October 26, 2007
Oil Trading, Hedge Funds, and Mike Gravel

Suppose your life led from Harvard through trading oil for Morgan Stanley to managing a hedge fund in your late 20’s. You’re living in New Hampshire, land of no income tax, with a certain amount of disposable cash. Your interest in politics is such that you first voted in 2004. What would you splurge on?

How about a million bucks worth of ads for Mike Gravel? That’s what Gregory Chase chose.

Impressed with Gravel after seeing him in a televised debate, Chase was provoked by Gravel’s omission from the next debate to call NBC and ask why. They pointed him to Drexel University, the debate location, which pointed him to the DNC, which pointed him to NBC. In the end, he said, it was “pretty clear” that NBC was making the decision. It’s a textbook example of Chomsky’s view on how civic discussion is controlled in the United States: not by determining the outcome and forcing citizens to swear allegiance to the One Truth, but by setting the parameters of allowable debate, arguments outside of which are considered ipso facto untenable. Gravel’s arguments are, to me, actual and factual and in many cases satisfactual as well, but they’re certainly beyond the pale for the Imperial War Machine.

So what does the young multimillionaire with a newfound political will and a heartfelt cause to celebrate do about it? He contacts NBC and tells them that if money is an issue, he would be willing to pony up the dough himself. Today Chase sent this letter to five executives at NBC, DNC chairman Howard Dean, the President of Drexel University, and also published it as an advertisement in four newspapers. In it, he said this:
If it would help get Senator Gravel back into the debate, I offer to purchase $1 million of advertising from NBC, or simply pay NBC $1 million in exchange for the service of allowing Senator Gravel to participate in your debate.

He also made a public offer of $25,000 for the YouTube video on Mike Gravel that gets the most views between now and December 31. And he’s buying ads in the three most important New Hampshire newspapers every day for the rest of 2007.

These ads are all entirely funded by Mr. Chase, they are not connected to the campaign, and touch on issues ranging from decreasing military spending to repealing the Federal Income Tax in favor of a national sales tax and imposing a carbon tax. There is even one advocating lowering the drinking age to 18, the same age at which one can join the military. All of them match Sen. Gravel’s positions and hint at Mr. Chase’s passion.

I admire Chase’s commitment and activity. If everyone could contribute to the debate that way, it would be great. I think today that’s the American Dream, unsustainable and in most cases unattainable as it is. So I don’t want to seem ungrateful.

But I’m put in mind of one of my favorites from Bertrand Russell.

[John Locke] makes a great deal of the imperishable character of the precious metals, which, he says, are the source of money and inequality of fortune. He seems, in an abstract and academic way, to regret economic inequality, but he certainly does not think that it would be wise to take such measures as might prevent it. No doubt he was impressed, as all the men of his time were, by the gains to civilization that were due to rich men, chiefly as patrons of art and letters. The same attitude exists in modern America, where science and art are largely dependent upon the benefactions of the very rich. To some extent, civilization is furthered by social injustice. This fact is the basis of what is most respectable in conservatism.
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(Russell at 10)

Conservatism is such a poorly defined word. Does it refer to conserving the values and goals of the Declaration and the Constitution? I’m all for that. Those documents include some of the greatest public pronouncements ever made. The obvious fact that the actual US has never for a moment lived up to its own founding ideals doesn’t detract from the beauty or worth of the ideals; it simply emphasizes the imperfections of humanity, a shopworn theme.

But it doesn’t seem to me that most conservatives these days are interested in conserving anything from the Constitution other than their misapprehension of the meaning of the Second Amendment. They’re mainly in favor of vicious behavior toward anyone who refuses to follow the narrow path the “social conservatives” have chosen. Those familiar with the history of the first few centuries of the Roman church will recognize the pattern. And shudder.

Still, one must be grateful for the Gregory Chases of the world, and still more for the Mike Gravels.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at October 26, 2007 02:24 AM
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