When Mike Gravel attacks

On a crowded stage in the first 2008 debate, the former Alaska senator stands out by lashing out.

Published April 26, 2007 11:35PM (EDT)

Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel is not going to be the next president of the United States. That's a prediction, not a fact. But I'm sticking to it.

But a futile campaign does not mean that Gravel -- or his fellow Democratic long, long shot Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich -- won't leave an impact on the Democratic field in 2008. In the first Democratic debate of 2008 tonight in South Carolina, Gravel had been on a roll, attacking his fellow candidates with abandon.

"Some of these people up here frighten me," he declared. "They frighten me. When you have mainline candidates that turn around and say that there's nothing off the table with respect to Iran, that's code for using nukes, nuclear devices. I got to tell you, I'm president of the United States, there will be no preemptive wars with nuclear devices. To my mind, it's immoral, and it's been immoral for the last 50 years as part of American foreign policy."

NBC's Brian Williams, the moderator, chimed in. "Who on this stage exactly tonight worries you so much?"

"Well, I would say the top-tier ones," Gravel responded, vaguely. "The top-tier ones. They've made statements."

Delaware Sen. Joe Biden raised his hand, in an apparent attempt to establish himself as a top-tier candidate.

"Oh, Joe, I'll include you, too," Gravel said. "You have a certain arrogance. You want to -- you want to tell the Iraqis how to run their country. I got to tell you, we should just plain get out -- just plain get out. It's their country. They're asking us to leave. And we insist on staying there. And why not get out? What harm is it going to do? Oh, you hear the statement, 'Well, my God, these soldiers will have died in vain.' The entire deaths of Vietnam died in vain. And they're dying in vain right this very second. And you know what's worse than a soldier dying in vain? It's more soldiers dying in vain. That's what's worse."

A few minutes later, Gravel, who is 76, noted that he was the oldest Democratic candidate. "I won't hold their youth and inexperience against them," he said.

That won't be the last Gravel zinger. He clearly seems to be trying to make his mark by bashing his colleagues.

By Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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