard John Edwards interviewed on NPR a month ago and during that interview he said that if the President vetoed any legislation the Democratically controlled Congress sent him to cut the funding for the war or set a date for withdrawal...the Congress should just keep sending the same bill back to Bush, as many times as necessary. So he didn't get the idea from Gravel's debate comments, refreshing as they were.

Feel free to check out my blog at www.runningforamerica.blogspot.com

Anthony Palmer said...

Parker:

Thanks for your comment. I was unaware that Edwards advocated this approach on NPR. I will amend my post to reflect this new information.

Having said that, hearing Gravel advocate this so forcefully surely helped other Democrats feel a bit more comfortable with where they should go from here.

Also, it seems that those candidates who are not currently in office seem to be the most averse to taking the big steps regarding resolving this.

Reginald Harrison Williams said...

I just don't get it.

Why don't the Dems just sit on this vetoed bill. Why compromise?

The public is on the Dems side.

Let the President sweat out his $1000 suit and dusty cowboy hat.

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.