I’ve met cardboard candidates for U.S. President. The three top ones in 2008 were hanging out at the "Vote for Books" booth at PLA in Minnesota this past March; conference registrants could pose for photos with them. Then yesterday I met Mike Gravel.
Nothing cardboard about him. His presidential campaign is over, both the long Democratic quest and the shorter Libertarian one, and he was visiting Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly to chat with editors about the three books, yes three, that he has out this year, in particular the one that published yesterday, The Kingmakers: How the Media Threatens Our Security and Our Democracy (Phoenix), co-authored with David Eisenbach (lecturer in history, Columbia University) in which he criticizes the mainstream media for simply echoing the messages fed to them by those in power, in the process effectively barring the public from access to all the facts and information it deserves to know.
Yesterday, the former senator from Alaska patiently answered our questions about what was perhaps the highlight of his presidential campaign, the YouTube video by Matt Mayes and Guston Sondin-Klausner, of L.A.’s Otis College of Art and Design known as "Mike Gravel – Rock."
There’s a simple message found in the video: every individual ponders his/her place in life and hopes to see ripple effects from the gestures s/he undertakes.
Any notion of pretentiousness, either in the video or in Senator Gravel, is swept away. He is a funny, sharp, and entirely authentic man — meeting him, I come to realize that I wish "authentic" was not another word rendered inauthentic by over-use in the media.
Mike Gravel has produced his share of significant ripple effects. There was his reading of the Pentagon Papers into the public record on the floor of the Senate in 1971 – a means of skirting the publication injunction that was hobbling the Times and other newspapers — your library may have the resulting Senator Gravel Edition of the papers — and there was his months-long filibustering that ended the military draft two years later. Video of either of these gestures would be a bit too long for YouTube.
Now there is his ongoing National Initiative for Democracy. Lawmaking in this country, he says, should be a "deliberative" function. The initiative seeks to enable citizens to engage in a deliberative participatory legislative process.
Senator Gravel hopes that another senator, the one from Illinois, succeeds in turning his own brand of "hope" and "change" into transformative actions. Failure to do so, he worries, "will breed another generation of cynics." Coming away from our meeting, I didn’t feel worried at all.