Former U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel
Announcement of Candidacy
for the 2008 Democratic Presidential Nomination
National Press Club
Washington, DC
April 17, 2006

GREGORY FOSSEDAL: Some years ago gasoline prices were in the midst of tripling.  One man stood up for working people and common sense and proposed building a pipeline to liberate the vast energy resources of the Northwest.  Some years ago this country was enmeshed in a culture of secrecy and deceit and a crisis of confidence in its leaders.  One man took the floor of the United States Senate, read the Pentagon Papers and brought the untold truth of an untold war into the light of day.  At a time when many others feared to do so, he staged a one man filibuster against the draft, coauthoring in effect today's all volunteer military.

Today is historic in a couple ways.  Today we have a candidate for president who proposes as part of his platform to provide the people with the means to hold him to his platform if he is elected, as he will explain.  Today as well we witness what may be the earliest start to a campaign.  Well, the country needs political reform.  We have a statesman qualified to lead the discussion.  We may as well start.  It's my privilege to introduce you to this man.  I am proud to present a true American folk hero, the man from Alaska, a re-Founding Father in the fight to empower all Americans as lawmakers and, as of today, in the 2008 presidential election, the frontrunner: Sen. Mike Gravel.  [applause].

MIKE GRAVEL: Thank you all for coming.  We're a great country, we really are, but we can do better.  We must embrace our Founding Fathers' intentions that we evolve democracy to remain true to its founding principles.  Lincoln, 140 years ago, defined our government: "of the People, by the People, and for the People."  It falls to us, today, to now give full meaning to a Government "by the People" so our common wisdom is reflected in our national policies.  Today's advances in information and communications technology provide us unprecedented ability to communicate as citizens, and all that's lacking in the political process is a mechanism that permits citizens to play a direct role in the operations of their government.

Our country needs a renewal末renewal not just of particular policies, or of particular people, but of democracy itself.  I believe that the remedy for the state of our political alienation is the civic renewal embodied in the "National Initiative for Democracy."  The National Initiative is legislation that colleagues and I have developed.  The National Initiative末when enacted into law末will bring all citizens into the operations of their government.

Our three branches of government have become like an unstable chair, a three legged chair.  The Founders could not have envisioned how much money and special interests would corrupt the political process.  Giving us Americans legislative power will put forth a fourth leg on that stool and make it stable.  And of course we will be adding a check to our system of Checks and Balances which have been somewhat obliterated of late with all three parts of government controlled by one party.  I believe the internet adage: "all of us together are smarter than any one of us alone."  I say: "Let the People Decide."

Lawmaking is the central power of government, not voting on Election Day.  Politicians have purposely made the electoral process uncompetitive and jealously guard their monopoly of lawmaking.  Whoever makes the laws determines who we vote for, when we vote and how we vote末Florida and Ohio are recent examples of that.

Representative government is mired in a culture of lies and corruption.  The corrupting influence of money has created a class of professional politicians raising huge sums to maintain their power.  These politicians then legislate in the interests of the corporations and interest groups that put up the money.

Are today's politicians any more corrupt than those of earlier days?  I don't think so.  Most men and women enter public service and begin with an attitude and a concern for the public good.  It's the power they hold that corrupts them.  Throwing the rascals out末Democrats or Republicans or for that matter any party may make us feel a little better, may make us give us some therapy, but reshuffling the deck won't make any difference.  We hope against hope that our representatives will correct and reform government, but it's like asking the foxes to redesign the chicken-coop.

The flaws of representative government aren't in either the structure of representative government or with those who manage it.  It's both.  It's the structure of representative government that makes its managers susceptible to corruption, greed, injustice and self serving interests.

As an elected official for 16 years of my life, I fought within the system on issues; I felt deeply about them and to some degree I felt the pressures of this process. The voters will evaluate my record and pass judgment on the totality of my public service.  When I left office a generation ago I was disgusted with government and politics.  I withdrew entirely from the public arena for a decade.

Over the last 15 years with the help of committed colleagues, much study, trial and error, we were able to codify a concept and methodology that could make citizens lawmakers in every government jurisdiction of the United States.  My campaign will focus public attention on the National Initiative; it will empower American citizens.  We have designed a voting procedure for citizens to enact the National Initiative.  It's a process that goes around the government and directly to the people.  Without it the American people will never be empowered.

Equipping Americans with deliberative lawmaking tools will unleash civic creativity beyond imagination.  A partnership of citizen-lawmakers with their elected legislators will in fact make representative government, and those who are in it末our representatives末will make them more responsive to the needs of people.

Some people are cynical末they believe American citizens are unqualified, unqualified to vote on the policy issues that affect their lives.  These cynics fail to appreciate or are ignorant of the fact that 70% of American citizens have been legislating by initiative in states and local governments for the last 100 years.  Their record is as good as their representative legislators and from a fiscal point of view far, far superior.  It's almost 100% of the citizenry that legislates, if you include referendums on bond issues末very serious legislating.  Indeed, the idea of lawmaking by the people has been in operation at national and local levels for more than 150 years in what may be the most advanced political culture in history, the democratic republic of Switzerland.

We need to find solutions for our problems:

Consider our tax system.  Its unfairness is only superseded by its incomprehensibility.  Imagine for a moment what life would be like when we recognize the reality that our government can raise its revenues fairly and simply by eliminating the IRS and all income taxes末people may feel this particularly today末and replacing it with a straightforward and effective national sales tax with proper consideration for the necessities of life with a pre-bate.  It's called the Fair Tax末HB and SB 25 in Congress.   I doubt the Congress will enact it and that's why I make the pledge to place it before the people.  We'll "Let the People Decide" that.

Consider Social Security.  Why do our representatives threaten our children and grandchildren, their future, by taking money from the Social Security trust fund and spending it on the daily operations of government for whatever they are?  As President, I will place before the people a proposal to put real money in the Trust Fund, investing it properly and identifying the interests of individual beneficiaries so that they when they leave their surplus can be turned over to their heirs.  We'll "Let the People Decide" that one too.

Consider health care.  Harry Truman proposed it more than 50 years ago.  The Congress has yet to act meaningfully.  I will place before the people a universal health care plan.  We'll "Let the People Decide."  After all it's their health.

Many Americans are concerned about the war in Iraq, and about the broader questions of whether and how a great nation can admit mistakes and correct them.  I believe America is doing harm every day our troops remain in Iraq末harm to ourselves and to the prospects for peace in the world.  I will remove our troops expeditiously, without contingency.  President Bush's mistake is not worth the life or maiming of one more American soldier.

In foreign affairs I will pursue aggressive diplomacy末not war.

I will propose an amendment to the Constitution removing from Congress the power to declare war.  Since the Congress chooses to abdicate its responsibility to an imperial presidency I will make any declaration of war the responsibility of the people.  [applause]  Americans are entitled to know the facts and not be misled by the lies of a president and the misjudgments of a Congress.  It's the people treasure and the precious lives of fathers, mothers, sons and daughters that are placed in harm's way.  Certainly for this one we'll "Let the People Decide."

My campaign will address issues that are important to Americans with concrete solutions.  As president I will place my legislative agenda before the people for their decision.  We値l "Let the People Decide."

Like most Americans, I consider myself a person of faith.  I celebrate our pluralistic society and believe we need to foster respect for religious diversity.  I believe that faith末whatever denomination we choose末should improve us morally and ethically, and encourage our kindness and compassion for ALL people.  It should not be a tool to condemn others, and should not politicize the beliefs of others.  I was raised a Catholic and I have fond memories of those experiences.  As an adult I joined the Unitarian Church, which accepts many paths to spiritual experience.

It is my unreserved faith and trust in the common sense wisdom of the American people that brings me here today to announce my candidacy for the presidency of the United States.  [applause].

I stand here, I can stand here, because throughout my life I have had the love, friendship, support of family, teachers, friends, business and political colleagues in all the various communities I've lived in in my life.  I am blessed with a partner, devoted as I am, to meaningful causes, the love of my life Whitney.  [applause].

Thank you all and I'm sure some of you have some questions.  Thank you.

Who has the first question?  I think there's some press people in the room aren't there?  Or are there just photographers?


QUESTION:  Bill Elliot [phon.] with the Associated Press:  All of these initiatives sound very noble, but what's to stop American voters from bankrupting the system and blowing up our deficits in the name of self interest?

GRAVEL:  Excellent question, and I hope you all heard it.  What's to stop the Americans, or as Lord Acton said at the turn of the century, realizing that the people control the press, open up the strings and shower themselves with the money and bankrupt democracy?  That's what Lord Action says, who I admire.  He was dead wrong.  And as I said earlier if you look at the 100-year record in the United States of America of people voting by initiative you have not one instance in 100 years where people have acted irresponsibly with respect to the purse.  But now, go to Orange County, look at that district; go to New York, look at that district, and just look at the United States of America today.  We're bankrupting ourselves; that's not the people, that's the leaders.  And so fear not for the responsibility, the fiscal responsibility of the people.  You know why?  It's their money.  They're more conservative than their leaders and they're tired of being bribed by leaders who seek office with a pledge, I'm going to bring home the bacon, whatever the bacon is.

Next question.  I took a long time because they're not coming at me very fast.  [laughter].  I'll make another speech if you let me.


QUESTION (Bill Elliot):  Sure.  You mentioned the growing role of technology and what technology can do for democracy but there are so many people who don't have access to this technology.  I mean we really are living in two Americas.  What are you going to do for those who don't have access to the Internet?  How are they going to play a part in this democracy?

GRAVEL:  First off, I don't buy that.  I think the technology today is getting more ubiquitous all the time and so...a laptop or a computer will be as ubiquitous as the telephone within five years.  So I don't think that's the case.  But we can provide--this is not rocket scientry, you know we can provide kiosks for voting, we can provide telephone, a collect telephone call where you can vote.  And second thing on the voting, we're not talking about getting out on a rainy Tuesday and waiting in line for like a student told me eight hours in Ohio.  We're talking about voting over a week, [inaud.] and you can vote from anywhere in the world.  Just enter your pin number and you proceed to vote on the national issue, a state issue or a local issue.  The technology is there to do that.  Isn't it interesting that we still use effectively a stylus and a punch.  [Inaud.] over there, we press the screen that they put in front of us.  Essentially that technology, not the screen, but the stylus and the punch, was invented with the pharohs.  I mean I'm not going back 225 years, I'm just末it's just unbelievable.  So there's no reason.  Americans, and I know we cherish our money, we move our money around electronically all the time from all over the world.  And why can't we do that for voting?

But you see you have to understand the political community does not want to make it easy for the American people.  You make it easy they may get involved in government.  Make no mistake about it, most states it's a charade to get to vote.  If you move across the street, you get there and they say oh you're no longer registered.  One of the first things the Electoral Trust, the body that will be implementing the legislative procedures on behalf of the people, the first they will do is go out and register all Americans for life.  And that's not hard to do with technology that there is.

Another question.  This young man here.

QUESTION:   Could you outline your foreign policy program outside of Iraq, for example relations with Russia and other major foreign powers?

GRAVEL:  You use Russia, but let me be more general than that.  I do not believe in sanctions as a basic tool of foreign policy.  Sanctions are designed to make people hate you.  We are the wealthiest, strongest power in the world.  And so when we turn to Iraq, that's a good example, Iraq.  For ten years we sanctioned Saddam Hussein.  Five hundred thousand children died.  Diarrhea, lack of medicine.  Five hundred thousand people died末children末from sanctions.  Do you think Saddam Hussein missed a meal during those ten years?  Of course not.  Do you think, we saction Iran, and we're talking about even doing crazier things than that, but do you think the leadership of Iran is suffering from that.  Heck no.  They tell their people, hate these people because look how they're punishing you.  They're not punishing you; of course sometimes their stupidity is punishing their people, but they can blame us because they can point to us with sanctions and we advertise it in the world that we're going to sanction them.

I want to tell you, people are going to laugh at this but I'm very serious when I say it.  North Korea.  I happen to know that the head of North Korea, the tyrant, loves American movies; he just loves American movies.  I will tell you, I become president of the United States I will ask Steven Spielberg as a special ambassador to go to North Korea and meet with that gentleman and invite him to Hollywood.

My foreign policy will be characterized by talking.  When you talk you don't fight.  And when you don't talk you begin to hate.  And that's what's wrong with the world today.  We need to do more talking.  So when I say my foreign policy will be characterized by aggressive diplomacy, I'm not a wimp.  I've got to tell you we'll have a strong military force to deal with our problems, but stop and think a moment.  The United States spends more on defense than all the rest of the world put together.  Now who are we afraid of?  Britain at the top of its power only appropriated enough money, it was more than the two closest possible opponents.  I mean we've got to bring some sanity.  Stop and think of this.  Dwight Eisenhower was the first and last president of the United States to acknowledge the existence of the military-industrial complex.  What does that say about all the presidents that followed him?


QUESTION:  Mike could you talk about the process of getting elected in terms of the primaries and all of that?

GRAVEL:  First off, make no mistake about it, we're starting very humbly.  In fact Whitney and I took the subway here.  [laughter].  We're not that poor but we heard that there was a lot of crush out there so--but no.  Our intent is to start, open up--raise money, we've got to raise some money and that's very serious to us, we've got to raise some money so we can open up offices and have a staff.  Obviously I was weaned in public service with a staff; when I left office I had about 60 people at my beck and call.  Right now I've just got volunteers and I don't beckon, I beckon softly.  So that's how you handle volunteers.  But I think with the volunteers that I have we have an unusual cadre of some very, very sophisticated, bright and I would characterize some of them borderline genius.  They're not big names.  I've had people ask me well who's the big name that's in your organization.  I think the biggest name that we've got is Gregory Fossedal, who introduced me.  You know he's an author of a book called Democracy in Switzerland, he used to be an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal.  But we've got people, in French you say hommes de poids.  People that have got weight.  And so we're blessed with that, and so we'll build from that.  And we plan on getting qualified in every single state of the United States.

Obviously when I start末in about two weeks we're going to get up to New Hampshire, we're going to get to Iowa, we're going to get to South Carolina; take our breath a little bit; probably hopefully do some fundraisers when people will invite us into various places of the United States.  And then we'll just campaign slowly.  We're not going to break our pick; we're just going to get out there and do the job properly.  And the whole thing rests on, not me as an individual, it rests on will the message of empowering the people as lawmakers resonate with the American people.  The polls show overwhelmingly Americans want to be empowered.  They just don't know there's a plan out there that's ready to go.  And it won't be enacted by the Congress, it'll be enacted by them.

And I think it's a very important process to have it enacted by them, because even if the Congress wants to pass it we must go through the catharsis of taking responsibility.  You know many times末we're talking civic adolescents.  [Inaud.] people ask I want this road, but I don't want any taxes.  That doesn't add up; people have to be responsible.  We love to blame Bill; we love to blame George.  We're responsible.  No one else.  And we must mature to that level, to adulthood.  How do we bring up our children?  We give them responsibility, and then we hope with that responsibility they'll grow to adulthood.  And then when they're adults we hope that they move out.  [laughter].  But bear in mind, what do you think of a political system that is literally designed, literally designed to deny the people their ability to take responsibility, and that is the system of representative government that we have.


QUESTION:  Well people cannot micromanage the government so how do you decide what issues they will vote on?

GRAVEL:  You're quite right.  You're quite right.  People can't manage in the micro and we don't envisage that.  But I firmly believe that people can make 100 percent of the policy issues that affect your lives.  And if you'll notice in my statement I said policy; I say policy again, and appropriate money.  But what will happen as I said earlier, by taking vexatious issues末I can recall when I was in the Senate and I think it happened after, Jesse Helms would put on the abortion amendent on anything that could walk across the Senate floor.  It's ridiculous--wasted a lot of time of these people who must focus on what the people need.  And so I maintain that if the people will take the policy issues to themselves and the controversial issues because once they're settled by the people, they're settled for a while, and then leave the day-to-day operations to our elected representatives who I think will function better, and will be much末they'll reach back into the bowels of government and take all that power that they were pushing away and bring it back to themselves in order to qualify for their jobs in responding to the people.  Does that answer your question?

Thank you.  The gentleman over there.

QUESTION:  Senator Gravel, could you talk for a moment about the need for rail and cutting the dependence on foreign oil and to stop giving money to people who want to kill us?

GRAVEL:  Le me say I have an energy policy and it's a de facto also an environmental policy.  I am going to start when I am president by calling forth a global effort, not just a United States effort, with leaders like NATO, we've got a lot of people involved in NATO.  Well in the energy effort we're going to bring the scientists of the world from Japan, China, Europe, you name it, South America, we're going to bring them together, we're going to put up our money and we're going to ask them to put up their money, and these scientists globally will integrate and go after and I believe in a decade we can solve our dependency on oil.  That's the effort that I think needs to be done.

I'll add to that with respect to fighting terrorism.  Putting armies in the field to fighting terrorism is ridiculous.  What we did in Afghanistan is much different that what we did in Iraq.  In Afghanistan we had units, special units that went out and chased Osama bin Laden.  Unfortuanately a lot of their capacity was shifted over to Iraq for no reason.  Iraq--Saddam Hussein was not a threat to American citizens.  Do you remember the rhetoic of the day?  Oh, God, we've got to be fearful because Saddam Hussein is a threat to us.  He never was and we found out since the war, since Americans dead, since Iraqi dead that he was not a threat because he didn't have all of these vaunted weapons.

In '02 I, in the summer of '02 I was speaking out against the war and I very disrespectfully said if his lips are moving, he's lying.  I'm talking about the president.  I'm not disrespectful to the office, but I think he is disrespectful to the office of the presidency of the United States.  [applause].  I hope I've answered your question.

Now the way to fight terrorism末terrorism has been with mankind forever.  Terrorism is a global problem.  I will [inaud.] the beginning of a global institute that will fight terrorism and invite all of the intelligence communities that want to participate and all of the police units that want to participate末the organizations of these states/each state.  And that global organization will have one function: to root out terrorism wherever it exists.

Second thing.  You saw that we didn't even connect the dots between the CIA and the FBI.  How well do you think we connect the dots between French intelligence, where I was one a liaison office, and German intelligence and Saudi intelligence and South American intelligence?  How well do you think we really do connect those dots when we can't event do it at home?  And I'll say this very [inaud.].  The CIA had a budget of $26 billion when 9-11 occured.  Okay.  $26 billion.  That was more than the budget of North Korea, Iraq, Syria and Iran.  Just the CIA.  And after not connecting the dots we threw at them another $15 billion.  I hope they're doing better, but I've got to tell you, when I'm president you'd better believe they're going to do better and it's going to be a global effort, not just a national effort.

Any other questions?  I'm passionate [inaud].  No other questions.  Let's wrap it up, and I thank you very much for coming.  [applause].

#  #   #