- Sun Tzu, The Art of War
This week, Americans went to the polls for the largest day of voting of the 2008 presidential primaries, Super Tuesday, deciding between frontrunners for the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations. CNN, Fox News and countless other news media were agog over names like Clinton, McCain, Obama and Huckabee. Heck, even the venerable Dr. Ron Paul received a fair number of accolades for lasting this long in a race he, frankly, has no shot at winning. One man deserves far more credit that he will receive. That man is Mike Gravel.
Gravel first came to prominence as a two-term senator from the great state of Alaska, serving from 1969 to 1981. He was unseated as the Democratic Party nominee in the state prior to running for a third term and would later admit that he had alienated most constituencies in Alaska prior to leaving office. Gravel drifted from job to job following his exit from office, eventually divorcing his wife. Eventually Gravel returned to politics, becoming involved in the promotion of direct democracy initiatives, including the National Initiative to amend the U.S. constitution to allow direct changes via popular vote.
The 77-year-old Gravel, in actuality, was the first man (or woman) to throw his name into the ring for the Democratic nomination way back on Apr. 13, 2006, nine months before Hillary Clinton and 10 months before Barack Obama after deciding that was the best way to promote the national initiative. After campaigning solo for months, though, those upstart kids got onto Gravel's lawn and he never really regained his focus.
To say Mike Gravel's campaign strategy was ineffective against such big-name opposition may be a bit charitable. To be blunt, he didn't really have much of a campaign. His Internet hype video featured him standing next to a lake, throwing a rock in and walking away calmly. Worse, Gravel often was either not on the ballot for caucuses and primaries due to not campaigning, or not reaching viability when campaigning. Gravel only received votes in New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina and Florida. All told, less than 8,000 voters supported Gravel in the four states where he reached the ballot--and two states didn't have delegates at stake. In fact, he was beaten in both South Carolina and Florida by four candidates who had already officially dropped out of the race. Undeterred, Gravel campaigned on.
At the time of this writing, Mike Gravel's showing on Super Tuesday appears to be as expected--underwhelming. Once again, he's been out-styled and out-gunned by his younger adversaries. Regardless, it's important to note that by sticking in the race for this long, Gravel's become part of the national political discourse. In the grand scheme of things, Mike Gravel is a footnote amidst the historic Obama/Clinton race/gender war. The kids fighting on his lawn will get the spotlight, but if Gravel's ideas are good, they will be stolen by those kids and passed off as their own. Mike Gravel is just a man, but by lingering on amidst the most hotly-contested primary in decades, Mike Gravel's ideas will live on.
So kudos, Mr. Gravel. No matter how badly you lose, you truly are history's greatest trier.