My Mike Gravel Problem, and Yours

I didn't watch last night's Democratic debate, but scanning the media coverage this morning left me with one burning question: Who the heck is Mike Gravel? Which only goes to show how ignorant the younger generation is, because of course Mike Gravel (pronounced Gra-VEL, in case you're curious) is a former two-term Senator from Alaska and the man responsible for inserting large chunks of the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record. Also, he mounted a five-month filibuster against the renewal of the draft, back in the days when Senators really knew how to filibuster. And now, twenty-five years after he last held elected office, he's running for President - mainly, it seems, as a way to attract attention for his dream of a nationwide sales tax and ballot initiatives as far as the eye can see.

So that answers that. But in a larger sense, the question remains: Who the heck is Mike Gravel, and why was he on stage last night? This is America, of course, where everyone gets to run for President, and I'm all for the people who run primary debates being flexible if there's an interesting candidate with an unorthodox background out there who ought to be included. But I'm not sure I agree with the Times' Mark Leibovich that "every field of candidates needs, for lack of a better term, comic relief — for the sake of keeping things interesting and, if everybody is lucky, for making the other smoothies on stage a little uncomfortable." I didn't find the Dennis Kucinich experience in '04 all that entertaining (or the Al Sharpton "candidacy," for that matter), and Alan Keyes' wild ride in '00 left me cold. And now we have Kucinich and Gravel taking up space?

Look, if the press is bored with the Presidential field, maybe they could pay some more attention to a Mike Huckabee or a Bill Richardson, a Chris Dodd or a Tommy Thompson (well, maybe not Tommy Thompson), all of whom are arguably more qualified to be President than some of the current front-runners. I'm all for watching candidates who are capable of "making the other smoothies on stage a little uncomfortable" - I just want those candidates to also be capable of saying something halfway interesting, and maybe even capable of winning some votes as well.