Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mike Gravel is Not Running for President

Outside of Ron Paul, and maybe Dennis Kucinich, the hottest presidential candidate for either party these days seems to be, on the Web at least, Former Democratic Senator Mike Gravel.

Which is weird, because near as I can tell, he's not actually running for president.

As an aside, what does it say about the Internet that the most enthusiasm is found for candidates who poll just slightly above a lamp post?


As an open minded American voter (well, mostly open-minded. A pack of wild, rabid, leprous Jehovah's Witnesses couldn't get me to vote for Fred Thompson: Male Prostitute. No offense to any Jehovah's Witnesses out there.), I decided to learn all I could about this unheralded phenomenon. Who is Mike Gravel? And should I be rooting for him to steal the jeweled crown of the Democratic Nomination out from under the National Media Approved Three-headed Clintobamadwards behemoth?

So I went to his web site to find out where he stands on the issues.

That was my first hint that he wasn't actually running for president.

See, when you go to Mike Gravel's official web site, you get a chance to sign up for Mike Gravel's email newsletter, a chance to donate money to Mike Gravel, a chance to volunteer to help Mike Gravel, and a chance to "learn more" about Mike Gravel.

Learning more about Mike Gravel means you can read his bio- which includes high praise from Ralph Nader, or join Mike Gravel's YouTube Channel. Or interact with Mike Gravel's friends at MySpace. Or meet other Mike Gravel supporters at Meetup.com. Or talk about Mike Gravel at Google Groups. Or check out Mike Gravel on Facebook, virb, or Second Life.

Curious what his position on SCHIP? Look elsewhere. Curious as to his views on all the FISA hullabaloo? Out of luck. Wonder if he would support raising taxes on beef products in order to fund a massive Thunderdome-like facility that would serve as the final destination of all Death Row inmates? No clue.

But wouldn't that be really cool?

The point is, there's not an ounce of information on Mike Grave's website that tells you what he'd like to do as President.

Because he's not running.

But he has an official campaign website, you say. That's proof enough, right?

You know who else has an official campaign website? Stephen Colbert. And Christopher Walken. And McGyver. And, naturally, General Zod. Are they running for President? Like, with aspirations of winning? But they have official campaign websites!!!

Ah, but running a campaign is more than just slapping up a fancy website. You need ads. Mike Gravel has ads. No really, he does. You can see them on YouTube. In fact, two of his ads have caused quite a stir.

In "Rock" Mike Gravel stares silently at the camera for a few moments, then picks up a rock and tosses it into a pond. In "Twigs" he walks through woods, picking up branches. Then he makes a fire. Then the camera stays on the fire for seven minutes.

Are you ready to cast your vote yet?

When asked about his enigmatic spots, Mike Gravel explained that they were a metaphor. The ripples of the water represent the ripples that a small group of dedicated people can have on the larger world. The branches and twigs he collects represents wisdom, accumulated over a lifetime, and with the wisdom, he builds a fire of "light, heat, warmth. It's the sustenance of life."

Now he may have a beautifully poetic point to make, but in an interview with MSNBC, he admitted that his campaign didn't generate the idea for these spots. Two young teachers approached him and asked to shoot the commercials. He didn't even understand what they were doing, or what the point of the spots were when he shot them. For all he knew, these two teachers thought Mike Gravel's candidacy was about helping pedophiles find new targets. I mean maybe throwing a rock into a pond is a secret pedophile symbol for sex with young boys. He had no idea, he just went along with it and let them shoot him. He didn't care.

Because he's not running for President.

In fact, a vast majority of his "campaigning" has been on the Internet. It's hip. It's now. It's getting the attention of the Under-30 crowd. If he were doing this in addition to regular campaigning, it would be a brilliant way to expand his base and reach new voters. But this is it. He can corner the market on the Under-30 bracket, but even he knows that won't win him anything.

Taking the long-range look at the situation, one could say he's building momentum for a later bid. John Edwards ran in 2004 partly to build his name recognition so that now that he's running in 2008, we know who he is. Al Gore ran for President long before Clinton tapped him to be his VP. Politicians do it all the time. Run and lose now with the hopes of running and winning later.

Except Mike Gravel's 77. Maybe he builds an audience this year, then someone else wins, possibly wins re-election, and then 8 years from now, Gravel's ready to jump back in the show, now with extra name recognition. And he's 85. You're gonna vote for an 85-year old man to lead America? Heck, we all thought Cardinal Ratzinger was pretty dang old for a Pope, and he was only 78. And he just has to sit in the Popemobile and wave. President of the United States at 85? I don't think so. 2008 is Mike Gravel's last hurrah. And at this point, he really doesn't have a snowball's chance in Baja California to win.

But that's OK. He's not trying to win anything.

So what's he doing?

I think he's building a movement.

It's similar to the way the Deaniacs have gone on to upend and alter the Democratic party, even though their guy lost (and truth be told, I think he was actually trying to win). Mike Gravel is an old, old man who represented Alaska in the Senate for 12 years. Think about that. A Democrat was elected Senator in Alaska. Not all that long ago. Today, that seems absurd. Alaska is a Republican state, one of the strongest, various scandals not withstanding. Yet he was a 2-term Democratic Senator.

So he's taking one last trip into the spotlight to build up a movement of ideas that he can leave to an heir apparent, or maybe just help energize a generation to his way of thinking.

I have nothing to say pro or con about what he stands for. For me, this isn't the point. The point is, we should recognize what he's doing. It's not running for President. It's trying to shape the electorate. This is the long haul. It took Republicans 20 years to hone their brand down to the success they had in the 90's. It may take even longer for them to recover from the damage of the Bush years.

But every journey starts with a single step.

Or a single stone thrown into the water.