Gephardt Unveils Presidential Campaign, Focusing on Economy, Health Care

Posted February 19, 2003 at 11:17am

Painting himself as the populist candidate devoted to reshaping the nation’s policies to help all Americans, Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) on Wednesday made the case for his 2004 White House bid.

Speaking at his St. Louis elementary school, Gephardt did little to separate himself from the other hopefuls. Instead, the 26-year House veteran, who officially opened his campaign last month, painted himself as the better choice against a failed Bush administration.

The former House Minority Leader focused mainly on the nation’s flagging economy, arguing that as president he would put policies in place that create jobs, secure health care availability and pensions, increase American wages and improve unfair trade policies.

“I’m in this fight for your jobs, not merely to win one for myself,” Gephardt said to a room full of supporters. “Every proposal I am making, every idea I’m advancing, has a single central purpose — to revive a failing economy and give Americans the help and the security they need to make the most of it on their own.”

Although Gephardt, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination in 1988, chose to outline his candidacy in his district and spent much of his introduction talking about his modest roots, he acknowledged that as a Member since 1977 he is not a Washington outsider.

“I’m not the political flavor of the month, I’m not the flashiest candidate around,” he said. “But the fight for working families is in my bones. It’s where I come from, it’s been my life’s work.”

Gephardt is one of at least eight other Democrats vying for the nomination. The others include: former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (Ill.), and Sens. John Kerry (Mass.), John Edwards (S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (Conn.).

Gephardt laid out a laundry list of new initiatives he would promote over the next 18 months, and implement as president. Among them: requiring all employers to provide health care with tax credits covering most of the cost, a single pension plan for life, a new teacher recruitment program, an international minimum wage and a trust fund for homeland security.

“Across the months and miles of this campaign, I won’t be asking America to do what’s easy,” he said. “I’ll be asking us to do what’s hard.”

While Gephardt differed with Bush on almost all policies, he did reaffirm his alignment with the president on the war on terrorism. But, he stressed, America should not try to disarm Iraq alone.

On the economy, President Bush, he charged, has brought back the failed policies of the past, which call for tax cuts for the wealthy and record debt. Gephardt called for a scrapping of most of the Bush tax cuts.

Gephardt added that Bush, in his short time in office, has squandered record surpluses, tried to undo affirmative action programs and promoted anti-abortion judges.

“I’ve got to hand it to him, there’s never been so much done in so little time to help so few,” Gephardt said.