BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Richard Gephardt, why did you name your book "An Even Better Place"?
REPRESENTATIVE RICHARD GEPHARDT, AUTHOR, "AN EVEN BETTER PLACE:" 'Cause I'm optimistic. I think we can do
better. I think we can have a better country, a better society. And
I think we can, most importantly, meet our major challenges in the
LAMB: When did you think you wanted to do a book?
REP. GEPHARDT: Probably first occurred to me after I ran for
president in 1988 and lost and--but learned a lot about the country,
saw a lot of things that really affected me and impressed me. And
then during the years after that, I kept seeing things like the way we
educate kids, the way our political system works, the way our
health-care system works or doesn't work, and--and I thought I ought
to write about it. There are some things that I've seen I think are
very impressive that people can do in their own lives, and I wanted to
talk about that.
LAMB: Who was--and I'm not sure I'll pronounce it right--Red--is it
Villa (pronounced VEE-LAH) or Villa (pronounced VILL-AH)?
REP. GEPHARDT: Villa (pronounced VILL-AH).
LAMB: Who was he? Who is he?
REP. GEPHARDT: He--he was a--he's not alive now. He's deceased,
unfortunately, but he was the--my mentor in the Board of Aldermen in
St. Louis. He was kind of the Tip O'Neill of the Board of Aldermen
in St. Louis when I came on. He was a saloon keeper in his real life
and an alderman for many, many years and a great man.
LAMB: Remember the first day you met him?
REP. GEPHARDT: Absolutely. You'd never forget that--big, long
cigar, great big man, bald, little red hair arou--but that was Red
Villa. He was a great human being, loved the Board of Aldermen, loved
the legislative process of reconciling conflicts, and loved serving
people, and loved people. And--and those were the things I remember
LAMB: What did he tell you about being a politician?
REP. GEPHARDT: He said it's a service business. I write about this
in the book. He said it's a service business. He said, `I'm in the
saloon business, and I have to have clean glasses, for instance. And
if there's ever a day the glasses aren't clean, they go to the tavern
down the street.' He said, `That's the way you have to be as a public
servant. You have to take care of people's needs. If the tree needs
to be cut down, you better get it cut down. If the hole in the street
needs to be repaired, you better get it repaired. That's what they
care about, and that's what they think about when they go to vote on
LAMB: Five years as an alderman, 22 years as a congressman. What was
an alderman's job like compared to being a congressman?
REP. GEPHARDT: A lot of similarities; a lot of contact with your
constituents on a daily basis, a lot of complaints incoming, and
hopefully you can help solve some of those complaints; also, a lot of
educating and a lot of talking to your constituents, explaining why
you voted a particular way on an issue. The issues are, you know,
different in terms of level of government, but they're really very
much the same. But also dealing with fellow legislators. He always
told me what Dick Boling told me here, which is, `Keep your word.
You're going to--if you tell somebody you're going to do something,
you better do it. Don't give your vote away easily. Don't pledge
you're going to vote a certain way until you really know you're going
to do that.' And they both said, `Nothing big ever happens that's not
bipartisan. We don't have a parliamentary form of government where
the party all votes together all the time. You've got to find allies
on the other side of the aisle to get things done.'
LAMB: If people work for you for some time, I assume they can--there
are little Gephardtisms that come up. What would you say they are
when it comes to the way--your own Gephardt rules of dealing with
REP. GEPHARDT: I have one rule that is the most important thing I've
ever learned, and I talk about it in the book and it's what my mother
taught me. And it is to treat other people the way you'd like to be
treated. And I think it's the most important rule for any of us as an
individual in any organization, certainly a business and certainly a
politician or a political office. If you can carry that out on a
daily basis, then you're going to be fine. My mother used to say--she
used to get down on my level when I was a little kid, and she'd look
me in the eye and say, `Dick, look at me. Listen to me.' And then
she'd say, `Before you say anything to anybody, before you do anything
to anybody, think how you would like it done to you. And if you'll
follow that rule, you'll be fine.' And she's right. And it applies to
any human organization and to any human being.
LAMB: When did you finish your book?
REP. GEPHARDT: About the end of this year, the last year and maybe
into a month or so of this year, and it's--it was a hard process. I'd
never done this. I had a lot of notes I'd taken to myself through the
years. And when I really got into it, I got a laptop, and I would
write a lot of it on airplanes, as I travel around back and forth to
my district or to help other members run for Congress. And so a lot
of it was done on airplanes. So that's--that's how you do it. And
it's a pains--it's a painful process. Because when the editor gets
ahold of it, they really make you toe the line and get things
LAMB: Do you read books yourself a lot?
REP. GEPHARDT: I read a lot of books.
LAMB: What would we find you reading and what do you like when you
get a book that you're reading?
REP. GEPHARDT: I'm not a fiction reader. I'm a non-fiction reader.
I like things that I'm interested in or that we're working on in the
Congress or in my office, whether it's health care or I'm--as the book
well points out, I'm fascinated with education. I think it's our most
important challenge. I think I can never know enough about how to
improve education of our children. And I'm interested in the way
companies run and--and organi--human organizations, so that they're
highly motivated and--and highly productive. So I read a lot. I read
a lot of business books, and I read a lot of books about how to lead
in business, and--and I read a lot of books about education.
LAMB: I want to ask you about some of the different examples you
give, but first in the book, your mother's 90, I remember.
REP. GEPHARDT: She's...
LAMB: Is she still 90?
REP. GEPHARDT: She's 91 now.
LAMB: Where does she live?
REP. GEPHARDT: St. Louis. And she's going strong. She drives
herself to the YMCA every day and jumps in the pool and swims 34 laps.
And she's a blessed woman, but she's really taken care of herself.
And she used to te--also tell me when I was a kid, `You've got to use
it or lose it.' And she would say get out and run or walk or play
tennis or do something to keep your body together and--and strong.
And then she's really done that.
LAMB: Your father was a milk truck driver.
REP. GEPHARDT: He was a retail milk truck driver at Pevely Dairy in
St. Louis for many years, and his back gave out, and then he went
into selling real estate in a--in his later career. He wasn't
particularly successful at any of this, and--and we didn't have a lot
of money. We were--we were in--certainly in the lower part of the
middle class. But--but I had a great life, and I have great parents,
and it's the best gift that any child can have. It's the best thing
that ever happened to me.
LAMB: Is your dad alive?
REP. GEPHARDT: He's not. He died in 1984 at the age of 80, and a
lot of things went wrong with him. But he--he lived an active life,
and he was a proud and honest man, a good man.
LAMB: And when was it that the two of them would actually physically
campaign with you?
REP. GEPHARDT: In my race for alderman. I had two elections for
alderman. They--they would go door to door with me, and my wife would
as well. And later my--when the kids came along, they would--they
would join us as well. And we went door to door in all of the
campaigns for Congress through the years, and I still go door to door
regularly in my district, and I go door to door even when we're not in
campaign time, because I find it's a very good way to stay in touch
with your--with your constituents.
LAMB: What's the worst memory you have from going door to door?
REP. GEPHARDT: Many.
LAMB: What's the--I mean, what's the most obnoxious thing somebody'll
say to you?
REP. GEPHARDT: Well, I could tell you one story that kind of
typifies what happens to you going door to door. I went to one door a
few elections ago, and the man came to the door. He was muscular and
was about 45 years old, and he had his shirt off, and he had a screen
door. And--and he came up to the door and he just looked out and
said, `Gephardt.' I said, `Yes, sir. I'm Dick Gephardt. I'm running
for Congress again.' And he said, `I wouldn't vote for you if you were
the last'--he had some curse words and slammed the door. And
I've--you're just crestfallen. I don't care who you are or how long
you've been at this, you don't like that. That's not good. So I was
downcast. I thought, `Well, I'll go to one more door.' It was the end
of the day. And I went to the next door. And the woman came to the
door and she looked out, and she said, `Dick Gephardt?' She said, `We
love you. We think you're the best. Would you stand here for a
picture with my kids?' And she brought all her kids out. She got her
camera and took my picture. And she was so excited. All I could
think of when I left her door was, `I wonder if these people who live
next door to another--one another ever talk about me, 'cause they have
diametrically opposed opinions.' And that's really some of the irony
of campaigning and dealing with the public and being a public servant.
LAMB: Have you ever lost an election?
REP. GEPHARDT: Yes, I have. I ran for president in 1988 and didn't
come out of the primaries, as you might remember. I won in Iowa
and--and i--and in a couple of other states, but I couldn't go through
it, didn't make it through it and--and lost.
LAMB: But back--going back to high school and college, you
had--What?--were you student body president or student council
president in high school?
REP. GEPHARDT: Student body president at Northwestern University in
the early '60s and, no, I haven't--other than the presidential, I
haven't lost an election up till now. Knock on wood.
LAMB: And what's it like to win? What's it feel like?
REP. GEPHARDT: It's humbling more than any--tha--that's the main
emotion. It--obviously, you're happy and you're--you know, you
reached your goal and--and you're gratified that people accepted you
and gave you the contract for another two years or whatever it is.
But it--it's humbling. You feel, first of all, you can't do it. You
can't win without the help of--of lots of people--your family and your
friends and supporters who really go out of their way to help you.
And you're--you're humbled by that, and you're full of gratitude that
people have come out of their daily private life to help you do this.
And then, second, you--you feel gratitude and--and humility toward the
constituency, whether they voted for you or not, that you've been
given this responsibility. And you--you take it seriously. I
certainly do. And I'm--I'm always humbled by what's ahead of us
and--and what we got to try to do. And I want to do a good job.
LAMB: Do you feel differently when you lost?
REP. GEPHARDT: No. I--I was asked in a press conference here, as a
matter of fact, with my family, didn't I feel that I was mistreated by
the press or that, you know, people didn't help me or whatever. I
said I'm the luckiest guy in the world. I said I've got a great
family. I've got three healthy kids. We have a great life together.
I have a wonderful wife. We love one another. We get along. We've
been married for 32 years now. I'm the luckiest guy in the world.
Losing an election is--is not a big deal. We had great supporters.
We ran a good race. We did our best. You--you can't win all the
time. And losing is part of life, and you should learn from it and
make a positive out of it.
LAMB: You--you name your teachers in here. Who were the ones that
were your favorites and why did they have an impact on you?
REP. GEPHARDT: A number of them did. I didn't--I didn't have the
room to mention all of them, and it--and it wasn't possible to do it.
But I talk--Helen Baldwin was a friend of our family. She was a
substitute teacher. She now is in Illinois. She's retired. But she
would coach me and--and help me with my homework and talk to me about
issues and educational subjects and was a great friend of our family,
a great friend of my mom and dad. I remember Ms. Thoele, who was my
elementary school principal, and I think this is in the book. She
called my parents in one night and--and said, `Dick and Don'--Don's my
brother; he's four years older than I am--and she said, `Dick
and--both Dick and Don have the ability to go to college, and you
really ought to start saving money for them to go to college.' And I
remember my parents coming home from that meeting and talking with us
about it. Neither of them had gotten through high school. So going
to college was really not something we talked much about and probably
wouldn't have happened but for that meeting with Ms. Thoele. She
also said, `They should go out of town, if you can possibly do it,
because that'll make them grow up and they'll be more independent and
know how to live on their own.' And we both got to do that. And that
was a huge deal in my life.
Ms. Meenach I talk about. She was my speech teacher. Radio and
television in high school, we had fake cameras. We didn't have real
cameras. But she taught speech, and she got me to go to the
Northwestern University High School Institute, told me about it,
helped me get a scholarship, signed me up, encouraged me to go. I
know I would have never gone there without that. That's where I
eventually went to college. These are things that are just--you never
forget. And these are people that all of us need in our lives to help
us succeed. You can't do it on your own. You just can't. You need
help. And teachers are, you know, children's best friend. And they
certainly were in my case.
LAMB: You talk about support you've had over the years from the
unions and that you're a union person. What impact did your father's
membership in the Teamsters Union have on you?
REP. GEPHARDT: It was a big impact. He would always say that even
though he didn't make a huge amount of money, that he would not make
nearly as much as he did were it not for his union membership and the
collective bargaining of the union he belonged to. He worked very
hard, and he earned a--a decent living, and we were--he always said,
`We have food on the table because of the union.' And--and he said,
`I'm not sure we would if I were out there on my own.' And that always
made an impression on me. I--I know how hard he worked and how honest
he was and what a good person he was. And that--that stayed with
me--that a union is really important to working people in this country
in that they would not be able to have as good a living for their
families if they didn't have that help.
LAMB: You point out that there's a decline in membership in your
book. Why do you think that's the case?
REP. GEPHARDT: I--I think there's been a--a diminution in standard
of living in our country and--and a widening between the--the rich and
the poor, the haves and the have-nots. And I think unions have been
going down in membership, and that's been a part of what's happening.
Unions are not desired by a lot of employers. They want to get wages
down and--and have higher profits, and I understand that. But it is
an attitude which has really caused a greater division of standard of
living income between the very wealthy and the rest of America. And
that's something I worry about. America was built on the middle
class. I talk in the book about growing up in the '50s and people
feeling like they were moving up, wages were going up, people were
buying cars and houses after the war. There was a sense that
everybody could get in the middle class. And that sense is very
important to a democracy. And I think it's been very important to
America. So my hope is that, with or without unions, that we can get
back to a rising tide for working families.
LAMB: When you originally wrote this book, did you think you were
going to be running for president when it came out?
REP. GEPHARDT: I didn't know. I really had not made that decision
and didn't expect to make that decision until the early part of 1999
when I made the decision. But I wanted to write the book in any
event. These were things that I had seen and were very impressed
with--schools that really work or companies that really work, where
they got tremendous productivity out of their employees, where there's
a real feeling of collaboration and cooperation and togetherness. And
I just--I thought these are things people need to know about, because
we can do these things. We can solve these problems. It's being
done. Let's talk about where it's being done, and maybe so--some
people out there will get a sense that they can do something.
This book is really a citizen's guide for what individual citizens can
do to help America meet some of its most important problems and
individuals to meet their most important problems.
LAMB: What's the first thing you would recommend that a citizen do?
REP. GEPHARDT: Vote and--and take part in political life, at least
by voting and, if they can, to support candidates of their choice and
work in the political system. One of my great worries that I express
in the book is that just at the time the whole world is moving toward
our form of democracy and capitalism, a lot of our citizens are
getting fed up, cynical, and they don't want to participate.
We had a primary election in August in Missouri last year where 14
percent of the electorate--the registered electorate showed up. That,
to me, is a real, real danger sign and something that we've really got
to turn around. And I talk a lot in the book about getting rid of the
politics of destruction and the negativity that's in politics today
and to inspire young people to really want to at least vote, if not
run themselves or certainly help others run for office.
LAMB: You say early on in the book that it's gotten to the place
where the Republicans and the Democrats don't even look each other in
the eye. Is that still going on?
REP. GEPHARDT: It's a little better. We are both trying to move
back to a more cooperative atmosphere. The new speaker is easier to
communicate with and we meet more frequently than we did in the first
four years that the Republicans were in the majority. And I think
that's to the good. I think there are less frivolous ethics claims
being filed or complaints being filed in the Congress as part of the
continuing political dialogue, which I think is very disruptive. If
we're going to try to run for office by assassinating each other's
character, then we really turn everybody off. And--and I don't know
who you get to run for office. I keep saying to people, `This is
self-government. We need volunteers.' This thing--there are no kings
or queens in this country. No one gets appointed to run for public
office. You have to get volunteers. You want good people. You want
the best. And you won't get that if people feel that not only are
they giving up something financially and time with their family, but
now they're going to be attacked endlessly, their character's going to
be assassinated, every possible thing they've ever done is going to be
examined by some special prosecutor? We won't get anybody to run. We
won't get anybody to even volunteer to take a--an appointed job. And
we sure will lose the participation in the voters. And I'm--I'm very
worried about it. I think we got very close to really wrecking the
system. I hope we're working our way back.
LAMB: Where did it start?
REP. GEPHARDT: I--I identify TV as part of the problem. I don't
want to blame it all on television, but it--it is part of the problem.
What politics has figured out is that if you can sell beer or
hamburgers or soap over television through repetitive 30-second ads,
that you can do the same thing with politicians. The politician
becomes the product. And so we sell the human being, or we detract
from the human being over these 30-second spots, it's made a huge
change. Now this is not to say there weren't negative politics in our
past. Obviously, there were. But it wasn't as effective as it is on
television. And so that's been a part of it. That's why I'm for
campaign reform and think it's a very important thing we need to do.
I think in addition to that, the media has gotten into a negative
cycle. They want to tell you the bad about politicians and
government, never the good. And so the only thing that's news is bad,
negative, horrible. And so we've kind of gotten people into a
pessimistic frame of mind about politics. And I think, finally, as
politicians learn that all this negativity is sometimes more moving to
voters than being positive, the whole dialogue in campaigns is now
negative and not positive. And I d--I don't know how we get out of
it, because as long as pollsters tell politicians, `Hey, you got to go
negative in order to win, because it works,' it's very hard to move it
back from that. And--and I think voters--individual voters and
citizens have to demand a better politics, more idealism, more
LAMB: Have you ever said in any campaign to a consultant, `I'm not
going to run that spot'?
REP. GEPHARDT: I've ha--I have done that, and I also try to stay
positive, and I don't hit back un--unless I'm hit. And,
unfortunately, in past campaigns--in the recent past, the whole
dialogue out of the other side is negative. I mean, there's never a
positive word of what anybody wants to do. So you're--you're right at
it right away.
LAMB: Does it work for them?
REP. GEPHARDT: Oh, I'm sure it does. I mean, we've seen negative
ads go up, and you see your numbers begin to fall. I mean, it--it's
really like science. And it's scary. And if you don't deal with
it--I tell candidates who are going to run for the Congress, `If you
get him, you better answer immediately. You better answer
immediately, because people will accept negative information about any
REP. GEPHARDT: I--it's the frame of mind that we've got the whole
country in. People are suspicious. People are cynical. People
feel--they've heard so much negative, that it's kind of the only thing
they're willing to accept. They think they're getting hyped if you
give them positive information. `Oh, that can't be true. That--that
candidate can't be--they--they can't have accomplished that or they
can't be that good. They're--what's really going on here?' And so
we've kind of gotten ourselves into a negative cycle of thinking.
Now, again, part of it's the media. Turn on the news any night, and
what do you see? It's mostly negative. I once had a--a--a group of
high school students from all over the country in my district for a
meeting. These are the best kids. These are the kids that were
scholar athletes. They were student government leaders. And I went
to the meeting and heard them all talking, give some speeches. And I
thought, `Boy, these kids are great. People would love to see these
young people.' And I called the local TV channel, one of them, and I
said, `Would you send a crew out to interview these kids?' They said,
`We're not going to come out there.' And I said, `Why not?' And they
said, `Well, we'll have lunch and,' the news director said,
`I'll--I'll tell you why.' We had lunch. He said, `Look, we run the
news on the Nielsen ratings. And the Nielsen ratings say people want
to see violence. They want to see blood. They want to see sex. They
want to see weather and sports.' He said, `We're--we're not going to
put on some all-American kids that everybody knows are out there.' And
I said, `No, they don't know they're out there. That's the point.'
We almost need a Good News Network, you know, GNN, instead of CNN.
And that, I think, is what's missing. There's no balance in our news.
There's no, `Here's the other side of the story. Here are the kids
that are succeeding.' I went to my daughter's graduation at Vanderbilt
University about a month ago, and I listened to these kids' bios that
were graduating, and it knocked you out. I was so impressed. Nobody
ever sees these kids. We have reams of information about the kids
that have killed other kids or gotten involved in drugs. We never
hear the good. There's no balance to the average citizen. That's one
of the reasons--and I'm not gilling the lily--your C-SPAN at least
puts on reality. It gives you a sense that there's good and bad in
things so that people come away at least with a sense that there's
some good out there and there's a reason to be positive and a reason
to be optimistic.
LAMB: Let me ask you an obvious question, though. In our society if
a Good News Network, a GNN, would make money, wouldn't they do it?
Wouldn't somebody do it? And if they--if it wouldn't make money and
they're not doing it, why does negativity sell so well? Go back to
the original question.
REP. GEPHARDT: I--I'm not a journalist, so I don't understand
exactly how the thought pattern goes on. I think what happened was
that they assume if th--if things were good or normal, that was
non-news. News, what's new? Well, what's new is somebody that's bad,
somebody that's out of the norm. And so that became the rule that
journalists looked at for what's news. The problem is that it gives a
skewed view of reality, and--and people don't get the other side.
They don't see what's normal or what is good out there that we should
feel good about and try to encourage.
I don't know. I think a Good News Network might make it. I--I'm not
convinced of this. I think the Nielsen ratings are fine to look at,
but I--I think if you put it out there, especially with cable and all
these channels that we now have, maybe we could--maybe they could make
it. Maybe they could--again, they could--you know, they could put a
disclaimer up and say, `Now, look, every--all the kids aren't this
good or all the teachers aren't terrific, but here are a lot of them
that are.' And I think people are dying to hear that kind of
LAMB: In the mix of what you're talking about here, what has the
politician done wrong?
REP. GEPHARDT: I think we've allowed our standards to go down in
terms of the way we run campaigns. I think we've all gotten caught up
in negative campaigning because it works. And once it starts, it's
very hard to stop. It's like the cycle of near violence I talk about
in the book where, you know, you file an ethics complaint against one
of our members. OK, we'll--we'll show you. We'll file against you.
And then it's like violence anywhere--violence in Ireland. Why--why
am I--why are the IRA, you know, hurting Orangemen? `Because they
hurt us.' We're always remembering the last violence. It's a cycle of
retribution, of revenge. And you got to get out of it. You've got to
stop it. And you've got to get out. And the only way you stop it is
the way they stop it in--violence in Ireland or the Middle East. The
people have to decide, `Enough is enough. We don't want this anymore.
We're not going to do this anymore.'
That doesn't mean you don't have ethics process. That doesn't mean
you don't try to find wrongdoing where it exists. But you don't
gratuitously go out and try to seek revenge from the last wrong that
was visited on you. I think it kind of started at Watergate. That's
the one place I can see that you had a clear demarcation. I think a
lot of Republicans looked at that and said, `These are trumped-up
charges against Dick Nixon. This was just, you know, Re--Democrats
trying to get rid of a president because they didn't like him or they
didn't agree with him.' And then you had judges that people went after
personally, people put up for Supreme Court or for Cabinet positions.
And then people appointed to be Cabinet officers would get attacked.
And then politicians would go at each other's personal lives and
And we finally wind up with impeachment of the--President Clinton, not
that he shouldn't have been investigated, not that anybody was wrong
for voting for impeachment. I understand all that. But then on the
very day he was impeached, you have Bob Livingston--and I talk about
this in the book--resigning because some magazine has brought out some
revelation about his personal life. Bob Livingston's a fine human
being. I served with him here for 20 years. My wife knows his wife.
I thought that was horrible, horrible, that his life and his career
would be ruined under the basis some--one magazine said. And--and
they're trying to retaliate, I guess, for what was happening to the
president. I mean, this--that was a bad day. I mean, we were kind of
at the end of the line here in terms of retaliation. And I hope that
was the end and we can move back to a better time.
LAMB: What was your reaction when you heard the story about Bob
Livingston, what he had done?
REP. GEPHARDT: I was dumbfounded. As I say in the book, my
secretary came in--press secretary came in. She said, `There's a
rumor that Livingston's going to resign.' I said, `That's ridiculous.'
I was writing my speech, watching C-SPAN, watching him give his speech
on the floor. And, sure enough, two minutes later, he resigns on the
floor. I don't know if you remember the speech. He was saying the
president ought to resign before--then he resigned. Some of our
members were up yelling at him to resign. And then he did resign. I
LAMB: But what about what he was reported to have done in his
personal life, or it was in his own office over here? Did that bother
REP. GEPHARDT: Everybody has a personal life. Everybody is en--is
entitled to a personal life. I do not think that even if what was
alleged to have happened happened--and I don't know that it did--that
that was reason for him not to be speaker of the House. I just don't
believe that. Now, you know, no one is proud of everything they've
done. We're all imperfect. We all make mistakes. None of us is
perfect. But if it is not something that impinges on his ability to
carry out his job, just as in the case of the president--I didn't like
what the president did. I thought it was very, very wrong. But I did
not think he should be impeached. I thought he should be censured. I
thought he should be reprimanded in public, and he was, for what he
had done and the pain he had caused, but not thrown out of office.
And I think i--if we don't get back to that point, then I think you're
going to have very few people in public office in this country. As I
said in my speech, we're men and women, not angels. None of us is
perfect. None of us can stand the test. None of us is created, you
know, a perfect human being. And we've got to try to bring out the
best in people and get people in public service who have talent, who
have ability, who have passion, who have commitment, even though
they've made some mistakes in their lives.
LAMB: You write in here about lobbyists and the impact they have on
the system. As a matter of fact, you say the lobbyists set to work,
as usual, promoting breaks and special provisions for their favored
industries. And I want to ask you about the system here. You've been
here 22 years or 23 years. What's your reaction when one of your
colleagues leaves Congress, goes downtown to K Street, triples their
income, and then they're on the phone to you, `Dick, can I come in and
see you? I want to bring my clients in'? What is your reaction then
when you have the fund-raisers and they bring the checks and all that?
I mean, is this something that the public is seeing here and saying
they don't like, or do you get any feedback on this?
REP. GEPHARDT: Oh, the public, I think, really doesn't like the
system the way it works. They think too much money is in the system,
and they're very much for campaign reform. And they're right. This
is not a good system. It needs to be changed, and we can change it.
You start with soft money. We should not be in a position where we're
trying to raise these huge amounts of money from corporations or
individuals. But th--those are the rules today. If you don't play by
the rules, you're not going to win. I mean, money equals rating
points and the ability to win elections.
LAMB: Can vote--are votes being bought?
REP. GEPHARDT: I don't think so, but I would also say to you that
too much time is spent raising money.
LAMB: How much time do you spend?
REP. GEPHARDT: I spend a good deal of time. I not only raise money
for my own re-election, I raise money for the Democratic Congressional
Committee so that we can elect other members to the Congress. I work
and go to fund-raisers for other members as leader of the Democrats in
the House. And I just think that it--it consumes too much time, that
we have to pay too much attention to it.
I further think that even though it is not corrupting and should not
be, I think it raises questions in voters' minds that shouldn't be
there. People should never say, `Well, you know, Gephardt got $10,000
from the widget industry. Therefore, he's going to vote right for
widgets.' Why should we raise those questions? If you didn't have
soft money, if it was only $1,000, I think most people would say,
`Well, if he didn't get $1,000 from the widget people, he could get
$1,000 from somebody else.' That isn't going to affect their
perception of what's happening here.
LAMB: But have you ever said, though, or you have an aide say, `Look,
so-and-so came and gave $100,000 of soft money. They want to come see
you.' And you say, `Well, bring him in. Got to see him.' I mean,
isn't--is that go--does that ever go on with you?
REP. GEPHARDT: It doesn't go on with me, and I really don't believe
that's the way members make decisions here. That is not the way
decisions should be made. I'm here for the people that voted for me,
sent me here, even the ones that didn't vote for me. I represent
them. I--that's almost a religious concept. I mean, my ties with
them, my responsibility is to them, to nobody else. And I'm offended
if anybody who's ever given me a contribution would ever say to me,
`You need to vote this way, because we did this for you.' That--that's
corrupt. That should not happen.
LAMB: What about just the access, though? I mean, some companies are
giving equal amounts of money to both parties. Would they give that
money to both parties if it didn't give them access?
REP. GEPHARDT: Well, I don't believe in providing access to somebody
just because they gave you money. I do think, as public servants, we
ought to be accessible to all of our constituents and other people in
the country that are affected by issues. You should listen to people.
Lobbyists have a legitimate role to play here in representing the
legitimate interests of whatever group or individual they're trying to
represent. I think that's entirely OK. But you shouldn't give them
more access or easier access than you give to anybody else who hasn't
given you money or is against you or whatever. They--they deserve the
same shot at telling you what they think. And we try to listen to
them as well.
LAMB: How long have you been a leader, I mean, in--in leadership
REP. GEPHARDT: I was elected chairman of our caucus in 1984, and
then after the presidential debacle, I came back and was elected
majority leader in 1989, and then I was elected minority leader in
LAMB: What do you do behind the scenes that we don't see that gets
the members in your own party to say, `I want Dick Gephardt to lead
REP. GEPHARDT: I meet with people all day long. That's all I do.
It's--one time my--one of my kids said, `What do you do?' I mean, they
know what I do, but he said, `What do you do on a daily'--I said, `I
meet with people.' And that is what I do. I meet with members in the
caucus all day long and sometimes all--into the night. And a job of
leadership is a job of communication. It's a job of motivation, but
it's also mainly a job of listening carefully to what people are
telling you, what their opinion is, what they think, what they want to
have happen. That doesn't mean you have to do it their way, but you
need to listen to them. You need to show them respect. All of us
want to be respected. We want to be treated the way we'd like to be
LAMB: On a given day, how many people will you meet with?
REP. GEPHARDT: Oh, my. I--I run the leadership on the Democratic
side in what I call a small D democratic method. And that means I
have a leadership group now of 60 people, and we meet every day at
5:00. And they represent every part of the caucus. And I listen to
them, and we listen to one another and we collaborate and communicate
about the policies that we're going to try to follow as a group, if we
can. And then we have a caucus every week where all 206 members come
to one room and talk in a--in a little different way, but same
process. And we have a whip meeting every Thursday in addition to
these nightly 5:00 meetings, and we, again, get 60, 70 different
people in a room and hear--hear them out and talk about policy as
well. You cannot meet enough. You cannot communicate enough. It's
like a marriage. Any two human beings, you got to talk, you got to
communicate. Language is a very imperfect way to communicate
feelings, beliefs, ideas, reality. It's a very bad communications
system. Numbers and arithmetic is much more realistic. And that
means you got to really work at it. And--and that means you've got to
meet a lot, talk a lot, listen a lot in order to--to get common human
action and agreement.
LAMB: In addition to those meetings, though, how often do you find
yourself in your office with one other human being, one on one, in a
REP. GEPHARDT: Oh, my, i--every half an hour, there's a different
meeting of some kind, sometimes every 15 minutes.
LAMB: Do you ever get tired of people coming to you and asking for
REP. GEPHARDT: No, no. And often they don't ask for things.
They're telling--they want to tell you something. Or they want to
share a problem or they want to talk about something that's coming up
that could be a problem and what they think ought to be done about it,
or they want to get on a committee or they want to carry out an effort
within the caucus on a particular issue. And the main thing to do is
to be accessible and to listen and to communicate and to try to factor
all this information you're getting into a cohesive set of ideas and
LAMB: After listening to all these people all these years, what is it
that people should know about you when they come to see you that you
don't like somebody to do?
REP. GEPHARDT: Well, it's kind of like what Red Villa told me,
`Don't--don't say something you're going to do and then not do it.'
You really have to trust people. It's the most important, other than
respect--is trust in human relationships. And you very quickly find
out whether you can trust someone. And this is true in families and
marriages as well as it is in--in any human endeavor.
LAMB: In the four years that Newt Gingrich was speaker, how often did
you two have a one-on-one meeting?
REP. GEPHARDT: Oh, not many times. I--I'd say a handful of times a
LAMB: Six times a year.
REP. GEPHARDT: Maybe not even that.
LAMB: Did you trust each other?
REP. GEPHARDT: We just didn't have much of a relationship. And--and
I don't--you know, I'm not saying it was his fault or my fault or
anybody's fault. I--I've al--often said I think a lot of it was his
view of the way the place should run. He thought it was a--a
parliamentary system. By that I mean he was going to get all the
votes for everything on his side alone. In Britain, in the
Parliament, when the Labor Party brings its budget--when the prime
minister, who's part of the Parliament, brings the budget, it's
accepted the next day. And everybody in Labor has to vote for it.
That's just the deal. Here, you never have that. But he, I think,
really tried to do that. Well, if that's your theory of running the
place and that's the way you think it ought to work, then you don't
need the minority; you don't need to talk to the minority, 'cause,
`We're never going to vote with them, and so they're irrelevant.' And
I think that's the way he thought about it.
LAMB: What about the president? How often do you sit down with him
REP. GEPHARDT: Well, usually it's in a group with some of the other
leaders and sometimes in a bipartisan leadership group, and I'd say
it's about once a week, sometimes two weeks. But it's fairly often.
And we--we meet about a lot of different things. Obviously, when
Kosovo was going on, there were a lot of meetings and briefings and
telephone calls back and forth and just trying to keep things
LAMB: How can people know when you're not happy, when you're mad at
them, when you're irritated, when you're--you've been moved the wrong
REP. GEPHARDT: I try not to be angry with people. I try to hold...
REP. GEPHARDT: I--I try not to be. Obviously, you do get upset with
people or irritated, frustrated. But I've never believed you get
anywhere with anger. I've always--again, to go back to my mother's
admonition, it's the most important thing I've ever learned: Treat
other people the way you like to be treated. When you think about
that, if somebody's really shouting at you and angry at you, you don't
like it. And so I d--I've never believed you got very far by really
getting up in somebody's face and screaming at them. It--it just
doesn't solve anything, and it probably ends the communication. It
doesn't begin it.
LAMB: Go back to the whole basis on this civility you're talking
about here, because there's a connection between you and the president
that you even mention in the book, and that's George Stephanopoulos.
REP. GEPHARDT: Yes.
LAMB: Used to work for you.
REP. GEPHARDT: Yes.
LAMB: For how long?
REP. GEPHARDT: For about three or four years.
LAMB: What do you think of the practice in this town of working for
someone and then going out and writing a book that's not particularly
favorable to them or you take the other role once you've--you know,
critical role once you've worked for them?
REP. GEPHARDT: It's not a wonderful thing, but George, I think, was
trying to relay to the people a--a piece of time that he was in the
White House, and a very important time. I think before people jump to
the conclusion that this was a bad thing for him to do, they ought to
read the book. The book has actually got a lot of good things about
the president, a lot of good things that the administration did that
George helped make happen. And I think it's important to have history
written down somewhere. It adds to the history of the period. And I
think that can be a constructive thing to do. I--I think it's less of
a telltale book than some of the pundits have made it out to be.
LAMB: Your book's been out for a while, and you talk about good news
being important. This is not exactly negative news. How has it sold?
And--and if it had been an insider account, do you think it would have
sold better than it has?
REP. GEPHARDT: Maybe it would have. I don't know the answer to
that. I--I do know that any money that's made from the sale of the
book goes to children's charities, in particular research in cancer at
St. Jude's Hospital and Children's Hospital for Cardinal Glennon in
St. Louis and also to the Children's Inn here, something my wife has
been involved in. As I say in the book, we have a son who was
afflicted with cancer when he was young, and we got through that with
God's will and--so I--I feel very strongly about that, and I wanted
any moneys to go to that and not to me.
LAMB: Now go back to my original question, though, about the
negativity and why it sells.
REP. GEPHARDT: Right.
LAMB: And had this been a negative book, I'm just guessing--I mean,
most hard-backed books don't sell that much anyway, but I'm just
guessing that you didn't sell 400,000 copies of this.
REP. GEPHARDT: No.
LAMB: But if it had been an insider account of a negative
relationship you might have had with Newt Gingrich, it would probably
sell a lot more. What is it about the human being that wants the
REP. GEPHARDT: I don't know. I--I--maybe it's we--we have a desire
to know things that are not good or things that are negative or things
that are dark. And we're--we're almost cynical now about things that
are good or things that are positive. And I think we've got to change
that mind-set. And I don't know any other way to do it other than to
start trying to do it. And that's what I think we all need to be
involved in. I think being positive is very important in each of our
LAMB: Well, on a positive note, you write about Dr. Barry Zuckerman.
Who is he? What did he do? Why did you mention him in your book?
REP. GEPHARDT: He's a professor at--at Harvard and the Harvard Group
in Boston. And he's involved in how we can better raise children so
that we get productive citizens. And he talks about how when children
are very young, they need to be dealt with in--in a positive way and
that their physical health is very much related to their mental health
and their social health. And we need to take all of that into account
when we're dealing with children. He's a very impressive man, and
he's put in place a series of programs in Boston where they try to
bring to poor children who are in difficult circumstances some help
in--in the--both the doctoring side of things and in the mental health
side of things.
LAMB: What's the Reach Out and Read program?
REP. GEPHARDT: It's a program designed to get kids reading and so
they put books in front of kids and make sure that kids are reading at
an early age, which is vitally important. We know now that if kids
are not reading competently at an early age, they tend to drop out of
LAMB: But most people put books in front of kids. What's different
about this program?
REP. GEPHARDT: Well, it's a--it's a program to make sure that books
are in front of kids.
LAMB: Who pays for it?
REP. GEPHARDT: It's paid for through foundations and private sector
help. There's some government help for it as well, and it's a
fabulous program and it works well.
LAMB: Why did you write about Central Park East School in Harlem?
REP. GEPHARDT: I went there. I had heard about what a success it
is, and I went there and made sure that it was really as good as it
was cracked up to be. And I found it was better than it was cracked
up to be.
LAMB: What's it do special?
REP. GEPHARDT: It probably is small in size is its most important
ingredient. They also collaborate among the teachers about the
curriculum. They ask a lot of their kids in terms of writing papers
and--and--and communicating about what they've written, defending
their theories. And they only have 200 or 300 kids in a high school.
And the principal there says--Debbie Meier--that if a school today is
over 200 or 300 kids in a high school, it's too big, because often
kids don't have time with parents. There are a lot of single-parent
families, a lot of families that have to work hard and don't spend
time with kids. And if kids are anonymous, if they're numbers in
these big factorylike schools we built after World War II, you can
really get in trouble with kids.
LAMB: Is it a public school?
REP. GEPHARDT: It's a public school in Harlem, very poor kids. They
get very good grades. Ninety percent of the kids graduate. Ninety
percent of the kids graduate from college.
LAMB: At Shepard's School in the inner city of St. Louis, do parents
really have to spend an hour a week at their kid's school?
REP. GEPHARDT: Yes. The principal tells this wonderful story that I
relate in the book of telling the parents they all need to spend an
hour a week in the school. And any that don't show up, she goes out
to their house, their apartment and says, `The letter was not
optional. It's mandatory. You must show up.' And they do. And one
of the mothers, when she was telling this story, said, `Yeah, I'm one
of the ones she visited.' She said, `I didn't come. I worked at
night. I'm a single mom. And when she came to see me, it--I thought
I'd better show up.' She said, `Now I come and spend all day every day
volunteering.' She said, `My kids now get much better grades.' And she
said, `In addition to that, I now feel that all the kids in the school
are really my kids.' And I s--when she told me the story, I thought,
`That's it. I've got to tell this story.' Because if we could get
more parents to think like this parent, to really become such a part
of the school to their ability, this would really solve a lot of our
problems in education.
LAMB: What's Horton's Kids?
REP. GEPHARDT: Horton's Kids is a program here in Washington. Many
of the staff people on the Hill mentor with children in the
Washington, DC, public schools. Some of my staff members have done
this for years, and I've gone with them on occasion to see them mentor
the young kids here in Washington, DC. And one of the suggestions I
make to citizens here is that, you know, we can all take a role.
Whether we're parents or not, we can take an active individual role in
helping to educate children in our communities, in our neighborhoods.
LAMB: You mentioned your son Matt earlier and--had cancer. How old
is he now and what's he doing?
REP. GEPHARDT: He's 28. He was given no chance to live when he was
two years old. They said, `This is a horrible tumor. It's fast
growing. He won't survive.' And we were devastated. We--we'd go home
at night and kneel down at the bed and pray all night that something
could happen that he could live. You feel so alone when this happens
to you. And I know many, many people have had this in their families
with parents or loved ones. And it just--you just feel like
you're--nothing else matters. I remember when we walked out of the
hospital after he'd been diagnosed, I--I was crying, and people would
walk by me on the street, and I--I--I wanted to grab people and say,
`Why don't you know about this?' 'Cause you feel alone and you feel
angry and hurt.
And--but a doctor came in the room the next day, and he said, `We
found a triple drug therapy at--at St. Jude's and--and at M.D.
Anderson, and--and we think it'll work. And don't get your hopes up,
but it might work.' And this tumor had only been usually found behind
the eye. This tumor was on his prostate and it was very large, like a
basketball. And he said, `But we'll give it a try.' They couldn't
operate on it. It was too big, shutting off all his systems.
And about a week--two weeks later, they're giving maximum radiation,
maximum chemotherapy, and my wife called me at work crying and she
said that things dropped. You could feel it in his tummy. It was
like a rock. And she said it's just dropped. I mean, something's
really happened. And she was just overjoyed. So we wen--took him in
for X-rays, and sure enough, it had dropped way down and it was
shrinking away. They finally got it down to almost nothing. They
took out his prostate. So he--and he--you know, he lost some things,
and he's had lots of problems since, but he's 28, he's married. He's
starting his own business in Austin, Texas, and he's a--just like our
other two kids, he's a great kid, and we're blessed by God.
LAMB: Where's Chrissy?
REP. GEPHARDT: She's married in St. Louis, living in St. Louis,
works for Southwestern Bell, SBC Communications. And my third child,
Kate, has just graduated from Vanderbilt and now going to graduate
school in Baltimore, and she's going to be an early childhood
educator, which I'm also thrilled about.
LAMB: If you were to find yourself as speaker of the House after the
next elections, what would you do personally as the speaker that has
not been done before or would be the Gephardt stamp on how you'd
operate that office?
REP. GEPHARDT: First, I'd try to get campaign reform--finance reform
done and signed by the president. I think it's vital to the future of
our democracy and something that we as leaders have to get done.
Second, I would dedicate my time as speaker to improving education and
child raising in this country. I think no more important matter for
us as a people is to make sure that every child in this country is a
productive, law-abiding citizen. I want to eventually empty the
jails, have no one in jail in this country because everybody is a
productive, law-abiding citizen. Thirdly, I would try to run the
House in a way that we would return to a politics of trust and respect
and idealism. I would work with the minority every day, communicate
with them every day, talk to them, try to find out where we could
collaborate and get things done.
LAMB: You mention a lot of people have been important to you: Tip
O'Neill, Jack Kennedy, Harry Truman, Dick Boling and others. Who,
among those names, are the most important to you and why?
REP. GEPHARDT: Oh, I guess in terms of a role model, Harry Truman
would have to be the one that really meant the most to me. I--I'm
from Missouri. I heard about, read about, was told about Harry Truman
from when I was a little kid. And the thing that people liked about
him was that he was straight and he was honest and he did what he
thought was right. And I think that's the way we ought to operate in
LAMB: Our guest has been Dick Gephardt, the minority leader in the US
House of Representatives. Here is the book, "An Even Better Place:
America in the 21st Century." Thank you very much.
REP. GEPHARDT: Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.