Former U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska opened his campaign for president more than a year ago at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. It was the real deal, complete with supporters, reporters and television cameras.And it's not only his sense of humor that sets him apart; it's also his deep reverence for human life -- even if the humans look a bit different!
His odds of success, he knew at the time, were long.
“Who knows, the American people are so fed up with dysfunctional government that anything is possible today,” he said then.
Not much has changed, but Mike Gravel plods along at the back of the pack, ever the determined Alaskan. He gets a few drops of ink here and there in the press and a few moments of air time. He continues on, however, using the platform of a presidential campaign to get attention — albeit quite limited — for the things he believes in.
It’s been a long time since Mr. Gravel served in the Senate — nearly a generation. He served from 1969 to 1980, when he lost in the Democratic primary. Republican Frank Murkowski went on to claim the seat in that year’s general election.
The passage of so much time makes it fairly likely that Alaskans probably know as little about their former senator as the rest of the nation does. So here are few clues, taken from some of the recent accounts of Sunday’s Democratic presidential candidates debate in New Hampshire:
* “Two long shot hopefuls — former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich — denounced what they called the lack of leadership by congressional Democrats after voters returned them to power last November.”
* “At the conclusion of the two-hour debate, the candidates were asked what their top priority would be for their first 100 days in office: … Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel: Remind congressional leaders they can end the war in Iraq now.”
* “To a question on whether English should be the official language in the United States, only former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel raised his hand in the affirmative.”
* “Asked what role former President Clinton would play in a new Democratic White House: … Gravel said he would use him as a traveling goodwill ambassador. ‘He can take his wife with him, she’ll still be in the Senate.’”
He may not have the votes, but at least he has a sense of humor.
What a remarkable departure from contemporary American politics.
Have a good look, Alaska. This may be your last chance.