Yesterday former senator and current presidential candidate Mike Gravel spoke to the DNC Winter Conference — which functions in part as a proving ground for presidential candidates. Gravel’s speech is quite long, so I won’t repost it here verbatim. Instead, let me share with you the portions of his speech that most strongly provoked my thought:
Fairness. Freedom. Justice. Morality. Opportunity. Peace. All goals of our Founding Fathers and concepts central to the character of most Americans.
Our Founders envisioned the People and their political leaders working together to nurture these goals and to shape these concepts from generation to generation. Unfortunately, early on, in a compromise to perpetuate the evil institution of slavery in the Constitution, the People lost their power to amend the Constitution and make laws. The compromisers knew the People would not ratify a Constitution that legalized slavery and would outlaw it if they had lawmaking powers. The results of this moral compromise brought about the primacy of representative government and its monopoly on lawmaking power.
History teaches us that nations fail when leaders fail their people. The decision to invade Iraq without provocation and fraudulently sold to the American people, by a President consumed with messianic purpose, sadly confirms this lesson of history.
The Democrats controlled the Senate on October 11, 2002 and provided political cover for George Bush to invade Iraq. The Senate leadership could have refused to even take up the resolution, or a few Senators who opposed it could have mounted a filibuster.
But the fear of opposing a popular warrior President on the eve of a mid-term election prevailed. Political calculations trumped morality, and the Middle East was set ablaze. The Democrats lost in the election anyway, but the American people lost even more. It was Politics as Usual.
Given the extreme importance of any decision to go to war, and I am anguished to say this, itâ€™s my opinion that anyone who voted for the war on October 11â€“â€“based on what President Bush representedâ€“â€“is not qualified to hold the office of President.
Political leaders must bring two qualities to any public office:
political integrity and moral judgment.
If political calculations trump morality and occasion substantial loss of human life, it reveals the sense of moral responsibility these candidates are likely to bring to the office of President.
We made a grave mistake. We should have the courage to admit it. We must bring our troops home nowâ€“â€“not 6 months from now, not a year from nowâ€“â€“NOW! One more American death for â€œour vital interestâ€ is not worth it. We all know â€œvital interestâ€ is code for â€œoil.â€
If we donâ€™t bring our soldiers home now, what do we tell the families of those killed and maimed between now and some future arbitrary date? The sooner we get our military out of Iraq, the sooner we can turn to the international community to help with a diplomatic solution to bring an end to the sectarian civil war we caused.
The Democrats in control of Congress need to act resolutelyâ€“â€“and Iâ€™m not talking about some mealy-mouthed, nonbinding resolutions. They need to precipitate a constitutional confrontation with George Bush.
Under the Constitution, the Congress is the only body that can declare war. Implicit in that power is the ability to end a war and make peace. Even a Commander-in-Chief executing a war is subservient to the Congressâ€™s war powers. The Founding Fathers specifically created this constitutional check on executive authority and it was re-affirmed by the War Powers Act of 1973. Congress is the only hope we have, between now and January 20, 2009, to halt our continued involvement in the carnage and death George Bush has unleashed.
Our nation is in crisis. This crisis is greater than most people realize, and in some ways more significant than terrorism and the Iraq war.
We have become a nation ruled by fear. Since the end of the Second World War, various political leaders have fostered fear in the American peopleâ€“â€“fear of Communism, fear of terrorism, fear of immigrants, fear of people based on race and religion, fear of Gays and Lesbian in love who just want to get married, and fear of people who are somehow different. It is fear that allows political leaders to manipulate us all and distort our national priorities.
Fear has allowed our political leaders to spend more on military armaments than is spent collectively by all the other nations in the world.
Who are we afraid of? Are we that paranoid?
American political leaders often boast of American exceptionalism, as you heard from this dais. We are indeed a great nation, one that has made significant contributions to humanity. But our leaders are promoting delusional thinking when boasting that the United States and Americans are superior to the rest of the human race. We are no better and no worse.
Unfortunately, the United States is not number one with what counts.
There are only two industrialized nations in the world that do not provide health care for all their citizens: the United States and South Africa. Despite spending more per capita on health care than any other nation in the world, we rank 37th for overall health performance.
The United States ranks 49th in literacy. Time magazine reported last spring that 30% of our students donâ€™t graduate from high school, condemning them to a diminished economic existence.
Of the Global Fortune 500 companies, only 50 are American. Wall Street and many corporate executives are awash in huge salaries and bonuses, yet the average American workerâ€™s compensation grew only .1% in the last decade.
China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan hold 40% of our government debt. Any one of these countries could throw the U.S. into an economic tailspin.
Americaâ€™s political leadership is in denial as to the gravity and scope of our problems, viewing them almost exclusively from a national perspective. In fact, the major problems we face are all global in natureâ€“â€“energy, the environment, terrorism, drugs, war, immigration, disease, economic and cultural globalization. These problems require global solutions that can only be addressed by concerted diplomacy and cooperation, not jingoism about Americaâ€™s Super Power superiority.
Ask the current and former residents of the Gulf Coast to rank our national political leadership for effectiveness either now or during the 17 months following the ravages of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. These tragedies exposed to the world that large numbers of Americans subsist in what is closer to a â€œthird worldâ€ economy.
They exposed how callous we are to the plight of the poor.
They exposed strains of racism we refuse to acknowledge.
But in the face of a painfully slow and ineffective government response, this tragedy has inspired many average Americans to volunteer and help rebuild not only homes, but a spirit of community.
Our political leadership must begin to tell the Americans the truth. So Iâ€™ll start right now:
Here are some of the areas where the United States is No 1.
* We are number one in the production of weapons,
* We are number one in consumer spending,
* We are number one in government, commercial and personal debt,
* We are number one in the number of people we have in prison,
* We are number one in energy consumption, and
* We are number one in the environmental pollution we produce.
How do you react to Gravel’s words?