Gravel: Representative Government Is Broken
Sen. Mike Gravel answers questions in our presidential mashup.
The following is an unedited transcript and may contain typos or omissions. Click here for more on the presidential mashup.
Rose: Sen. Gravel, the president has said that he's going to listen carefully to what Gen. Petraeus says and reports to him about the surge and what might be America's commitment in the future. What do you make of what Gen. Petraeus has said?
Gravel: I think it's a tragic charade where obviously one could predict what Petraeus was going to say three years ago on this particular subject. And then you get the president, who is the commander in chief, saying he's going to follow what the dictates or recommendations of Gen. Petraeus, who is making recommendations that the White House wanted. This is a very tragic charade. While human lives are lost because of the inability of this government to have any sense of moral commitment.
Rose: Speaking of that, Moveon.org had an advertisement in the paper about Gen. Petraeus, which I know you're familiar with. Do you think that was appropriate, a positive contribution in the political dialogue?
Gravel: Well, Charlie, I didn't see it, but I'll tell you what. I don't think Petraeus is an appropriate general, and I say that with all due respect to his service. Here's a guy that made a speech just before the—and he was a three-star general at the time—made a speech that literally endorsed George Bush's position in Iraq, and now he's got four stars and he's telling us let's wait a little longer and be more patient. This is the party line that he's articulated. And when you get military leaders, and that's the tragedy of what's happened under this president, is they've been promoting people to general-rank officers and flag officers who are yes men. We need members in the military that are not afraid to tell the truth to the president and to the American people, and that is not what's happening, and as a result of that, we continue this debacle. The people in Iraq want us out. Who are we to say, oh, we're there to protect you? Are they stupid or something? They don't want our protection. Why? Because they're not getting the protection. They want to take back their own country, and they should.
Rose: So, you're suggesting that Gen. Petraeus is lying?
Gravel: Well, what does a very sophisticated, intelligent person do? He knows what to say. We see this in American media all the time. He knows what to say. He doesn't have to lie. But he's not telling us, the American people, what's going on. Every independent study and analysis of Iraq demonstrates that his statements are inaccurate. You want to characterize it as a lie? I think so. It's a fair characterization. But in polite society, we just say he's just following the orders that he's received from the White House. Is that too tough, Charlie? But those are the facts. People are dying under his command and don't need to die right now. And what we ought to do is have the guts and the leadership to get out. But unfortunately, the leadership in the Congress is too timid, and they play into this charade, as is mainline media, playing into this charade back and forth. The media's gone crazy over his presence. Did not anybody reason out that you could predict what he was going to say two years ago?
Rose: Is anything—
Gravel: I could, and I don't consider myself a genius.
Rose: But you enjoy running for president?
Gravel: Well, I don't enjoy running for president. I'm running for president because I don't know of anybody around that's prepared to end this war. And it should be ended. And the sooner we can pull American troops out, as soon as possible. And it can be done in 120 days, Charlie. And what we can then do is begin an aggressive diplomacy. And that would mean to go to Iran, go to Saudi Arabia, go to Syria. And tell these people, help us restabilize the region that we destabilized, and tell them we made a mistake in doing this. A tragic mistake, and it puts the whole world at risk of a possible nuclear confrontation.
Rose: Do you think anything is likely to change between now and the election in November 2008?
Gravel: No, because there's no leadership in this country, and that's the tragedy of it. There's no leadership in Congress, and there's no leadership in the House to speak of. And so we're stuck playing out. And I just—I feel terrible over the young men and women and the Iraqis that will die and get their bodies blown up because of this nation's mistake. This is all foretold the day we invaded Iraq without reason, without reason. It's criminal!
Rose: Let me turn to health care. Do you favor universal coverage without exception, and how would you pay for it?
Gravel: I'd pay for it with a retail sales tax. I favor universal coverage of quality medical care. I favor it through a device of using vouchers where everybody would be able to get a voucher. They'd sign up for it every year. It would guarantee them equal health care. All citizens would get the same health care. They would be able choose from insurance plans or a government plan like Medicare. That's how we would have health care, and the only way you're going to pay for it is not by saddling business. All you do by forcing business to pay for health care or passing a law telling people they have to go buy insurance, which is a subsidy for the insurance companies, all these plans are going backwards.
Rose: All right, let me give you a viewer question now, a user question. This is Matthew Keeling, who says, "The number uninsured people in America is troubling, but for the well-insured majority, the actual quality of health care they receive and the speed with which they receive it is arguably the best in the world. How do you cover everyone without sacrificing quality or creating scarcity in the health-care system?"
Gravel: By one, making the whole process competitive. Two, by changing the control that's held by the pharmaceutical companies, by the insurance companies and the health-care industry over the Congress so that they cannot properly design a health-care system that meets everything that you defined. Stop and think what failure we have in this country. Bismarck put this in place in 1888. Truman advocated this in 1946. And we still can't get it right. Maybe there's something failing in our society. And there is. It's called representative government. And what we need to do is to equip the American people to then step in and be able to make laws in partnership with their elected officials.
Rose: Senator, I'm going to take one break here. They've got to change the feed, so I'll come up on my next question in just a second while they make sure that we have the right feed.