Thursday, June 21, 2007

Mike Gravel: Rock and Rolls

Mike Gravel is running for President. Who's Mike Gravel? Well, you haven't been watching enough cable news or YouTube if you've got to ask that question. He's the former Democratic Senator from Alaska who is now best known for "The Rock" video (see below).

The video has Senator Gravel staring at the camera for about two minutes without saying a word, then walking away, stopping to throw a large stone into a pond, then continuing out of camera range. It's an odd bit of existential video, and it's attracted quite a bit of attention.

In fact, I think it's safe to say that without "Rock" - and the attention it has received from the likes of Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann - we would not be talking about Mike Gravel, let alone know that he's running for president.

So, let's clear up a couple of things about the video. First off, it is not a campaign ad. The two guys who made the video approached the Senator with the concept, and asked him to appear in it. They financed it, not the campaign. It's posted under their YouTube account, not his.

Their video is about an outsider (he retired from the Senate about 25 years ago) and regular citizen throwing stones at the system and causing ripples in the water. Read those ripples however you want; as futile efforts or the start of a revolution. Interpretation is up to you. Again, it's not a campaign ad, it's a political allegory.

But, it got me curious enough to look up Senator Gravel's site and see where he stands on the issues. And you know what? I kind of like the guy! He wants us out of Iraq, he's for a national initiative process, he's for health care vouchers, he's pro gay marriage, he's for abortion rights, and he has rational (gasp!) non-ideological positions on gun control and drug reform.

About the only major policy area where I completely disagree with Senator Gravel's position is the so-called "Fair Tax." That's a national sales tax that would replace the current Income Tax system and IRS. The "fair" part about it is a "prebate" to reimburse us for the taxes paid on necessities (food, clothing, shelter, health care).

Unfortunately, all sales tax - even with "prebates" - are always going to end up being regressive as the poor will always spend a higher percentage of their income than the rich. Those who can afford to save will have a lower effective tax rate than those who spend all they earn (and maybe a bit more). The rich may pay more total dollars with a sales tax, but the poor and middle class will pay a higher percentage.

But, as I said, that's about the only issue where I really can't see myself agreeing with Senator Mike Gravel. Would I have ever found about him from the media based on his own ads? No. Would I have heard about him in the mainstream news based on his speeches and debate appearances? Doubtful.

So, make fun of the "Rock" video all you want, it's getting Gravel noticed, and it's getting him supporters. Yes, viral video can change elections, or, at least, make them more interesting.

(Click the big arrow in the middle of the screen to start the videos. The first video is the infamous "Rock" video. The second is an interview with Senator Gravel discussing the video and more. The third is just one of the many parodies also surfacing online.)

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