GRAVEL, PAUL, KUCINICH: INDEPENDENT VOICES
Every Sunday CUIP’s political director Jacqueline Salit and strategist and philosopher Fred Newman watch the political talk shows and discuss them. Here are excerpts from their dialogue on Sunday, July 8, 2007 after watching “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
Salit: We watched “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” a departure from our usual line up. He did a feature segment on two insurgent candidates in the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries: Ron Paul, the sitting Congressman from Texas, on the Republican side and Mike Gravel, former U.S. Senator from Alaska, on the Democratic side. Ron Paul is the only Republican presidential candidate who’s opposing the war and actually was a critic of the war from the very start. In setting up the segment, Stephanopoulos ran film of Congressman Paul on the floor of the House in 2002 speaking out against giving President Bush the authorization to go to war.
Newman: Ron Paul is an independent. He comes out of the independent movement.
Salit: Yes, he’s from the Libertarian Party. He was the Libertarian presidential candidate in 1988. As Stephanopoulos said to Congressman Paul, ‘You were all alone at that time, but now every day there are more and more announcements of members of the Republican Party coming out against the war.’ Obviously, the American people have spoken loudly on this. Tell me what ran through your mind when you saw the film of Ron Paul on the floor of Congress arguing against the war?
Newman: What we’ve said before and will say again: that independents are able to shape positions which come closer to where the people are. Democrats and Republicans who are party loyalists can’t easily do that. They can’t do that because their loyalty is fundamentally party loyalty.
Salit: When Stephanopoulos set up the Mike Gravel segment, he also ran some historical footage, but from a much earlier period and from a different war, the Vietnam War. We saw Gravel, when he was the U.S. Senator from Alaska, reading the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record. It looked to be a very charged moment on the floor of the Senate and also a very emotional one.
Newman: It was a very charged moment for the country.
Salit: What went through your mind when you were watching that footage?
Newman: It made me feel honored and privileged to know Mike and, in some small ways, to have worked with him over the years. He is passionate in what he believes – that the country has lost its compass and the American people have to reassert themselves. I feel connected to that, and to Paul and to Dennis Kucinich, who is saying some similar things. In my opinion, Kucinich is more of a “real” Democrat than Gravel is, or than Paul is a Republican. What I’ve been mainly interested in, tactically, is seeing whether those insurgent candidates can take the debates in a more independent, pro-people direction. Can they move Barack Obama, for example? Everyone seems to think that he’s the most moveable major contender. Can that happen? I think that’s worth working on with greater passion and precision than has been the case.
Salit: He’s got the money. He’s got the appeal. He’s got the microphone.
Newman: Everybody talks about the last 30 years as the Republican Revolution. They conveniently forget that for eight of those years, Bill Clinton was the President of the United States.
Salit: Maybe that’s because he seemed like a Republican.
Newman: As I’ve said before, I don’t think that Clintonism has been challenged, but I think it’s beginning to happen more. In these interviews with Gravel and Paul you see that happening. But neither Gravel nor Kucinich nor the independent movement can afford to wait until it narrows down to just one or two candidates. Hillary and Clintonism – she doesn’t just stand for Clintonism, she is Clintonism – must be taken on now, tactically speaking. So, when I saw these interviews, I felt positive about them. Of course, ABC News is doing them as “throwaways.” The message is “Ain’t Gravel cute?” I think that misses the whole point. What Gravel is saying is closer to the voice of the people, and likewise for Kucinich and Ron Paul, than the major candidates. So, to be related to as eccentric throwaways is an insult to the American people, though I don’t think the American people quite see it that way. I would urge our readers to give more public support to what Kucinich and Paul and Gravel are saying. This is not to deny interest in Obama or whoever happens to be running. But, in my opinion, those three stand out as closest to the voice of the American people at this point. This is not to glorify them. I have my own feelings about each of them, but I think what they’re doing is actually rather courageous. Do I have my own tactical preferences that differ from theirs? Yes, but that’s neither here nor there. I think independents should make the demand that they get more airtime, that there be more stories on them, that they be covered more. They all have at least a claim to being independent candidates in these partisan debates.
Salit: Maybe there’s a tendency to think that at some point an independent will get into the race. The pundits are talking as if that’s going to happen. And it may. But it also may not.
Newman: At the moment, this is what we have. And they would impact more if their voices were louder, including that they would be functioning as players in this game of Will there be an independent candidate? Ultimately, the people will determine whether there’s going to be an independent candidate. Maybe that will be through Unity08. Maybe it will be something else. But the way the people will influence the process is to speak on what’s before us right now. Right now there are the Republican and Democratic Party presidential debates. The three people of immediate importance, relative to independents, are those three candidates.
Salit: Stephanopoulos talked with Gravel about the different things that Gravel did, individually and as part of the anti-war movement, to move the Democrats to oppose and ultimately defund the Vietnam War, essentially forcing a withdrawal of American troops. So Stephanopoulos said to Gravel ‘That was quite an accomplishment, but many people would say that it kept the Democrats out of power for the ensuing X number of years…’
Newman: Except for Bill Clinton.
Salit: Except for Bill Clinton.
Newman: Which was eight long years.
Salit: Right. Stephanopoulos presented the argument that the Republicans were able to spin the Democrats pulling the plug on funding for the troops as “evidence” that the Democrats were soft on security and military issues.
Newman: Something that I do not agree with at all.
Salit: Gravel responded ‘If the price we have to pay is that the Democrats don’t get elected to the White House, if that’s the price for saving the lives of Iraqis and Americans and ending this war, which is an immoral war, then I’m willing to pay that price.’
Newman: On moral grounds, I support that, but it’s the thing I liked least about what Gravel said. I don’t think he should have conceded the point that that’s what triggered the right wing revolution, or whatever you want to call it. I don’t think that’s true at all. I actually think it was the failure of the Democrats to build off of the success of ending the Vietnam War and go, if you will, in a more independent/progressive direction. The failure to do that gave us much of what turned out to be neo-conservatism.
Salit: The backlash against progressivism.
Newman: Yes. If you look at how the independent movement has developed over the last 15-20 years, you could argue that what it’s independent of is a Democratic Party that won’t stand up for serious principles and has backed away from taking on the most critical fight.
Salit: That’s an interesting point, particularly in light of the fact that independents are, generally speaking, more inclined to vote for Democrats these days. But that means independents are in a stronger position to more directly challenge the Democrats to provide a new kind of progressive leadership.
Newman: What independents are asking is where is the independent voice, the people’s voice, in leading our country? There’s been none. That was potentially there after the American people won the fight to end the Vietnam War.
Salit: But the Democratic Party didn’t go down that road.
Newman: No, and the Democrats were in the political wilderness until Clinton, who was successful by virtue of his moving to center-right positions on endless issues. That’s an issue that independents have to bring into the presidential campaign. The Clinton years were about redefining and renegotiating the terms on which the corporate sector operated – and the Clintonian terms were highly favorable to business interests and not favorable to the American people. Those issues have to be brought out now, because once things move into the primaries, in my opinion, a lot of what we’re talking about now is no longer relevant. What’s relevant at that point is the vote count. The remainder of the primary debates are key for this reason.
Salit: There’s one debate a month from now through the end of the year, so there should be six or more debates.
Newman: I would urge that independents move on this tactically in the way that we’re suggesting. They should send letters to Kucinich and Gravel and Paul. They should send letters to the editor about Kucinich, Gravel and Paul. They should write to them. They should phone them. They should e-mail them. They should send letters to their local papers saying We demand that you interview Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, and Ron Paul. We want to see them in here. Again, not because they’re going to get elected president or even make any serious showing in the primaries. But this is shaping time.
Salit: It’s not vote counting time.
Newman: Yes. And in my opinion, when Gravel, Paul and Kucinich say they’re going to win, it reduces their credibility. I think that it’s more important for them to say I think I’m going to be elected. But it doesn’t make a difference whether I’m elected. What makes a difference is if we bridge the gap between where the people of this country are at and where the official politicians of the Democratic and Republican Parties are at. That would be a very significant accomplishment for them. I’m glad to give my time and effort to that.
Salit: Stephanopoulos had a panel discussion about the Scooter Libby matter. Was there any “there” there?
Newman: Why wasn’t the panel asked to comment on the Gravel and Paul interviews? How come they were left out and instead we go back to Bush and his commutation of Scooter Libby’s sentence? I didn’t get much out of that section, other than that Katrina vanden Heuvel and The Nation are more for Kucinich than they are for Gravel.
Salit: She did manage to make that point, yes. Thanks, Fred.
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