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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Despite delay, Gravel addresses crowd

Published: April 11, 2008
Section: Front Page

In Lown auditorium late Sunday night, presidential candidate and former senator Mike Gravel gave a brief speech, followed by an impassioned talk with students on topics such as the National Initiative for Democracy, the 2008 campaign, the Senator’s recent switch from the Democratic to the Libertarian Party, global warming, and the military industrial complex.

Sen. Gravel, who is running for the Libertarian presidential nomination, participated in his first Libertarian debate Saturday. After the debate in Kansas City, Missouri, the Senator missed his flight and then encountered further delays. Gravel’s speech at Brandeis, which was supposed to begin at 8 p.m., was postponed until 11 p.m.

Students for a Democratic Society, the event’s sponsor, chose not to reschedule the speech for Monday because of the concern that they would not be able to find a replacement venue.

Despite the three-hour postponement, Gravel spoke to a packed auditorium.

In a telephone interview with The Hoot Wednesday, Sen. Gravel explained why he agreed to come to Brandeis. “[With] Brandeis having a theme of social justice it seemed fitting [to speak there] as that’s the theme of my entire political career.”

The former Alaskan senator began his speech by clarifying that his decision to become a Libertarian didn’t mean he had changed his values. In the Senate, Gravel said, members of the Democratic Party had viewed him as a “maverick.”

During the question and answer session he stated that he had always been a “closet Libertarian” and he now “wants to be the standard bearer.” He emphasized that the party’s views on domestic and foreign policy more closely coincide with his own. Specifically, he mentioned the party’s belief in a citizen’s right to many personal freedoms and the view that the U.S. should end the war in Iraq. In an interview, Gravel said that his supporters have been encouraging in regards to his switch to the Libertarian Party and some had even become Libertarians.

Gravel described extensively in his speech his “National Initiative for Democracy,” a law and constitutional amendment, which would give people the power to create laws. He detailed how he gradually came to the realization that simply informing the people was not enough as they have no power. In a democratic society, Gravel explained, power is lawmaking. Gravel, quoting Cicero, said, “Freedom is participation in power.”

A student posed the question, “What stops the majority from oppressing the minority?” Sen. Gravel replied, “nothing stops them.” He stated that a person should ask him or herself, “Do I have unreserved faith in the people?” and that one should consider the alternative, of having “faith in the elite.” He claimed that states, which have initiative legislation such as California, are the best governed. He went on to say that the people in those states “have done as good a job as elected officials.”

Gravel criticized the other candidates running for the 2008 presidency, specifically Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain, for being “cowards,” “gutless,” “egotistical,” and “dishonest” in their campaigns. “Leaders that play it safe, you get their egos…they just want to live in the White House,” he said.

He stated that “politicians lie” and “power corrupts,” but included himself in that category. “I’ve done it. I’ve walked in the mud with the best of them.” He described how when he was the Senator for Alaska he alienated his constituents, which was why he wasn’t re-elected.

When Gravel answered students questions, he seemed impassioned, but the discussion turned particularly heated when a student disagreed with Sen. Gravel’s criticism of Al Gore. Gravel stated that Gore had done much to inform the people on global warming, but only when he was out of office. A student thought that was an incorrect statement and contradicted the Senator, which sparked a tense debate. Sen. Gravel questioned the student about specific facts regarding global warming, which the student was able to answer. Although the Senator moved on to answer other students’ questions, he occasionally went back to the student who disagreed with him on Gore.

After the event Sen. Gravel stayed to take pictures with students and sign copies of his book Citizen Power: A Mandate for Change.

Gravel stated, in an interview, that if he is not elected president, then he would spend the rest of his live advocating the “National Initiative for Democracy” and trying to empower the people.