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Shields and Brooks

January 20, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: OK. Look, Dick Gephardt’s departure. He did withdraw from the presidential campaign. And he said this to supporters this afternoon in his hometown of St. Louis:

REP. DICK GEPHARDT: Every day of my working life, I’ve sought to bring positive change for the hardworking men and women of this country, and my efforts will not cease in these final months. I’m proud of the campaign we waged. It was fought on the principles of fairness for our workers, security for our seniors and opportunity for our children. My career in public office is coming to an end, but the fight is never over.

To all of you who have dedicated so many months and years to this effort, I hope and pray that you will stay in the arena of public life. Never stop fighting for what you believe in, and never stop believing that we can make a difference. The towering strength of America is its endless reservoir of citizens who never tire of the sacrifice to make it better.

I love this country and I love my family. The silver lining in all of this is that I’ll finally get to see them… (laughter) …at every opportunity rather than when opportunities could be found. Jane, Matt, Chrissie and Kate are my life. And to them, I’ll always be grateful. God bless you all. (Applause)

JIM LEHRER: Mark, your thoughts about Dick Gephardt.

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, nobody in this business is objectively trying to be fair. I like Dick Gephardt. Most people who run for president have been successful. They’ve been governors; they’ve been senators. When they run and the vast majority of them obviously lose, and it’s painfully public and publicly painful.

JIM LEHRER: Nothing quite like that.

MARK SHIELDS: Really there isn’t. It is so poignant. I have to say that was not a photo op. That’s the real thing. That’s Dick Gephardt. That’s his family. That’s his life, his relationship with his kids is real. I mean you see it. You can almost touch it on — his relationship with his wife Jane. You know, the irony in Dick Gephardt’s career is this is a man who ran for president in 1988 and did pretty well.

JIM LEHRER: He won Iowa.

MARK SHIELDS: He won Iowa. He comes back to the House and his House colleagues think so much of him that they elect him Democratic leader. That’s never happened before. Once somebody runs for national office, the legislative body says this guy has other ambitions. He doesn’t have our interests. So Bill Clinton gets elected president and five years later they lose 59 House seats and he becomes the fall guy as to why the Democrats have lost the House.

I have to tell you, I mean, people like David Obey, the congressman from Wisconsin, and Steny Hoyer, Nancy Pelosi and Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Ted Strickland of Ohio, they were out there working for him. I just say that Dick Gephardt, job well done. He said what he believed and he believed what he said. He was really an exceptional public servant.

JIM LEHRER: An exceptional public servant but why did he not click as a presidential candidate?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think in part because he was almost attached almost viscerally with working men and women and this is a party and you looked at the poll results this is a party of college educated graduate degreed people. He never has done well with those people. But he somehow managed to go through this process without it chewing up his soul. That is hard to do.

I saw him … he would repeat the story of his son Matt who had a near fatal illness. He must have repeated that story 10,000 times. That normally makes it somehow fake but every time he told that story it was true and it was real and it was touching even though those of us who had seen it 5,000 times. That’s because he was the most earnest. He didn’t change with the winds. He was the same. Maybe if he changed the winds, he would have done a little better but he was who he is and he was a prisoner of that and also you respect him for that.

MARK SHIELDS: He will never have to tell his grandchildren why he ran. He won’t have to make up any stories. I mean, he’s a good man.

JIM LEHRER: All right. We’ll be back to you again in a few minutes. Thank you both.