"Citizen Government: Old Values, New Ideas"
Remarks of Rep. Dick Gephardt
DLC National Conversation
New York, NY
July 30, 2002

Remarks as delivered

"I am thrilled to be at this meeting of the Democratic Leadership Council. I just want to say that I have been working with Al From now for 40 years. You may not know this, but he was the editor of the Daily Northwestern, the newspaper at Northwestern, and I was president of the student body longer ago than either of us wants to remember. We're old enough that we even remember when Northwestern had winning football teams.

"My only problem with Al is that he looks exactly as he did 40 years ago. I'm getting to be an old guy. But he covered me at the Daily Northwestern and sometimes he was a critic, sometimes he was a supporter, but he has always been my friend, and he has always considered public service, in the highest sense of the word, to be his calling.

"We came from a time when public service and giving something back to the country was considered the most important thing that we thought we could do, and I want to salute Al From for doing such a good job of that for all of these years. Thank you, Al, for all you've done.

"Now, our relationship didn't end after Northwestern. By accident and coincidence, we both wound up in Washington in the late '70s and early '80s. And he was working for a friend of ours, Gillis Long, and we in the early '80s put together a book for the Democratic Caucus, which Gillis Long was the chair of; we called it The Yellow Brick Road. And it surrounded certain values we felt strongly about: opportunity, fairness. You see, Al and I really come from the same place. We grew up in lower middle-class families in the Midwest, our parents taught us similar values -- hard work, responsibility, opportunity, fairness. And so we naturally wanted to infuse our political party with those values, but we knew that values without new ideas were not enough. So we worked together, Senator Robb, and then Governor Robb, and Senator Nunn to set up the Democratic Leadership Council. It's one of the best things that I've ever been involved with because we knew that we wanted the DLC to be an idea factory -- an idea generator -- and what an idea generator it has become.

"Bruce Reed worked in the White House and came up with a lot of the ideas that formed the core of the DLC and the Clinton administration. Will Marshall has constantly been at the core of this activity of idea generation, and I am proud of what we accomplished in that first Democratic administration after the formation of the DLC. There wouldn't have been a COPS program without the DLC and the Democratic Party. There wouldn't have been an AmeriCorps program to channel the effectiveness of our young people without the DLC and the Democratic Party; there wouldn't have been welfare reform, even though some of us were worried that parts of it wouldn't work. But it wouldn't have happened without the DLC and the Democratic Party, and there sure wouldn't have been fiscal responsibility, not as an end of itself, but fiscal responsibility in order to create growth in this country for families like Al From's family and mine who work hard, simply want an opportunity with fairness and believe in responsibility.

"I remember how that issue played out in 1993. I was with Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton in Little Rock right after they had won the election. I said, 'Mr. President, the one thing we have to do -- as kind of the precursor to doing all other things that we need to do to get economic growth in our society -- is to fix the deficit problem. It's eating us alive.'

"He instantly understood. He said, 'we've got to do it.' So we sat down with Bob Rubin and Leon Panetta, my friend who came to Congress with me in 1976, and we began to work up that budget. And it was tough. You can give great speeches about the budget, but boy, doing it is really hard. We did it. I remember being on the floor trying to convince members to vote for it; when the vote was in, it was a tie, which means you lose. We had a woman, who I think was a member of this organization, Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, that walked down, and even though she knew she was putting her career on the line, she plopped down a green card to vote for that bill. The Republicans stood in the aisles and waved and sang "bye-bye Margie." She lost the next election. Lots of other members lost the next election because they stood for growth and they stood for fiscal responsibility.

"You know, Harry Truman used to say leadership is getting people to do things they really don't want to do. You know, we have this perception of politicians that we never really look to the future, we really never do the right things for the future of the country -- that we're only worried about ourselves and our own careers; well on that day, the Democratic Party stood with courage for what was right for the future growth of this great country. And I just ask you today to compare that leadership with a President who tried to talk us into a recession, passed his economic plan and now won't change that economic plan even after the momentous changed circumstances that have come to this country because of nine-eleven. That is a lack of leadership. What we showed in the early '90s, in part because of this organization, is real political leadership in this country, and we need it again, and we need it now.

"I've always believed that ideas, and especially new ideas, are the most important thing in politics. Today, in a significant way, because of your help, the Democratic Party is the party of new ideas. Sadly, the Republican Party is the party of ideological rigidity, and intolerance of new ideas. Their only new idea in 20 years is borrow and spend. And you know what? That is really a bad idea. That is really a bad idea.

"George Bernard Shaw said -- he was grading a paper of one of his students, it wasn't Northwestern, but somewhere -- he said, 'your ideas here are good and new. Unfortunately your good ideas aren't new and your new ideas aren't good.' That's what we have today with the Republican Party.

"Sometimes, I think George W's trying to avoid his father's mistake. You know, he didn't really recognize that a recession was going on in the late '80s and early '90s; he said 'read my lips' and he didn't want to break his pledge. George W. seems to know that things aren't right with the economy and so he talks about it, and he talks about it, and he talks about it, and he talks about it. We can read this President's lips, but we don't hear any new ideas, and we don't see any real action. And his economic team? Don't you miss Bob Rubin?

"In January, I went to the President and I asked him for an economic summit. I said, 'Mr. President, we've had a horrible tragedy in our country, changed circumstances, we're in a new world, none of us anticipated this. You certainly didn't anticipate it when you passed your economic plan six-months prior.' I said, 'you can bet that every family that lost somebody on nine-eleven has had an economic meeting in their household around the dining room table, and they figured out a new budget for their family because they are in a new world with changed circumstances.'

"I said, 'the same thing applies to the United States of America; our whole American family has suffered a tragedy and we are in changed circumstances.' And I said, 'I know I can't get everything I want, and you probably can't get everything you want, but with respect, and honesty, and trust, we ought to sit around the table together: the leaders of Congress and you and your administration, we ought to work on a new budget for America because of all these new costs and all these new difficulties.'

"The President said, 'no, not interested. I like the economic plan. I think it will work. We're going to stick with it.' This great country cannot afford and our great working people should not be prisoners to our President's rigid politics as he leads us back into an unending valley of deficits.

"The proudest achievement of the last 20 years of our political party was our willingness and understanding that to get real economic growth in this society, we could not have the government borrowing so much of the private capital that exists in our country. That was a moment of political courage and leadership, and I again today ask the President in the name of common sense, please let us sit down as respectful, trusting leaders in this country, and figure out a new budget for America. America's people deserve our best thinking and action at this time of national crisis, and I ask the President directly: please let us do this for the good of the future of this great country.

"Nine months ago, I addressed the Democratic Leadership Council in Washington on economic growth and opportunity and after the speech I had a number of people come up to me and say, 'I saw you were at the DLC, didn't you used to be a 'labor guy'?' Well, I guess the conventional wisdom is that the New Democrats are for growth, and Old Democrats are for protecting labor. You know, being a majority party, to me -- and I think we are becoming the majority party in America -- means being both for growth and for labor, bringing both the growth and labor camps together. I've never understood really how you can be for labor and against business, or for business and against labor. Never made any sense to me. When each is doing their job right, they're both trying to do the same thing; they are trying to create wealth, they're trying to create opportunity, they're trying to create jobs, they're trying to create economic success, and they both stand for the values of this Democratic party - opportunity, responsibility, community.

"And it's because I believe that so strongly that I invited John Sweeney, the head of the AFL-CIO, to come to my speech at the DLC. The DLC has stood for rejecting these crazy, win/lose false choices -- that you've got to be for business or you've got to be for labor, or you've got to be for the environment or you've got to be for growth, or you've got to be for fiscal responsibility or you've got to be for prosperity, or that you've got to be for free trade if you're not for fair trade.

"We had a vote the other night at four o'clock in the morning on trade. We always vote in the House now at four o'clock in the morning; it's kind of the way it works -- they don't want anyone to really know what's going on. But it was another vote on trade, it was on trade promotion authority, and it was another missed opportunity to me. We had worked hard to put together, in the DLC and in the Democratic party, a trade policy that both promotes more trade and free trade, but gets the right rules of the road to be in place so that other important considerations like human rights, labor rights, and environmental concerns can be put into the equation. And we achieved a treaty with the country of Jordan late in the Clinton administration that I thought put those concepts together, so that both business and labor could come together for a trade policy for this country. But the Republicans don't want that consensus, and so they jam us every chance they get with false choices, false ideas about trade, and they make people walk the line with their crazy false choices. Let me just tell you this -- if we win the House back, and we're setting the agenda, and I'm Speaker of the House, we will finally put together a trade policy in this country that recognizes both free trade and fair trade, and brings business and labor together on this very important issue.

"So the DLC has made us understand that if we work hard to enthuse old values with good, new ideas, we can create a win-win instead of a lose-lose. And we are trying to win the House back right now through all our great candidates around the country, with many good new ideas that come from the DLC. The COPS program is being gutted by this Republican Party and this Republican administration, and we will run on not only continuing, but intensifying, the COPS program.

"We're for a prescription drugs program that's not a sham but is real and will give people the help they need. We're for expanding AmeriCorps, not reducing it, and we want to vote on the President's national service program. He brought it up in his State of the Union speech and now the Republican leadership in the House doesn't seem like they even want to have a vote on his program. And we want an optimistic, futuristic, environmentally sensitive energy program that meets the dreams of the American people and makes us less dependent on other countries around the world for oil. And we're for fiscal and corporate responsibility.

"And as we search for our new ideas and consider our new ideas, I think it's well to stand back for a minute and look at what has changed so dramatically in our world. And here I don't just mean nine-eleven -- I mean all the big changes that have happened.

"In the early part of the last century, we went from an agricultural revolution to an industrial revolution. People moved from the farms and into the cities and took jobs with vastly powerful machines to increase productivity and make all the implements of an industrial society. But now we have an information revolution, where information is now being infused into all of our lives and activities.

"I'm excited about that. I think it gives us a wonderful opportunity. It gives individual citizens information about investments and finance, about their own health care, about education, about their elected leaders. In short, we stand on the threshold -- as we're here today in 2002 -- of a potentially better democracy, more individual freedom, more individual potential, more citizen power. Do you know, it's not just more information, it is good information, it is credible information, it is reliable information that we need.

"I was in my district on Sunday and I had a town hall meeting. A man got up and he said, 'Congressman, let me tell you my story.' He said, 'I got interested in stocks and investing in the stock market about ten years ago. I got a 401(k) and so I started researching on the Internet and I really boned up, I wanted to know the best things to invest in. I knew there were risks, but I made my choices based on my study and my work and my information.' He said, 'I lost most of my money, but,' he said, 'that isn't what bothers me.' He said, 'I knew there were risks, and I was willing to take those risks, but,' he said, 'let me tell you what bothers me. What bothers me is that I relied on what I now find to be false information.' And he said, 'and I'm confused -- I don't know who to believe, I don't know who to trust, and I don't know what to do.'

"Now, without trust capitalism cannot work. And here government has a role. It's not big government. It is not no government. But it is what I call citizen government. We need citizen government, and to get it we've got to have a new contract between government, business, and citizens to work together for sensible rules, sensibly enforced. And too often today we wind up with two sets of rules.

"Tom Daschle here yesterday told about meeting with me a WorldCom employee who had lost all of his 401(k); lost more than $400,000. And what he said to us was, 'what makes me angry is not just that I lost the money but it's that the top CEOs at WorldCom didn't lose all their money and have golden parachutes and are doing just fine.'

"I met Enron employees in Houston. Some of them had to move back with their parents, lost their 401(k), lost their pension, lost their health care, lost their job, they're destitute. One man said he couldn't figure out how to pay for the dialysis treatment that his wife needs, but he said that yet the top people in Enron are doing fine. Two sets of rules.

"Now, we passed welfare reform and we said to people, 'you are responsible to get a job after a certain period of time, that is your responsibility.' I ask you today: should we ask less of corporate executives who earn huge compensation to be responsible for their entire operation? And when I hear folks today say, 'I didn't know this was going on in my corporation,' I just shake my head. What were you being paid for? What is your job if it isn't to know what's going on in your corporation?

"So we need one set of rules. We need to expand the winners' circle. We need to not reward those already in the winners' circle, and the way we do that is with one set of rules.

"Before I go to some new ideas I'll hope you'll consider, let me make it clear that most American businesses, and most American business people, are responsible, and do run good businesses, and do recognize opportunity and responsibility and community.

"Anheuser Busch in my town is such a corporation. They take care of their employees; they reward hard work with fair play.

"I'll cite another corporation, Jack Stack, Springfield Remanufacturing, Springfield, Missouri. In 1983, they were going broke as a subsidiary of their national operator. Jack got the top executives together and he said, 'we're going to save this organization, we're going to buy it back from the company.' He went to the bank and borrowed $2-3 million, and they came back. He said -- I'll never forget it -- he said that day: 'we had this huge debt, we had no idea how we were going to repay.' And he said, 'all I could do was to put all the people in the room who work for the company, about 200, including the janitor.' And he said, 'I got up on the blackboard and I put the profit and loss statement up on the blackboard. And I said you all have to learn every number in this statement.' And he said, 'we're going to change the numbers, we're going to meet every Monday morning in this same room, and we're going to get the blackboard out and we're going to say, What can you do to change the numbers? What can you do to change the numbers? And what can you do to change the numbers?'

"Well to make a long story short, that was 1983; today, Springfield Remanufacturing is 20 different corporations in Springfield, Missouri. This is old tech stuff; this is not a high tech story. They remake car starters and tractor engines, and truck engines. This is as old as it gets. They have 20 corporations, they have 3,000 employees, and when I was there a few years ago the janitor of the original corporation is the CEO of the newest corporation.

"Jack Stack says, 'capitalism is a wonderful system if you do it right.' He said, 'first, you've got to give people honest, reliable information and teach everyone in your corporation, including the lowest paid employees, what every number means and how what they do every minute of the day effects those numbers. And then you've got to cut them into the action. You've got to fairly share the wealth that's created by their hard work so that it is not unfair to them that they are working hard to do better to have an opportunity.'

"And how many times in the last few weeks have I had CEOs like Jack Stack come up to me and say, 'clean it up. Clean it up. I run a good business, I do things right, I put out honest information, and I'm being hurt by the bad actors and actresses who have done things wrong. I want you to clean it up.' And I hope in the days ahead, in a bipartisan way if we can, we will do the things to clean it up so that hard working, responsible Americans who've done everything right have their hard work pay off. That's my hope and I'm going to do everything I can to see that it happens.

"What do we need to do? We need an accounting bill. We passed one the other night -- we tried to pass it last April but the Republicans all voted against it. But you know, maybe this is a good example of the responsiveness of our democracy that they felt the heat and saw the light. And now they are for something they were totally opposed to, but that's good. Last month, I introduced a Business, Investors' and Employees' Bill of Rights. It's just common sense: protecting pensions and making sure investments are sound.

"We need more funding at the SEC. We had Lynn Turner, who was the chief accountant at the SEC, in the other day. He said that when he came to the SEC, there were 15 accountants for 2,000 cases that they were trying to deal with. We need corporations that go offshore to avoid paying federal income taxes to be brought back home so that they become economic patriots. And on stock options we need to ask the accounting board to consider again how to account for options. We need to require options to be held for a period of time before they are cashed in, and we need to require shareholder approval of options.

"Now, if you're wondering why all this stuff happened, I need to take you back for a little history of what happened in the House of Representative in 1995. Do you remember Newt Gingrich? You remember the 'Contract with America'? You remember they won the House? Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay said when they won the House that the number one goal of the 'Contract with America' was to totally deregulate and take the rules away from American business. Tom DeLay said there is not one single, solitary, federal regulation that I would keep. And then if you connect the rest of the dots, they unwound all of the regulation, they didn't reform it, they didn't try to change it for the better, they just unwound it. So you wind up today where we are. They always follow their absolutist ideology, they never look at new ideas or better ideas, and they never try to use common sense to solve simple problems.

"Now, some new ideas that will empower people with good information and incentives for growth. Health care. We've got the greatest research organization in the world; it could be better. It's called the NIH, and believe me I know why it's good.

"I have a son. When he was two-years old, he was diagnosed with cancer, terminal cancer. They said he had six weeks to live. Jane and I went home and prayed all night that he could live. We went back the next day and a young resident came in the room and he said, 'we've looked on the computer and we've found some research at the NIH St. Jude Regional Medical Center in Memphis and we think there might be a way to try and save him.' They put all their best ideas together for radiation, chemotherapy, and finally, surgery, which they thought they couldn't do in the beginning, and Matt was saved and through the grace of God we were lucky.

"But I understand the need for information, the need for research, and the government's responsibility to try and help provide some of that information and research. And one of your members, Lou Weisbach, has an idea, increasing the ability of NIH by bringing the private and public sector together and international research operations so we get the best information we can get.

"We've got a diabetes epidemic in this country. We need information on diet and exercise, and how to treat deadly diseases like diabetes and Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. We can do this, but we've got to commit our resources and private resources to getting it done. We've got to empower people to be able to deal with their problems, and we need more information on health plans, and we need tax incentives to get everybody in this country to be covered by good health insurance.

"Many a night, I sat in a hospital with my son and other families whose kids had cancer, and fathers and mothers would say to me, 'I'm terrified my child's going to die. But I'm even more terrified because I don't have health insurance, and I'm worried I'm not going to have the money to afford the next treatment.' This is the richest country in the history of the world. We've got to be able to get the answer to these diseases and we've got to get people covered with competent health insurance, so that when this happens to people, they can get over these diseases. You're Bill Gates and you lose your health -- money doesn't mean anything; doesn't mean a thing.

"Pensions. We need a universal pensions' system. You know, so many Americans work in six, seven places they get a little bit of pension here and there and at the end they don't have anything. My mother is 94-years old. She worked for about six different employers, never long enough to really build that much up. I looked the other day -- I'm working on her finances all the time -- I looked at her check book, and she gets a total of $42 a month from all her pensions. We've got to do better than that. If you work six or seven jobs you ought to be able to tack all those pensions together. I've got a bill called Universal Pensions that I hope we'll take up and pass.

"Education. We need to send a message to our young people that public service and education just like Al and I thought, was a really important thing to do. My daughter's a schoolteacher. I have another daughter who's a social worker - I'm so proud of them, because they opted for public service and not just to make money. And when my daughter who's the teacher was in college, she'd call me and she'd say, 'Dad, do you think I really ought to be a teacher?' And I'd say, 'Kate, that's what you always said you wanted to be. Keep going, it's okay, you're going to do it.' But she kept asking me. Finally, I said, 'Kate, why do you keep asking me this question?' She said, 'because my classmates are laughing at me because I'm not going to make any money.'

"I said, 'Kate, money's not the important thing, you've got to do what you really want to do, what your passion is. You've got to be a teacher, that's what you've always wanted to be.' So she went ahead and did it, got her Masters degree, went out to get her first job. First contract was for $17,000 a year. Came back home and she said, 'now I know what they're laughing about.'

"I am alarmed that we are facing a huge shortage of teachers. We've got about half our teachers who are going to leave the profession and retire in the next five years. At the DLC speech, I offered an idea, kind of an analogy to the military ROTC program for young people who want to be teachers. I want our best and brightest young people to teach our children. I want them in those classrooms in front of our kids and I want to put the resources behind it to make sure we encourage kids like Kate to get into teaching and to stay with it even though they aren't going to make all that much money. We can help with their college education to get them to be teaching our young people.

"Let's talk about energy. I talked about it a moment ago. I talked about it at the DLC speech -- what an opportunity we have with energy. We can be environmentally sound. We can be sensitive to the needs for energy. We can get renewable energy. We can get fuel cells. We can cut people off the grid and give them independence. We can put fuel cells next to their house. We can electrify their house. We can stop the emissions for global warming -- and it's a good news story. We can lead the world in technology. We can develop jobs here and abroad. We can engender growth if we have vision and we give people the information they need to get this done.

"The President's energy plan would be a great plan for 1950. We need an energy plan for 2002. Let's get in front of people and give them the power to do it.

"And finally, we need to inspire our citizens to take our universal values to the entire world. I'm gratified and thrilled with what our military is doing in Afghanistan, and I'm thrilled with their courage and their bravery, and we are supporting the President in the fight against terrorism, and we are going to support the military. We're going to support our people in the military, and we're working on homeland defense. I think that by September 11, or thereabouts, we can get a bill done that will really increase homeland defense.

"But if we just do those things perfectly and stop, we are not, in my view, going to solve this problem. I've had a chance in the last five or six years to be in a number of places overseas. I've been in China, I've been in the Middle East, I've been in India, I've been in Africa, I've been in South America; and when you come back, you realize that we are really, with Europe and Japan and a few other countries, islands of prosperity and democracy in a growing sea of poverty and totalitarianism.

"And if you believe that this mix of no democracy and economic opportunity with religious extremism is producing potentially thousands of new terrorists, you've got to come to the conclusion that we must now mount a huge effort to take our universal ideals all over the world so that the world is safe, the world is prosperous, and the world is not so violent. There are a lot of things that we can do -- and you may be thinking now, 'well this guy's a little crazy, how could we ever do that?' Well, just remember we did it after World War II with the Marshall Plan in Japan and Germany. Imagine what Japan and Germany would have been like had we not gone and done what we did? And I know this is a big job, but let me just tell you the resources we have. Yeah, we can write checks, but I'm not here to tell you this is going to take checks, this is going to take us.

"I was in Morocco in January and I went to the best micro-loan program we probably have in the world. We've been there four years. We started with $5 million. It's a fund now of $25 million. The fellow who runs it is a retired American executive from Chicago, and he volunteered with a non-governmental organization program to run this program. He was there with 40 of the loan recipients. They've done 250,000 loans in four years -- individual loans, not through the government, but right down on the ground to the person. Default rate less than one percent; average loan $100 -- that's a lot of money in Morocco. And these people sat there and told me that this was the first job they had ever had, the first time they had ever been able to create prosperity for their families, the first time they had an opportunity to be responsible.

"When it was over, I went up to the American and I said, 'why are you here?' He said, 'well, I retired and I played three rounds of golf, decided that was horrible, and my wife said if you don't find something to do we're going to get divorced.' So he inquired around, found this program and volunteered. He said, 'we've been here four years.' And then he said, 'it is the best thing I have ever done in my life.' He said, 'I've been talking about going back home. But my wife and I decided last week that we're going to go to another country in Africa and we're going to do this again.'

"Now just think about it. America has the largest generation of baby boomers about to retire with more money, more skill, more talent, more wherewithal than any group of people in the history of the world. We can send retired judges to teach people the rule of law. We can send retired lawyers to teach people the rule of law. We can send retired business people with micro-loan programs as we did in Russia and did in Eastern Europe in the early '90s, to get opportunity and responsibility to grow out of the ground of these countries. We can defeat terrorism, we can defeat violence advocacy. We can change of the face of the world if we give people the avenues to do what needs to be done.

"In closing, let me say what an exciting time to be alive. Al, I know that we're getting up there towards that Social Security age. I'm frankly more excited now than I've ever been in my life -- and I know you are too -- about what we can do as a country with the information age, and with the right values of opportunity, responsibility, and community -- the old values infused with new, creative, exciting ideas.

"If we do this right, if we infuse our deepest values with these new ideas, if we empower our citizens with better and more information, if we motivate our citizens to really be citizens in the highest sense of the word, our party will lead America to realize its full potential, and we'll make this challenging time America's finest moment.

"Thank you, and God bless you."

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