Yale Daily News

Updated: Friday, February 15, 2008 at 7:56pm

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Gravel urges direct democracy at YPU

Former Alaskan senator calls Obama’s claim he will change country ‘unadulterated bullshit’

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Staff Reporter
Published Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Mike Gravel admits the Democratic nomination for president is out of his reach. But he has his eyes on a different prize.

“I’m in this all the way to the end,” Gravel said in an interview with the News on Tuesday night. “The end is Nov. 3.”

The former Alaska senator says he plans to stay in the race until Election Day — although he does not yet know how, he admits. Gravel did not say whether continuing his campaign after the Democratic convention in August would mean running as an independent.

But he said he is committed.

“That’s not idle talk,” he said. “If you know anything about my background, when I say something, I really mean it.”

What keeps Gravel going, he said, is his vision of direct democracy, the topic of a Yale Political Union debate that he headlined Tuesday night. Speaking on the resolution, “Resolved: Power to the People,” Gravel said America can solve the grave problems it faces — among them the war in Iraq, health care, education, taxes and the environment — only by enlisting citizens as lawmakers through ballot initiatives and other reforms that would expand direct involvement in government.

“Change cannot come from representative government,” Gravel said during his remarks, which lasted about 15 minutes and were followed by 40 minutes of questions. “Representative government is broken, broken, broken.”

And on a night when Gravel’s rival for the Democratic nomination, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, wrapped up key victories in the mid-Atlantic primaries, Gravel took aim at Obama’s campaign mantra.

“From the other candidates you hear a lot of fluff, a lot of tiddlywinks. They don’t take names and kick butt,” Gravel said in his speech, which was delivered without notes. “Here comes a politician running a campaign for president saying he is going to heal the country — we’re going to have blue skies and everyone is going to hold hands. That is unadulterated bullshit.”

But Gravel, who is currently polling at 0 percent in national surveys, said it “would take almost an act of God” for him to beat Obama. The comment elicited thunderous laughter and applause — one of several uproarious outbursts during his speech. Another came when he admitted to having tried marijuana and cocaine.

After acknowledging his remote chances of capturing the White House, Gravel went on to describe what kind of president he would be.

“If I’m president, I’ll only serve four years and I’ll spend them going around the country bullying people to become lawmakers,” he said, fighting back a cough. “And if they don’t, I will resign, because if they don’t care enough to become lawmakers and don’t vote to empower themselves, then I don’t care enough to be their leader.”

While Gravel said he thinks his message is appealing to voters, he said the press has blocked it from reaching them. Because his message threatens them, the mainstream media have ignored his campaign, he alleged.

“They’d lose their power and influence when people get power,” he said. “The five corporations who control what you hear would have their power diluted if the people were in power.”

Wearing a “No War” lapel pin and a red tie inscribed with the cursive of the Declaration of Independence, Gravel said the media is “manipulating” this presidential election the same way they manipulated the run-up to the Iraq War.

After the debate, Gravel’s niece, Tina D’Amico, sold copies of Gravel’s book, “Citizen Power: A Mandate for Change” in the auditorium in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall, where he delivered his talk. Gravel said his next book, which he is writing with a professor at Columbia University, will be titled “Media Manipulation.”