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Published: Saturday, 1/24/2004

A career well spent

Rep. Dick Gephardt's 28-year run in the House of Representatives, as well as his second bid for the White House, came to an end with his fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, and while his actual retirement from politics is 11 months away, it is not too soon to thank this friend of labor for his service.

The public, rightly, can be somewhat cynical where politics and politicians are concerned.

Politics does, after all, often appear to prize expediency over principle.

It was instructive, therefore, to see Mr. Gephardt with his defenses down, openly emotional about both the impending end of his political life and his feelings for the people closest to him - his wife, Jane, and children, Matt, Chrissy, and Kate - who made that life possible.

Mr. Gephardt vowed to spend his final months in Congress pressing for universal health care coverage, pension reform, energy independence, and a trade policy that "doesn't sacrifice American jobs."

"Every day of my working life I've sought to bring positive change to the hard-working men and women of this country and my efforts will not cease in these final months," the soon-to-be 63-year-old Missouri congressman said. "My career in public office is coming to an end, but the fight is never over."

These are the issues that have defined his 14 terms in Congress, and his unfailing interest in issues affecting working-class families won him the support of almost two dozen labor unions in his quest for the presidency.

The world of American politics has changed, however, and labor leaders no longer wield the power they once did, either in the Democratic Party or among their own members.

As a result, Mr. Gephardt's friends in labor were not able to turn out the union vote in sufficient numbers or deliver to him those who did turn out.

But an analysis of Dick Gephardt's career should not dwell on this final defeat, any more than it should focus on his failed presidential candidacy in 1988 or his inability to win back control of the House of Representatives after Republicans gained the majority following the 1994 elections.

Instead, what will be remembered is his unflagging support for the hard-working Joes and Janes who make up the majority of Americans and for their less-fortunate brothers and sisters in need of a hand.



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