Dick Gephardt Disgraces Himself … Again

by DAVID MACARAY

In 1988, the labor union I belonged to, the AWPPW (Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers), hoped Missouri congressman Dick Gephardt would win the Democratic nomination for president.  Of all the candidates in the field (Al Gore, Paul Simon, Jesse Jackson, Gary Hart and Michael Dukakis), Gephardt was judged to be the most labor friendly.

Not only was Gephardt clearly moving further and further to the political left (having started out as a centrist), his personal story was compelling.  His modest net worth and natural humility made union folks believe that he was the one candidate who could genuinely empathize with the problems and challenges facing working people. 

Yes, Michael Dukakis’ people were Greek immigrants, and, yes, Jesse Jackson had managed to rise above poverty and racial bigotry.  But for working folks, Gephardt was the real deal; he didn’t just talk it, he walked it.  He was brought up in a struggling, working class family in St. Louis, Missouri—his mother a housewife, his father a Teamster member who drove a milk truck.

But after getting off to a great start, winning the Iowa caucus and finishing second in the New Hampshire primary, Gephardt hit the wall.  Like any front-runner in a national primary, he soon discovered he had a bulls-eye painted on his back.  The other candidates attacked him mercilessly.  Negative advertising, a lack of charisma, a shortage of money, and the withdrawal of the UAW’s earlier endorsement combined to sink him.

He ran again in 2004, but this time didn’t make it out of Iowa.  He finished a distant fourth to John Kerry, John Edwards and Howard Dean, and withdrew the next day.  By 2004, he was one of organized labor’s staunchest and most vocal supporters, having gone on record as opposing Clinton’s NAFTA agreement and criticizing as potentially catastrophic the notion of so-called “free trade.” 

Gephardt boldly predicted that corporate America’s wildly enthusiastic embrace of “globalization” was a glorified scam, one that would result in a catastrophic  loss of jobs at home as well as a huge windfall for the corporations, both here and abroad.  Instead of the people benefiting, it would be the oligarchies who profited.  He couldn’t have been more right.

In 2004, organized labor was once again split on whom to support.  While the eastern, Ivy League-bred and New Age “techie,” Howard Dean, was seen as the face of Labor Future, Gephardt, the stolid and dependable choice of America’s traditional “smoke stack” unions, was seen as the face of Labor Past.  Being depicted as superannuated didn’t help.  Still, that any big-time union would choose a Johnny-come-lately like Dean—or a silver-tongued pretty boy like John Edwards—over himself was a body blow to Gephardt.  

According to union insiders, despite the clear evidence that unions were doing pretty much what they’ve always done—going their separate ways for God knows what reasons, and backing opposing candidates—Gephardt nonetheless believed he had the endorsement of the AFL-CIO in his pocket. 

Reportedly, when Gephardt didn’t get that endorsement (the House of Labor dragged its feet until the last minute, announcing that it wouldn’t commit until later in the primary, eventually throwing in with John Kerry), he was devastated.  He went into a monumental funk, drenched in disillusionment and self-pity.  And that was that.

So what does a labor union supporter and former 14-term congressman do after abandoning all hope of becoming president?  Does he hook up with a union and use his connections to further the cause?  Does he put his Northwestern University bachelor’s degree and University of Michigan law degree to use by doing public interest work?  Does he teach, write books and go on the lecture circuit, extolling the virtues of America’s workers?

No. He turns his back on what he formerly stood for and goes for the easy money.  He places his snout in the trough right next to the other guys.  Gephardt becomes a lobbyist.  Not only a lobbyist, but a lobbyist for Goldman Sachs.

This former critic of Wall Street is now a booster of Wall Street.  With his knowledge and connections, there were a dozen ways Gephardt could have helped the labor movement.  He could have made a difference.  Instead, by defecting, he defiled his legacy and further fanned the flames of cynicism.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright, is the author of “It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”. He served 9 terms as president of AWPPW Local 672. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net   

 

WORDS THAT STICK

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 03, 2015
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
A Day of Tears: Report from the “sHell No!” Action in Portland
Tom Clifford
Guns of August: the Gulf War Revisited
Renee Lovelace
I Dream of Ghana
Geoffrey McDonald
Obama’s Overtime Tweak: What is the Fair Price of a Missed Life?
Brian Cloughley
Hypocrisy, Obama-Style
Colin Todhunter
GMOs: Where Does Science Begin and Lobbying End?
Ben Debney
Modern Newspeak Dictionary, pt. II
Christopher Brauchli
Guns Don’t Kill People, Immigrants Do and Other Congressional Words of Wisdom
S. Mubashir Noor
India’s UNSC Endgame
Ellen Taylor
The Voyage of the Golden Rule
Norman Ball
Ten Questions for Lee Drutman: Author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”
Franklin Lamb
Return to Ma’loula, Syria