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Outside the Beltway: Gephardt Assesses Political Landscape

April 19, 2005
Richard Gephardt

Richard Gephardt

Northwestern alumnus Richard Gephardt, former U.S. House minority leader, spoke at Northwestern April 18, sharing life lessons and his take on the country's most pressing issues.

"The genius of democracy is when 535 people walk into the Capitol and resolve deep-seated differences," he said.

However, according to Gephardt, this strength is also government's greatest challenge. "We seem to have lost in recent years our ability for bipartisan dialogue."

He called for a new generation of leaders to break the gridlock and bring a new spirit of cooperation to the bargaining table on today's hot issues such as the filibuster debate.

When asked what Democrats can do to regain power in Washington, Gephardt noted Republican strategist Karl Rove. He said he is impressed by Rove's ability to mobilize his party's base while also crossing over to gain the support of a larger sliver of opposition voters.

"Democrats did a great job last year of getting out the base," he said, "but we didn’t go talk to Evangelical Christians or pro-gun people."

He stressed an earlier point -- one of his life lessons -- that all people, and in this case, gun owners, are not alike. "I'm not saying we have to agree with them. But we have to at least talk with them."

In response to another question regarding the 2008 presidential race, Gephardt, a two-time Democratic presidential candidate, responded quickly with "Been there, done that!"

He said the list of potential presidential candidates is strong and mentioned John Kerry, John Edwards, Evan Bayh, Mark Warner and Hillary Clinton.

Gephardt earned a bachelor’s degree in 1962 from Northwestern, where he served as student body president. After 29 years in office, he stepped down as U.S. representative for Missouri’s Third District in January.

His talk was part of the annual alumni speaker series.

Topics: People