House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt
Arizona Democratic Party's
Jefferson-Jackson Dinner
Arizona Biltmore
March 9, 2002
Comments & Observations: This is an example of a Gephardt speech to a partisan audience, out on the hustings.  According to the Arizona Democratic Party about 800 people attended the event, which "grossed a record $250,000 for the coordinated campaign."  Gephardt termed Arizona "the epicenter to taking back the House."  The organization of his speech on the themes or values of responsibility, opportunity and community is certainly nothing new--see for example the Democratic Party's 1992 platform.  Gephardt talked about fiscal responsibility, Social Security, education, and health care, issues which are likely to be central to Democrats' 2002 campaigns, and he wrapped up with some inspirational words on teamwork.  Gephardt also had some closing words on campaign finance reform, which the House passed three weeks earlier on February 14; it was, he stated, "The most important vote that I've voted on in 25 years in the Congress." -EMA


Thank you.  Boy am I excited to be in Arizona.  We're going to win a big victory in 2002 in Arizona.  Thank you Jim very much for that kind introduction.  I think Jim Pederson is probably as good as it gets when you talk about state chairs of parties in America today.  Thank you Jim Pederson.  He has worked tirelessly to bind this party together and organize Democrats in Arizona for a great victory that will come in 2002.  I want to recognize him and thank him for what he has meant for this party and when this victory is won and you send us a whole bunch of new Democratic U.S. House representatives from Arizona; the epicenter to taking back the House in Arizona in 2002, and you're going to make it happen.

And I want to recognize Chuck Huggins [retiring AFL-CIO chief] and the work that he has done that you're recognizing him here about tonight.  He is a wonderful man with a great history in labor and for working families.  He's a genuinely good human being.  Thank you Chuck Huggins for what you've meant to this state.  I want to recognize my colleague Ed Pastor [Congressman, AZ-2].  I don't see him here yet but I know he'll be here.  I want you all to know what a great representative he is for all of you wherever you live in this state.  He represents you.  He is part of our leadership in the House of Representatives.  Thank you Ed Pastor.  Thank you for all you do.

I want to again introduce my wife Jane, who is here tonight -- It's Dick and Jane.

This year we'll celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary.  We started out as precinct captains in the second precinct, the 14th ward in 1965 and we've been going door-to-door every since, and we're going to keep going door to door as long as we can.

Now as you know, I'm from St. Louis.  And we had a bad year.  The Rams lost the Super Bowl and the Cardinals, the baseball Cardinals, had a little problem out here in Phoenix.  But I won't go back over that again.  It was a great series, you've got a great team, and you support that team and you should be very proud of what you've achieved in a very short period of time.

Now in addition to Arizona being the epicenter of winning back the House, I also believe that you're about to have a huge victory in your state government, and I believe you're going to elect a governor and I think she's sitting right here.  And when that happens you won't just have an even split in the Senate, you'll win the Senate, you'll maybe even win the House, but with a governor and a legislature you can make sure that things like taking away pay raises from state employees doesn't happen.  So won't that be a nice thing to do?

Now if I can tonight I want to spend my moment trying to explain to you why it is so important that all of you do everything you can to win these elections.  And I especially want to focus on the elections obviously for the House of Representatives.  I want you to understand that in our country elections have consequences.  When we go to the polls we're choosing someone to make decisions on our behalf, and even though a lot of people today say well it doesn't really make any difference, all the candidates are the same, everybody's bought and sold in the House of Representatives and the Senate, I want you to know that that is not true and that real-life consequences will occur in your lives and in the lives of all the people of this state depending upon who you send to the House of Representatives.  And I want to talk tonight about the values, the values that Democrats carry to your House of Representatives--values like responsibility, opportunity and community.

Let's first talk about responsibility.  Back in 1981, the Republicans had a great victory with President Reagan and they brought a new economic program to America.  And it was the Reagan economic program that we warned would cause big deficits, and they passed it without our votes and then the deficit started to rise and by 1992 we had added $4 trillion of debt to the trillion dollars of debt that we had created over 200 years.  In 12 years we created more debt than the country created in 200 years.

And when Bill Clinton was elected, I met him at Little Rock after his election and I said, Mr. President we've got to do something about the deficit.  And it'll be hard and we'll lose members when we do it.  I don't think we'll lose the majority of the Congress, but understand it's going to be hard to do.  He understood that.  We went out and got the votes [in?] the Democratic party to pass that budget.  Their wasn't one Republican vote in the House or one Republican vote in the Senate.  We passed the balanced budget.  We got the budget of the country straightened out--it was difficult--because we believed that we had to be responsible  for a budget that would work for America, work for business, work to create jobs, get the government out of the capital markets so we weren't claiming all the money that was out there to rent and borrow.

By 1994 it wasn't clear what we had done or what we had achieved.  By 1996 the economy was coming back, 1998 even better, 2000 even better.  People understood what had happened.  But we lost 52 seats net in 1994 in large part because of the vote to balance the budget, which had lots of unpopular and difficult things in it as we knew it would.

Now here comes President Bush.  He's been in office for one year, about 12 months.  Now just remember what we were talking about a year ago.  We were talking about a surplus, we were talking about what we were going to do with the surplus.  Do you remember that discussion?  We were talking about should we save Social Security and Medicare or should we put some of the money into education and health care.  We had all these wonderful options in front of us and now 12 months later we have a new economic plan in place called the Bush economic program.

And as we stand here today, we are looking at deficits over the next ten years that are larger that the deficits we had in the 1980s.  It only took 12 months of an irresponsible economic program to put this country back in the soup.  Now just understand that even after their economic plan was in place, they wanted to talk about doing something to deal with economic stimulus and so they brought a bill, against our judgment, that instead of dealing with extending unemployment benefits and COBRA for unemployed workers, they gave a $25 billion tax cut to the largest corporations in America, who hadn't even asked for this tax cut.

It would have cut a check for a billion dollars to IBM, a billion point three to Ford, and, get this, a $270 million check would have gone to Enron.  This $270 million check to Enron, a company that did not pay one dime of federal tax in any of the last four years.  They set up 600 subsidiaries to move their profit offshore so they would not have to pay federal income tax.  The Republican majority in your House of Representatives would not extend unemployment for workers, would not give health insurance to unemployed workers, but could find the wherewithal to give a $25 billion tax break to the largest corporations.

That folks is a question of values and responsibility.  I like the values of the Democratic Party, and that's why we must elect Democrats this fall.

Now let's speak for a moment about community and responsibility.  In 1936 the Republican Party fought the Democratic Party in creating a program called Social Security.  They didn't want it.  They said we ought to privatize it--people can put their own money away; we don't need a public pension system as a foundation of our retirement.  Democrats won that fight.

When President Bush ran for office he said that we should privatize Social Security.  Sounds reasonable.  Sounds sensible.  And of course this comes in a backdrop of the Republicans saying for the last 50 years that Social Security is broken.  They have about convinced the young people in our country that it is broken, even though it isn't.  And so they say that they want to privatize it.  What does that mean?

You must understand that Social Security is a contract between the working generation and the retired generation.  Its never been a funded pension plan.  Its always been the workers of today supporting the retirees of today.  That's the way it was set up.  That's the way it was meant to be.  And you must also understand that if we privatize, therefore we give the tax back to people working today to invest on their own for their retirement, we're not going to have enough money to pay the retirees of today.  And so by definition, if you're going to privative Social Security, it means we have to cut benefits of retirees today in order to allow the workers of today to invest their own money.

I have a mother, 94 years old, in St. Louis.  She's living in independent living.  She's a great woman.  Her health is still pretty good.  Her mind is good.  It costs $2,400 a month for here to be in independent living.  she's got a Medicare prescription drug bill of about $600 on top of that.  Her Social Security a month is $1,200.  My brother and I can help with the rest.  We're lucky.

Every time I go home my mother says to me, how are we paying for all of this?  And then she says, is Social Security okay?  Is it going to be there?  Because I don't know how we'd do this without it.  I get so frustrated and I get so angry when I hear Republicans say the system is broken.  It's not broken to my mother.  It's not broken to your parents and your grandparents.  They're getting a check every month.  And they're getting a check from us workers today.  This is the greatest thing this country has ever done for our people.

We don't want to go back to a time when we didn't care about one another, and we didn't take care of one another.  We don't want to go back to a time when half the elderly in the country retired without a pension at all, lived in poverty in their later years.  We've achieved a greater length of life and a greater quality of life in this country because of Social Security and Medicare and our values say don't privatize it, let's keep it and make it strong.

Now let me finish with opportunity.  The most important issue ahead of us in my view is whether or not we can train and education and inform all of our people and especially our children to be competitive, to be mentally capable of competing in this world economy that we now live in.  If we're to have a high standard of living, our people have to be mentally proficient.  In today's world, it's no longer the way it was when I grew up or my dad grew up.  When you could get a job without a tremendous amount of education.  Today people have to be able to read and write and compute.  They have to be able to think in order to hold the jobs that create the high standard of living that we want.  And yet we know that we live in a world today where families have changed more dramatically than at any time in our history.

Everybody works.  Nobody's at home.  We work longer hours, we work more jobs, we travel further to and from jobs.  We know that children, most importantly to be educated, need to have the love and the care and the respect that only a parent can give.  But we know the world's changed and the only mechanism in our society that has the ability to fill in the holes for families to help families raise their children to be productive citizens is public schools.

And that's why Democrats in the Congress, wanting to give people an opportunity, have talked about a broad agenda for the federal government to help state and local government meet these new responsibilities.  We kind of acted like, oh the world didn't change; it's just up to schools to figure this out.  They've got to find the resources and the ability to do this, and they're at their limit of state and local taxation, so I believe, and Democrats in Congress believe, that we need to step up to the plate and start helping with real resources.  George Bush talks about standards and accountability and we're with him all the way, but we've got to give the resources to the local level to reach the standards and the accountability.

We want us to have pre-school in every public school in this country.  I think kids ought to start in school if they want and desire from zero to five.  I think we ought to have pre-school in every public school in this country.  I think we need more good teachers.  I think we need to say to the young people of this country, if you'll go to school to be a teacher and agree to teach for five years, we'll give you an ROTC scholarship so you can go teach the children of this country.  There isn't a school today where they don't have trailers out back, trailers that sometimes aren't heated or air conditioned, where the kids are cramped in little spaces.  What does it say to children when we have them in these ridiculous physical spaces, we  will not repair and remodel and bring up to date the school buildings of this country.  The federal government needs to pass bonds and help the local districts make the school building meet the task and the computers that the kids need.

Our daughter Kate is 24 years old and she's a school teacher, and when she was in college learning to be a teacher she would call Jane and I frequently and she'd say, Dad or Mom do you think I really ought to be a teacher.  We knew that she'd wanted to be a teacher from the time that she was in first grade and she loved her first grade teacher and thought she was the greatest thin in the world.  We'd always say, well Kate you want to be a teacher don't you?  And she'd say, yes I do.  Finally once I said to her, why do you keep asking this.  And she said, because my classmates all laughed at me because unlike them I'm going into a profession where I'm not going to make any money.  And then she got her first contract a year ago an she found out what they meant.  Her first contract was for $17,000 a year.  And she's lucky because she can live at home, because she sure couldn't pay rent.  I don't know what you think.

But I think somewhere along the line we got to face reality.  We got to say what our value is, we got to say where our values lead us.  If we really believe our children are our most precious asset and great hope for the future, wouldn't you think we'd want to put an adequate amount of money on the table for the people who teach our children, to be good teachers.

And then finally we have a health care crisis in our country.  Nobody can afford to pay for it much any more.  Small business all over the United States is dropping people because they simply can't afford it.  It's a health care crisis that not only is the lack of prescription drugs in Medicare, but the lack of ability of ordinary Americans and working families to be able to buy basic health insurance.  So we Democrats have an idea.  Medicare's been a pretty doggone good program.  Why shouldn't we just say to the American people, if you want to buy into Medicare we think it'll cost $500 or $600 a month, we're going to let you buy into Medicare.  We want to make sure there's real competition out there in the marketplace and Medicare can help provide it.  Let's make sure every American family is covered with health insurance that is adequate to the task of keeping them healthy so they have an opportunity to succeed.

Now finally I want to talk to you about how we're going to do this.  These are our values.  Opportunity, responsibility, community.  To do it we have to win.

I'm the head of the Democratic caucus in the House.  I'm so proud of our caucus.  I'm proud of it because of it's diversity.  It's the only diverse caucus in the Congress.  When I meet my caucus I'm looking at America.  I'm looking at women, I'm looking at African Americans, I'm looking at Hispanic members, I'm looking at Asian American members, I'm looking at other immigrant members.  I'm looking at America.  When Dennis Hastert goes to his caucus [pause...] he's looking at the board of directors of Enron.

But to make that caucus effective is hard work.  We got a lot of differences in our caucus. We got a lot of diversity of opinion in our caucus.  And you do in this party here in Arizona and I know it's hard.  And we work very hard at knitting together all of those opinions so we get the full strength of that diversity.  I'm so proud to sit in meetings with all my members and we have really tough clashes of opinion and we work at it a nd we talk it out and we negotiate and we get it down to the threads that really tie us together.

We're a team, I say to 'em every day: it's me to we.  None of us is important alone.  It's the team that makes it happen; it's the power that comes from being a team.

Jane and I went to the Super Bowl in New Orleans a few months ago, a month ago, and they announce the St. Louis Rams and Kurt Warner and Tory Holt and Marshall Faulk and all these great players we're so proud of.  And then they turned the light to the other end of the stadium and they announced that by request the New England Patriots do not want to be introduced player by player, but as a team.  I turned to Jane and said, we're going to lose this game.

That's what we got to to as Democrats.  You got to be a team.  Lou Holtz, the best football coach I've ever heard, you know what he says to his players?  The most important thing here is that all of you achieve happiness.  But you won't achieve happiness unless you're a team, helping one another, and the most important thing you have to do is to love one another.  I've said that to my caucus.  The first time I said it, I don't think they understood what I meant.  But I meant it.  What do I mean?

You got to help one another.  You got to sacrifice for one another.  You got to pick up the slack for one another.  You got to understand one another.  You got to care about one another.  You got to put your team together every day.  You got to go out and hit it even in the morning when you know sometimes at night you get all excited and all emotional and pumped up and then you know it's 7 o'clock in the morning: Here we go again.  We got to do this.  That's when it counts.  We got to do this.

We passed campaign reform two weeks ago in the House of Representatives.  The most important vote that I've voted on in 25 years in the Congress.  Why do I say that?  I say that because every Tuesday morning Tom DeLay, who really runs the Congress, he's the majority whip, has a meeting with lobbyists, corporate lobbyists.  They decide the policy in your House of Representatives and what do they give him?  They give him million dollar contributions, $500,000 contributions, $100,000 contributions.  Your House of Representatives is being taken over by special interests, not the people of this country.  This is the people's House of Representatives but to regain control of it the people, the individual people, the Democrats have to come out and vote and seize back the power, the power that has been taken over by the special interests.

And so now we've leveled the playing field.  We've gotten rid of the big contributions.  And starting with the next election everybody's going to raise a thousand or $2,000 or whatever it is and that's it.  It's going to put us back in the streets, it's going to put us back door to door, it's going to do what we do, which is going to the people and explaining to them and informing them of their deep self interest in voting for candidates who will represent their values.

So what I came here to Arizona tonight to say is in these months leading up to this election you must bind together as a team and go out into the streets and neighborhoods of this state and explain to people one on one and in small groups what their interest is, their deep self interest in participating in this greatest democracy that has ever existed on Earth.  This is the greatest country that's ever been.  Being an American citizen today is like winning the lottery, and we've got to get people to seize back this great country and make it what it can be.  Let's win this election.  Let's go get it for the values of the Democratic Party and America.

Copyright © 2002  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.