Regardless of my views on former Senator Mike Gravel's presidential candidacy and his stands on the issues - and I will expand on these below - it was an honor and a pleasure to sit with Senator Gravel yesterday. In the 1970s, Mike Gravel was one of the "good guys" in the United States Senate - one of a group of young progressive Democrats who were pushing the country forward - a group that included Birch Bayh (father of Evan), John Culver, and Don Riegle. The only two members of this group left in the Senate are Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden. Mike Gravel's service - in this company - was truly distinguished.
I feel strongly that given Senator Gravel's distinguished service to this country, he is owed an attentive and respectful airing of his views. I hope that I have done this in the two-part interview that I posted this afternoon.
Senator Gravel is running to promote what might fairly be termed a radical populist agenda. He is seeking no less than a fundamental change in the constitutional structure of our government. At the same time, he is seeking a fundamental change in how our government finances itself.
In order to support these making radical changes in short order, it is important to be clear about the necessary conclusion - that our system of government is as dysfunctional now as the Articles of Confederation were in the late 1780s. Clearly, Senator Gravel has come to this conclusion. I have not - not yet.
Not having come to this conclusion, I look at Senator Gravel's proposals and see unintended and unforeseen consequences as far as the eye can see - and beyond. No one - not Senator Gravel nor I nor anyone else - can really foresee the America that would emerge after undertaking the changes proposed by the Senator. Given this, I would want to proceed very cautiously, if at all, on them.
With respect to the Senator's views on foreign policy, I believe that he is too sanguine about the intentions of the Islamic Republic of Iran, particularly what has been learned about the attempts of President Ahmadinejad to enter into an entente with Al-Qaeda. Regardless of the history - and the United States is far from blameless here - I don't believe that Iran represents no threat to this country. We need to take appropriate measures to protect ourselves - both military and diplomatic.
What about Senator Gravel's chances in the coming political season? The conventional wisdom says that Senator Gravel is too old and too far from the mainstream to make a serious run at the White House. I have a one-word response to the conventional wisdom: Reagan. There are some differences between Ronald Reagan and Mike Gravel. Reagan ran unsuccessfully for President before his successful 1980 run - he built on these experiences. Reagan's agenda - while out of the mainstream in the 1970s - was much less radical than Gravel's. At not quite 78 years of age, Reagan was younger upon leaving office than Gravel would be on entering it. (Gravel will be four months short of his 79th birthday on Inauguration Day 2009.)
These differences aside, there are some intriguing similarities. Like Ronald Reagan, Mike Gravel is a capable and affable politician. He won't scare people in the same way that Barry Goldwater did in 1964.
Mike Gravel's success in his Presidential run will depend on three things: his ability to build on his core group of true believers, the political temper of the next two years, and the fortunes of his political opponents. While success is improbable at this point, it would be foolish to dismiss Mike Gravel's candidacy out of hand. It merits watching - particularly over the next year running up to the first contest in Iowa.