In 1971, a Democratic senator from Alaska entered 4,100 pages of "The Pentagon Papers," a top-secret government document about Vietnam involvement, into Congressional record. Several weeks ago, Mike Gravel made another controversial move by switching allegiance to the Libertarian Party, where he's a top contender for nomination.

Libertarians support limited government, lower taxes and increased personal liberties, and Gravel's platform embodies much of this ethos. He supports a fair tax, rapid troop withdrawals from Iraq, decriminalization of minor drug offenses and the National Initiative, legislation that would empower citizens as lawmakers.

"I think we could win," Gravel said by phone earlier this week. "The Libertarian position is more relative to the views of the American public than are the views of the Republicans or Democrats."

Name: Maurice Robert "Mike" Gravel Born: May 13, 1930 Political experience: U.S. Senate, 1969-1981; Alaska House of Representatives, 1963-1967 [Gravel homepage] [Libertarian platform] [National Initiative]

Read the full interview after the jump. Audio version is here.

In 1971, a Democratic senator from Alaska entered 4,100 pages of “The Pentagon Papers,” a top-secret government document about Vietnam involvement, into Congressional record. Several weeks ago, Mike Gravel made another controversial move by switching allegiance to the Libertarian Party, where he’s a top contender for nomination.

Libertarians support limited government, lower taxes and increased personal liberties, and Gravel’s platform embodies much of this ethos. He supports a fair tax, rapid troop withdrawals from Iraq, decriminalization of minor drug offenses and the National Initiative, legislation that would empower citizens as lawmakers.

“I think we could win,” Gravel said by phone earlier this week. “The Libertarian position is more relative to the views of the American public than are the views of the Republicans or Democrats.”

Name: Maurice Robert “Mike” Gravel Born: May 13, 1930 Political experience: U.S. Senate, 1969-1981; Alaska House of Representatives, 1963-1967 [Gravel homepage] [Libertarian platform] [National Initiative]

Read the full interview after the jump. Audio version is here.

Was there a specific action or issue that influenced your switch from the Democrats to the Libertarians? There’s a lot of different issues. But, in point of fact, I’ve been what I would call a classic liberal most of my political career, whether I was in the senate or not. And of course, most of the things I accomplished while I was in the senate were very libertarian in character: ending the draft, fighting nuclear testing, [building] the Alaska pipeline, releasing the Pentagon Papers. Those were all Libertarian in character.

I had to fight the Republican Party and the Democratic Party leadership to get those things done. So I was a bit of a pariah or a misfit or a maverick as far as my senate career is concerned.

When I left office, I lost in the primary, so I didn’t have the support of the Democratic Party really. When I left, I was just very disgusted with representative government. I didn’t think it worked, and I don’t think now that it works to the interest of the public. When I decided to come back and run for president — because I wanted to make Americans aware of the National Initiative, which is to empower them as lawmakers — I had to make the decision to either run as a Libertarian or a Green, which was my inclination. I wanted to get into the debates, so I filed as a Democrat. But clearly my heart is to be a Libertarian.

The National Initiative is a big issue on your homepage, and it would, among other things, allow citizens to become lawmakers by using ballot federal initiatives. Tell me more about that. In a democracy, the central power of government is lawmaking, so if you cannot participate in making laws, you’re not free. In our society, at the federal level, all you can do is vote for somebody on Election Day. That person then takes your power and makes laws. Either you obey those laws, or you go to jail. Well, that’s not freedom.

If you want to get a hold of your government and be free, you have to become a lawmaker. So what I’ve done is written a law called the National Initiative. It’s a package that includes a federal amendment to the Constitution and a federal statute which has the procedures for deliberative lawmaking … I want to inform the American people that the answer to our difficulties today is their empowerment as lawmakers.

You were with the Democrats a long time. All my adult career.

Obviously, the Libertarian Party is quite different from either of the two major parties. Is there something that surprised you when you made the switch? No, not really. I was never really operable with the majority of the Democratic Party. I was opposed to the war. The Democrats brought us into the Vietnam War. They brought us into the Iraq war. They now have given license to George Bush to go into Iran. So I’ve been out of step with the Democratic Party from the get go.

When you see the Congress controlled by the Democrats and Republicans, they sustain torture. They sustained the funding for the war. The go along with the denial of habeas corpus. They go along with the wiretapping and all of our loss of liberties. And of course, on all of those issues, the Libertarians hold the same view as I have. So you can begin to see why I’m a natural fit with the Libertarians, and never was with the Democrats.

Do you think that hard-line members of the Libertarian Party are wary of your campaign because you switched so recently? I think they warm up when they understand my record. It’s the same old story: The fact that I switched now, people get suspicious. But in point of fact, at my age, I’ve been more Libertarian than most of the people who are Libertarians in the party. I’ve been a classic liberal, which pre-dates the Libertarian Party. You know, people have their perceptions, and they get suspicious.

I think what’s very unusual is that, you know, I come into the Libertarian Party, and I want to be their standard-bearer. So they get suspicious of that. But stop and think: Putting up a person who has no government experience to be your standard-bearer is not going to really wash well with the American people.

And a lot of Libertarians feel, “Well, let’s get five or 10 percent.” I think we can win. I think the Libertarian position is more relative to the views of the American public than are the views of the Republicans or Democrats. That’s proven overwhelmingly in national polls.

What we have to do is bring that message to the American people. That message can be brought by not only the Libertarians themselves, but by someone who can speak and take on the likes of [Barack] Obama or Hillary [Clinton] or [John] McCain.

But if you go ahead and put up a person who’s got no experience in foreign policy directly, in domestic policy directly, you bring into question a credibility issue that is very gratuitous and not helpful to your cause.

You pointed out in a recent debate that in blind polls — where voters are asked about issue stances instead of candidates — they often match up with you. I win overwhelmingly. And it’s a phenomenon. So now, if I am attached to the Libertarian Party — and my views are very much Libertarian — this phenomenon not only translates to me personally, it translates to the Libertarian Party. That’s what we have to make known to the American people. We win. Not only I win — the Libertarian Party wins. And that’s what Libertarians must understand.

Maybe they’ve been losing so often that they’re used to losing. They’ve got to really understand that winning is possible. But you have to have a candidate that has credibility, that has experience and can handle himself in these debates. Putting forth a person who can talk the Libertarian language is fine. That’s not going to win the election. You need to take the views of Americans and relate those to the Libertarian language — not vice versa.

It seems like a daunting task to run as a third-party candidate. The only part that’s going to be daunting for me is to get the nomination, to be the standard-bearer of the Libertarians. Once I get that, I gotta tell you, it’s not going to be so daunting. You’re really gonna see some real flurry, because they’ll have to begin to cover us. The media may not like what we say, but they’re gonna have to cover us. The American people are gonna want to her a different voice. They’re gonna be tired of this Obama stuff; they’re gonna be tired of McCain.

When I travel around the country, what little the media has given me. They cut me out of 20 of the debates. I was in about five or them, and I had only about four minutes to Obama and Hillary’s 60 minutes. And what I hear around the country? I’m a breath of fresh air. And, boy, they’re gonna get more of that fresh air than they’ve ever heard of before.

Part of your campaign includes switching to a “fair tax,” an idea many heard during the candidacy of Mike Huckabee. Are there major differences? Is this based on replacing the IRS with a national sales tax? They’re very similar, but not entirely similar. Let me give you what’s more important, the overarching aspect. Our present income-tax system is corrupt. Corrupt. The average citizen carries the full load, and the wealth of the country has corrupted the system.

Let’s just look at the way it works: In order to provide revenue for the government, we tax the wages of ordinary citizens at anywhere from 35 to 47 percent. We then tax the productive capacity of our corporate activities at 35 percent. Then we tax your savings. When you save your money, we tax that at 15 percent. But we do not tax one [bit] of wealth. Does that not say where the priorities of this nation lie? Wealth goes untaxed.

Now, if we can turn around and tax new products and services, we will, for the first time in our history, tax wealth. Right now, it costs about $270 billion to comply with the tax code. That’s half of what we spent in four years in Iraq, and we do that every year to comply with a tax code that is corrupt and regressive.

If we turn around and put on a sales tax, we change this country from a consuming country to a savings country overnight. We incentivize the American people to live within our means, to save and to improve our productive capacity. And the academics project we’d have 10-percent growth as a result of it, and the world will reinvest in this nation — bring back the manufacturing — because it will become the largest tax haven in the world.

Where your plan differs from Huckabee’s is how the revenues are spent. You’ve mentioned that portions would go towards creating a national health-care plan. Describe how that would work. The two things that have added the rust belt and have chased jobs from our shores are the income-tax and the way we finance healthcare. We require that business carry the cost of healthcare. Well, that’s ridiculous. That makes them uncompetitive. So what I would do is [use] probably around six or seven percent [of revenues] — whatever the people wanted. That’s what would pay for healthcare in our country. It would universal, and it would be a voucher system on a competitive basis. It wouldn’t be the government that would decide what the services would be; it would be the individuals, the people.