Like a fresh wind coming down from Alaska–the state he represented as a U.S. Senator from 1969–1981, Mike Gravel is determined to start a debate about the fundamentals of democracy in his quest for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President.
People who heard his address before the Democratic National Committee a few weeks ago and his brief statements during the first debate between the Democratic aspirants last month may be getting the idea that this is no ordinary dark horse politician.
For over a decade, given the failures of elected politicians, Mike Gravel has been engaged in some extraordinary research and consultations with leading constitutional law experts about the need to enact another check to the faltering checks and balances–namely, the National Initiative for Democracy, a proposed law that empowers the people as lawmakers.
Before you roll your eyes over what you feel is an unworkable utopian scheme, go to http://nationalinitiative.us to read the detailed constitutional justification for the sovereign right of the people to directly alter their government and make laws.
Among other legal scholars, Yale Law School Professor, Akhil Reed Amar and legal author, Alan Hirsch, have argued that the Constitution recognizes the inalienable right of the American people to amend the Constitution directly through majority vote. What the Constitution does not do is spell out the procedures for such a sovereign right.
The right of the People to alter their government flows from the Declaration of Independence, the declared views of the founding fathers and the framers of the Constitution, its Preamble ("We the People of the United States.do ordain and establish this Constitution,"), Article VII and other provisions, including the Ninth and Tenth Amendments.
Very briefly, The Democracy Amendment asserts the Power of People to make laws, creates an Electoral Trust to administer the national elections, limits the use of money in National Initiative elections to natural persons (e.g. not corporations), and enacts the National Initiative through a federal ballot, when fifty percent of the voters (equal to half of the votes cast in the most recent presidential election) deliver their votes in its favor. Voting can be through traditional and electronic modes.
The Democracy Statute establishes deliberative legislative procedures vital for lawmaking by the people, administered by the Electoral Trust, in an independent arm of the U.S. government.
Mike Gravel points out that the initiative authority to make laws now exists in 24 states and more than 200 local communities. However, the national initiative, which he envisions would have deliberate legislative procedures and would be generically independent of any curtailment by the "officialdom of government," except a judicial finding of fraud.
With the National Initiative, the people acting as lawmakers, will be able to address healthcare, education, energy, taxes, the environment, transportation, the electoral college, the Iraq war, and other neglected, delayed or distorted priorities. Legal scholar, Alan Hirsch, believes "a more direct democracy could be an important means of promoting civic maturation."
Of course these initiatives, if enacted, would still be subject to existing constitutional safeguards such as the First Amendment, equal protection, due process and the like.
No doubt, you may have many questions to be answered. If you are interested, the entire text of The Democracy Amendment and The Democracy Act are on both the above-mentioned websites.
Mr. Gravel’s political positions place him high on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Cong. Dennis Kucinich will find that he is not alone during the forthcoming debates scheduled by the Democratic Party.
Don’t expect Mike Gravel to show up in the money-raising sweepstakes. For he really believes in a government of, by and for the People.
This proposal is not exactly a magnet for Fat cat money. No candidate for President from the two major parties has ever demonstrated such a detailed position regarding the sovereign power of People to amend the Constitution and make laws.
Will soundbite debates and horserace media interviews allow for such a public deliberation over the next year? Only if the People take their sovereignty seriously and take charge of the campaign trail with their pre-election, pre-primary participation in city, town and country throughout the country.
Over 2000 years ago, the ancient Roman lawyer and orator, Marcus Cicero, defined freedom with these enduring words: "Freedom is participation in power." That could be the mantra for Mike Gravel’s 2008 Presidential campaign.
Ralph Nader is the author of The Seventeen Traditions