Mike Gravel vs. the Constitution

This post, written by Rick Perlstein, originally appeared on the Campaign for America's Future

Senator Gravel's introducer, Raph Nader, was introduced to scattered boos, and spoke for 18 of Gravel's allotted 30 minutes. Then Gravel spoke for about six minutes.

First things first. Gravel is a man to whom all patriots owe a debt. People know he is somehow associated with the publication of the Pentagon Papers - the Defense Department historical study, thousands of pages of documents and analysis, that demonstrated that American presidents had been lying about Vietnam since shortly after World War II.

Daniel Ellsberg was the defense intellectual who leaked the study to newspapers. But it was Gravel who turned it into a public document, one everyone can read. As the Nixon adminstration was busy trying to enjoin their publication in court, Gravel, the 41-year-old senator from Alaska, had called an extraordinary two-man night "hearing" of his Subcommittee on Buildings and Grounds. He began reading aloud from the four thousand page typescript. He started at 9:45 PM. "The story is a terrible one," Gravel warned. "It is replete with duplicity, connivance against the public. People, human beings, are being killed as I speak to you. Arms are being severed; metal is crashing through human bodies." Then, he began to weep. Word of mouth spread; aides and reporters working late started filtering into the hearing room. He read for three hours and then recessed, noting to reporters he might be risking expulsion from the Senate. He stopped at 1:12 AM, promising to continue the next day. By then, he had broken out in sobs once more.

Hero then. Bad man now.

Briefly - very briefly - Gravel rushed through his plan to overturn the constitutional system. "You say 'take back the power'? The people never had it. The constitution is not a very democratic document.... Our checks and balances are voided whenever one party, Democratic or Republian, controls all three branches ofgovernment.... we can only participate every two years." You can read about Gravel's plan to change all that here.

He laid out, too, his plan one Iraq: "We can have all Americans home by Christmas. Doesn't that sound great?"

In theory. But not the way Gravel wants to do it. He laid out a legislative strategy of passing a war-ending bill, calling up Senate cloture votes ever single day "until you override the opposition." Once you get cloture, you get a veto - and then, "You have an override vote on Monday, on Tuesday, on Wednesday, on Thursday, on Friday - no weekends off."

Fine. There's a great argument to be made for the strategy. But here's something else he proposed: introducing legislation to make the President and Vice President felons for what they have done in Iraq.

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