by Jeremy Young | 4/08/2008 02:14:00 AM
Via Babblemur, here's an excerpt from former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel's original introduction to the first published version of the Pentagon Papers, which he famously read into the Congressional Record in 1970:

We now find policies on the most fundamental of issues, war and peace, adopted without the support or understanding of the people affected by them. As a result of these practices, especially with respect to our involvement in Southeast Asia, our youth has virtually abandoned hope in the ability of their government to represent them, much less to stand for the ideals for which the Republic once stood. The trust between leaders and their people, without which a democracy cannot function, has been dangerously eroded, and we all fear the result.

For it is the leaders who have been found lacking, not the people. It is the leaders who have systematically misled, misunderstood, and, most of all, ignored the people in pursuit of a reckless foreign policy which the people never sanctioned. Separated from the public by a wall of secrecy and by their own desires for power, they failed to heed the voice of the people, who saw instinctively that America’s vital interests were not involved in Southeast Asia. Nor could they bring themselves to recognize the knowledge and insight of that large number of private citizens who foresaw the eventual failure of their plans. As we now know, they were able even to ignore the frequently accurate forecasts of the government’s own intelligence analysts.

The barriers of secrecy have allowed the national security apparatus to evolve a rigid orthodoxy which excludes those who question the accepted dogma. The result has been a failure to re-examine the postulates underlying our policy, or to give serious attention to alternatives which might avoid the kinds of disastrous choices that have been made in the past decade.




I've written about Gravel before (and even before that). As a political observer, I admire him for his courage, and I pity him for the almost-joke status he's achieved. But as a historian studying leadership, I find him fascinating. Gravel has cultivated a position as the anti-leader -- someone who believes that good political leadership is simply not possible in this country. In its place, he advocates a radical policy he calls the National Initiative for Democracy -- which would give citizen-sponsored initiatives the power to amend the Constitution, abolish Congress, and operate the government according to Rousseauian general will. Gravel likes to call NI4D "a revolution in human governance," and if it ever became law it would be just that -- a radical egalitarian and majoritarian system that abolishes political leadership as an institution and elevates the masses above men.

Yet Gravel himself incessantly runs for high office -- he continually seeks the very leadership positions he wants to abolish. And despite his belief that good politicians obey the will of the people, he views the greatest leader as someone who is despised by all. "I was very controversial then [in the '70's], and I was not popular. That's leadership," Gravel told a reporter last year. Gravel may be a mixed-up old man, as some claim -- but I've been following him closely over the past several months, and I don't think that assessment is accurate. Instead, he strikes me as an outspoken, cranky populist whose age and manner conceal the stunningly radical and unique nature of his thinking. Whatever the case, I'll be following Gravel's nascent Libertarian Presidential candidacy very closely.

As a side note, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers to Gravel, Dan Ellsberg, was at IU on Friday. I missed the first forty-five minutes of the talk owing to another obligation, but from what I heard Ellsberg is as sharp as a tack. (Apparently he was that good earlier, too.)

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