Fueled by the ambition of two teenagers, ex-Alaska senator Mike Gravel is running for president with the explicit intention of entering Democratic debates
In 2008s Democratic race for the White House, a little-known former senator from Alaska, Mike Gravel, barnstormed the party debates, railing against Americas foreign wars and slamming his rival candidates as elitists out-of-touch with ordinary Americans.
Gravel did not make much of an impact in a competition defined by the epic battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, though his heartfelt criticism of the Iraq war struck a chord with a hard core of fans. Gravel was probably not helped by his grumpy old man persona and one of the strangest campaign videos of all time, called Rock, in which he stared wordlessly at a camera for an uncomfortably long period of time before turning around and throwing a large rock in a lake.
But now at the ripe old age of 88 and powered by the unlikely ambition of a pair of teenagers Mike Gravel is back and running for the White House again in 2020, with the explicit intention of gaining entry into the Democratic debates. He has even recorded a new, updated version of Rock.
Gravel has lost none of his personality over the last decade, nor his conviction that views like his are being kept out of politics by powerful forces. I didnt leave politics. The mainstream media decided to make off that I wasnt alive. So for the last 10 years, I have done various things, but it doesnt catch on in the media because they dont want to hear it. I challenged the military-industrial complex, and the media is controlled by the military-industrial complex and Wall Street, Gravel told the Guardian in an interview.
In a Democratic race already defined as one of the most diverse and exciting in recent memory, Gravels re-emergence is yet another odd twist. And few stories get odder than the return of Mike Gravel.
The first sign he was back happened towards the end of last month, when his usually inactive Twitter account became animated with attacks against Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, US military intervention and capitalism.
But it wasnt Gravel doing the tweeting. It was the work of two teens from upstate New York, David Oks and Henry Williams, who had recruited Gravel and urged him to run in the 2020 primary in order to push the foreign policy debate to the left.
I gave them my Twitter account, which I never used. I was very impressed with them, said Gravel. If they can get me in the debates, Ill go. Theyre doing all the work.
Though the tweets are not Gravels exact words, they are very close to what he believes. He thinks that candidates such as the former Texas congressman Beto ORourke and South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg are basically conventional wisdom candidates. The tweets are brutal and sometimes very funny. Cory Booker, for example, is assailed thus: If you want a vision of the future under Cory Booker, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever. and every once in a while it stops for an inspirational lecture on how we should never stop dreaming.
But the campaign is no joke. In order to get Gravel into the debates this summer, they will need at least 65,000 donors. But, according to the campaign team, Oks and Williams now have almost 20,000 unique donors with an average donation of $3.32.
Oks is still in high school and has been a fan of the senator since reading about him in Rick Perlsteins Nixonland, a narrative history of American politics in the 1970s. However, his interest in the former Alaska senator was reignited when Felix Biederman, one of the hosts of the popular socialist podcast Chapo Trap House, mentioned Gravel in a recent episode.
I decided that if we could draft him to run for president, it would be really cool, Oks said.
This isnt the first time Oks has been involved in politics. He previously ran for mayor of Ardsley, New York, and he was joined in that race and in this campaign by his friend Henry Williams, a freshman at Columbia majoring in physics, whom he met at Model UN. They are united by their belief that in the Democratic party, questions of foreign policy have been ignored. Too often, they argue, a world-view that the US has the right to intervene wherever it wishes and that America is a force for good in the world has dominated the discussion.
That was certainly the theme of Gravels 2008 run. An iconoclast, he seemed to relish his outsider status and thoroughly excoriated the other candidates at every opportunity. On live television, Gravel called out then senator Biden for voting for the Iraq war, and told him: You have a certain arrogance, you want to tell the Iraqis how to run their country. Im telling you, we should just plain get out.
But a quick look at Gravels 2020 platform shows the campaign is focused not only on foreign policy but on the domestic sphere as well. In what seems like a catalogue of radical leftwing policy positions they call for the Senate, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) and prisons to be abolished, college and healthcare to be free and for the power of the judiciary to be limited.
In leftist magazines, Gravel is winning some support, not least because he has promised to end his campaign once hes appeared in the debates. His aim, he says, is not a quixotic quest for the White House, it is to have a platform for views that he thinks are important and dont get aired often enough in US politics.
This has led some figures to be more positive about the campaign. In an article for Current Affairs, editor Nathan Robinson argued that Gravels presence on the debate stage would be a welcome development. I do want someone out there who is willing to bring up Chelsea Manning, who doesnt feel afraid of using the word empire to describe the US, he wrote.
For now, both Gravel and his team seem satisfied merely to shift the debate leftward, and Gravel himself believes that its time to hand the baton or, at least, the Twitter account to a younger generation. In Gravels opinion, hope lies in Generation X and the millennials. Certainly not my generation.
Though there are still hurdles to clear–for example, Gravels belief that 9/11 was an inside job is proving to be a challenge for the campaign. Recently, in a Vice News doc, he proffered the opinion that the Twin Towers were brought down with the use of controlled demolition. When confronted with this information, the campaign managers emphasized that Gravel is a vehicle for their ideas, and, therefore, his personal opinions arent that significant. However, Gravel is the candidate, and what he says on the campaign trail will be seen for better or worse as a reflection of his supporters values.
But, as with any presidential run, of course some around him dare to dream of the seemingly impossible. What would happen if Gravel managed to become the frontrunner?
Id probably have to take a gap year from college and focus on running a presidential campaign, Oks said.
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