Thursday, 8 July 2021

MIKE GRAVEL: MY GUARDIAN OBITUARY

 My obit of Mike Gravel, the Alaska senator who read the Pentagon Papers on the Senate floor, is online at the Guardian now; it should be in the paper paper soon. You can link to the online version here.

The piece has a few small, but I think significant cuts...and I was interested as I knew Assumption Prep well, and AIC somewhat, having grown up in that sports area (I played at AP in both football and basketball in high school.) I mentioned Gravel's enlistment in the Army specifically to note that by enlisting he was allowed to choose his area of service, and he chose intelligence. The point is made by his activities in France and Germany, which were, in effect, spying on allies, but the real significance is that he was able to read the Pentagon Papers with the necessary insider grain of salt.

There is also the argument over where exactly he got his copy of the Pentagon Papers. Daniel Ellsberg denied giving anything to Gravel; it seems likely it was Washington Post Ben Bagdikian, who like Ellsberg had worked at Rand and with whom he was friendly. 

I did try to describe Alaskan politics, which is sui generis. Gravel fell afoul of the major Democrat fund-raisers, by being too much of a loose cannon, and perhaps because of rumours about his personal life. Alaska could, in those days, live with some individuality in attitudes toward government, but not to development within the state. That's where the money comes from. His voting record shows his votes against expanding National Parks in Alaska (protecting them against development) and his voting with the racist Southern Dixiecrats to preserve the filibuster.  I also mentioned his first wife, Rita Martin, who worked in the office of the city manager of Anchorage, and had once been named Miss Fur Rendezvous. For some reason that seemed important.

Alaska politics is also hereditary. I mentioned he lost the Democratic Senate primary to Ernest Gruening's grandson, but what was cut was that this divisiveness meant the Senate seat was actually run by the Republican Frank Murkowski, whose daughter Lisa is currently a Senator for Alaska having won her father's seat after he faced corruption charges.

Gravel's later career is problematic. His stand against the US government's military policy put him in another awkward place when the Afghan and Iraq invasions became this generation's Vietnam. But his other positions landed him firmly in the Libertarian camp. I ignored the similarities with John McAfee, whose obit I had written previously for the Guardian, which were only superficial in the sense that the Libertarians were wide open as a springboard to some national publicity, but I wonder if I should have mentioned my own thought that, as with recurring Libertarian candidate Pat Buchanan, the left fork of Nixon's tongue in the Vietnam era, Gravel might have been happy to get Federal matching funds for his campaign. And of course, his "gadfly" image was not exclusively a product of his own positions, but also, as is the case with those on the fringes, the positions of people associated with parties or publishers or positions that can be used as evidence by association. Criticising the basic tenets of US foreign policy can often bring such attacks down on you. And for someone like Gravel, whose politics, going back to his Alaska days, could be all flaws to all people, that was a dangerous row to hoe.

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