The current presidential campaign has so far been centered on candidates Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and at this point, it may seem far-fetched that any candidate that is not a Democrat or a Republican could be president. Yet that is what former Senator Mike Gravel, of the Libertarian Party, claimed to be not only possible, but also necessary, as he addressed the students, faculty and staff of the Cornell Law School Monday.
In his speech, Gravel chose to focus on the need for American citizens to get more involved in government. "If you have people in power, they can't be swayed by lobbyists," Gravel said. "Our electoral process is terrible. But, when you think it's good, special interests get involved."
Gravel is the founder of the Democracy Foundation, a group that promotes increasing direct democracy in the United States. Gravel has pushed for a Congressional amendment that would allow for national voter-initiated legislation, akin to state ballot initiatives.
"I don't want to throw away representative democracy," Gravel said, "but I want the people to get involved."
"It took me 10 years to figure this [proposed amendment] out through trial and error," he continued, "and Congress will never enact it. They will never dilute their own powers."
According to Boris Mamlyuk, a visiting scholar at the law school, there were many important reasons for inviting Gravel to the law school.
"Senator Gravel is ignored by the media because so much attention is focused on Obama, Clinton and McCain, and he has very important ideas on popular democracy."
Mamlyuk, who worked with Golnoosh Hakimdavar, a visiting scholar at the law school, to bring Gravel to Cornell, said that Gravel's efforts to introduce voter-initiated legislation was, "one of the more interesting issues in Congressional law."
"It's important that he has a forum," he added.
William Kenney '08 agreed with Mamlyuk on Gravel's importance.
"Last year, when he came onto the scene, I listened to him in the debates," Kenney said. "What he said struck a chord with me ... you get a sense that what he's saying, the passion that it's coming from, is honest." Gravel explained that America had been led away from the ideas put forth, the ideas of democracy and equality in the Declaration of Independence, and criticized the dominance of the Democratic and Republican parties.
"You can't be president here without being a Democrat or a Republican," he said, " The political parties are the most powerful things in this country, yet, they're not mentioned in the Constitution."
In addition to direct democracy, Gravel also discussed issues of concern in the 2008 campaign, including the civil rights, the war in Iraq and the election itself.
When asked a question about spending, Gravel expressed frustration with the emphasis on defense in the budget.
"Why is the U.S. spending so much on defense?" he asked. "It's idiocy."
"If Obama, Hillary, or McCain cannot give a sufficient answer on why we're spending so much on defense," he continued. "You should not vote for them. If you do, you're idiots," he said, eliciting laughter from the audience.
Gravel continued speaking about the problems of the military, choosing to focus on the issue of torture.
"If you think that the U.S. is incapable of what Germany did in World War II, you're wrong ... good Americans who volunteer to serve this country are being forced to torture human beings."
"We have sanctioned [torture] as national policy," he added, "and that bothers me deeply. What does this mean about us?"br>
Gravel also expressed concern at claims that the candidates each made for their presidency and the dangers that would follow should they not keep their promises.
"You'll create a generation of cynics, and that's very dangerous for this nation," he warned. "I don't have magic answers, but that's why I want to empower the people."
"If we want to be free," he added, "we have to become legislators."
As his talk concluded, Gravel fielded a question on his stance regarding same-sex marriages, which he used to emphasize his overall message.
"Marriage is between two human beings," he stated, "It is a commitment of love."
Gravel also emphasized that the right to marriage, like all other rights and freedoms, was something that had to be fought for.
"When it comes to your civil rights, you have to fight for your rights," he said. "If you don't stand up for your rights, you suffer the consequences."
© 2008 Cornell Daily Sun via U-WIRE