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Citizen Power: A Mandate for Change,
by Mike Gravel
(Click for Amazon book review)
BOOK REVIEW by OnTheIssues.org:
In our May 2007 review of the 1972 version of Citizen Power, we recommended that the Gravel campaign re-release the 1972 book with a modern update. With this book, they have done so. (OnTheIssues DID make that recommendation directly to the Gravel campaign, but we assume many others did too).
This book is technically an update and re-release -- but one has to read deep into each chapter to find the material which is from 1972. And generally it is framed with a 2008 update -- hence it reads like a current book, with references back to Gravel's 1970s Senate incumbency. We treat it, therefore, as a new book, omitting the sections repeated from the 1972 version. It has several new chapters, as well as a new summary-page framework for each chapter (in that ultra-modern bullet-point format that all campaign advisers now use).
Mike Gravel recently declared his candidacy for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination. It is unclear whether this book was written with that tactic in mind, or not (the dearth of media coverage of minor Democrats and even deeper dearth of coverage of Libertarians makes it impossible to determine this definitively). This book was published in January 2008, after Gravel had already started getting excluded from the Democratic debates. Gravel formally announced his intention to run as a Libertarian on March 26, which certainly came as a surprise to OnTheIssues, even though we try to read beyond the mainstream media. So who knows? This book certainly will intrigue some Libertarians, and will certainly turn off many others.
Gravel is legitimately a "left-libertarian". Alaska, which Gravel represented in the US Senate, is legitimately a "left-libertarian" state as well -- along with New Hampshire and Montana. All three of those states routinely elect Democrats AND Republicans, as long as they espouse libertarian principles. Until the 1990s, there was a serious debate within the Libertarian Party (LP) and among libertarian political philosophers about left-libertarianism versus right-libertarianism. The right-libertarians won that debate, and since the mid-1990s, the LP has been considered just another form of conservatism. If Sen. Gravel gets nominated, that debate will be re-opened, and the Libertarian Party will return to being a party which is philosophically and politically distinct from conservatism. That means, for the 2008 presidential election, that it is unclear whether Gravel as the LP nominee would take more votes from the Democratic nominee or from the Republican nominee.
Ralph Nader wrote a foreword to this book (but not to the 1972 edition). Nader is running as an independent for president. Nader's run is seen by the mainstream media as drawing more votes from Democrats than from Republicans -- although Nader has always said otherwise, with some validity. Nader, like Gravel, does not fit into the one-dimensional spectrum that the mainstream media uses to simplify politics. Nader focuses on Gravel's National Initiative as a means of citizen empowerment -- which the two both advocate. Nader certainly disagrees with Gravel on many issues in this book (school vouchers and the FairTax, e.g.), but his well-founded endorsement-by-foreword demonstrates the richness of the American political spectrum which is routinely ignored by the mainstream media.
Now back to the LP debate, which will decide if Gravel gets the LP nomination, and hence runs against Ralph Nader (and also perhaps against Jesse Johnson, a Green Party nomination-hopeful whom Gravel formally endorsed in Feb. 2008!). All libertarians share a basic philosophy of "social liberalism" (i.e., that the government should have no say in personal matters, such as sex and drugs) and "fiscal conservatism" (i.e., that the government should have no say in economic matters, such as corporations and Social Security). Gravel is for drug legalization, for gay rights, for school vouchers, and for replacing the income tax with a sales tax.
Libertarians also share a limited government role in foreign policy, where they differ substantively from conservatives and especially from the neoconservatives -- libertarians oppose the Iraq War and all interventionist action abroad, as well as civil rights limitations domestically, based on that war. In 2000, the OnTheIssues VoteMatch quiz had a question about Star Wars as well as a question about defense spending in general -- libertarians supported Star Wars (because it is actually defensive) but opposed defense spending in general (because it is imperialistic or part of the military-industrial complex or just another form of big government). Gravel is anti-Iraq-War; anti-imperialist; anti-defense-spending, and anti-military-industrial complex.
Left-libertarians differ from right-libertarians on one key issue: What to do about things owned in common? This usually manifests as a discussion about the environment -- left-libertarians say it's ok to regulate air & water pollution, public land use, and so on, with right-libertarians do not. But it also applies to common assets such as TV spectrum, public schools and hospitals (if one accepts that they SHOULD be public, which many libertarians do not!), and public highways and infrastructure. Gravel is a left-libertarian on most of those issues.
The LP holds its nominating convention in late May. It looks unlikely at this writing that Ron Paul will accept the LP nomination (he ran as the LP nominee in 1988, and was instrumental in moving the LP toward right-libertarianism; he is now a Republican member of Congress but many Libertarians want to draft him for president). Rep. Bob Barr (R, GA) is also in the running -- OnTheIssues would LOVE to see a Gravel/Barr ticket or a Barr/Gravel ticket, which would demonstrate the strength of libertarianism outside of the two-party structure. In any case, if the LP accepts Gravel, the left-libertarianism debate would become a serious debate again, and Gravel would be its champion. Read this book to understand the arguments of that philosophy.
-- Jesse Gordon, jesse@OnTheIssues.org, March 30 2007
by Mike Gravel.
Page last edited: May 31, 2013