Former Alaskan Sen. Mike Gravel seized his time at the podium during Monday night’s CNN/YouTube debate to highlight the disproportionate amount of attention given to the frontrunners throughout the series of Democratic candidate debates.
When a YouTube viewer directed a question about Vietnam veterans to Gravel, he responded first by saying, “I like the question; I don’t get many of them.” When the audience applauded, Gravel thanked them, and asked, “Has it been fair thus far?”
Gravel then answered the video question, submitted by a young West Virginian man, which asked the former senator if he would retract his previous statement that “the entire deaths of Vietnam died in vain.”
“I have never flip-flopped before,” Gravel began. He became increasingly heated, reiterating his earlier point by saying, “Our soldiers died in Vietnam in vain. You can now go to Hanoi and get a Baskin Robins ice cream cone.”
Gravel said his statement about Vietnam was analogous to the war in Iraq. “There’s only one thing worse than soldiers dying in vain,” he said. “It’s more soldiers dying in vain.”
Following the debate, Gravel drew attention from the media for his impassioned manner of speaking, prompting Slate magazine to write, “Mike Gravel has always seemed like the kind of person who would tape angry YouTube rants in the cold backyard shed, so he seemed at home in a way.”
Before the South Carolina debate, Gravel sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D.-Nev., criticizing the all-night debate on Capitol Hill over the Democrat’s Iraq bill. “Frankly, I agree with the Republicans: this week’s Senate sleepover was more theater than substance,” Gravel wrote.
Gravel said Congress should pass a bill making it illegal for President George Bush to continue to wage a war in Iraq.
On Thursday, the L.A. Times profiled Gravel’s usual attire of a dark suit accompanied by Velcro sneakers. The story, which portrayed Gravel and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, as wildcards breathing life into the early horse race, explained the former senator doesn’t like to travel. He has found, however, that meditation makes flights easier.
The story also put Gravel’s CNN/YouTube debate performance in perspective. In 1971, Gravel theatrically demonstrated his opposition to the Vietnam War, reading 4,000 pages of the Pentagon Papers aloud into the Congressional Record.