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Richard Gephardt
Richard Gephardt
An Even Better Place: America in the 21st Century
ISBN: 1891620169
An Even Better Place: America in the 21st Century
Considering his thirty-year career in public life, Representative Richard Gephardt, a leader of the Democrats and a possible presidential contender, is little known. This book will change that. In the spirit of Al Gore's Earth in the Balance and Bill Bradley's Time Present, Time Past, Gephardt's book is intended to provoke national debate. But the book also reveals a surprising portrait of a private man who rose to the highest ranks of Washington from the blue-collar streets of St. Louis.

An Even Better Place arrives at the perfect moment. Gephardt's political message—that the new economy isn't fundamentally improving the quality of our lives, that we are neglecting our children, and that we need to rethink our relationship to our own government—will strike a chord with many Americans. And Gephardt, with his fundamental middle-American decency and his honest, down-to-earth style, will appeal to an America hungry for honorable leadership and sensible, sensitive policies on the issues that really concern them. Among the topics covered:
  · the collapse of civil discourse in American politics and its threat to mainaining our democracy—why Republicans and Democrats in Congress no longer speak to each other, let alone truly debate the issues
  · what the "New Economy" really means for most of us—and how our workplaces can be reformed to make them more democratic, fair, and profitable
  · the health care problem and the way we can make sure all of us can get coverage—and keep it
  · the impeachment mess—the first comment, from the the inside, on the Clinton scandal, the divisive attempt to drive the president from office and what it means in the long-term
  · why American schools are failing our children—and how they can be turned around
  · how to renew our sense of citizenship and participation in our communities and the political process
  · why we need to "think like owners" in our workplaces and our communities

Congressman Gephardt will donate his proceeds from this book to charity.
—from the publisher's website

An Even Better Place: America in the 21st Century
Program Air Date: August 1, 1999

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 next century.
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 about him.
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 you.'
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 constituents?
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 straightened out.
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.
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?
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 positives.
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 of us.'
LAMB: Why?
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 information.
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 attack. 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 was dumbfounded.
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 you?
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 role?
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 1995.
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 us'?
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 treated.
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 given day?
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 things?
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 actions.
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 year.
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 alone?
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 together.
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 way? What--what...
REP. GEPHARDT: I try not to be angry with people. I try to hold...
LAMB: Never.
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.
LAMB: Used to work for you.
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.
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.
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 negative?
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 lives.
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 school.
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 public life.
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.
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