Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, trying to reignite his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, portrayed himself Wednesday as an anti-Establishment candidate under fire by corporate America for his populist views.
In a speech billed by his staff as the most important address since the announcement of his candidacy, the Missouri congressman confronted criticism of his trade and farm policies by depicting his critics as out of touch with working Americans. The speech was an attempt to distill his platform into simple, easily understood themes as he begins the final stretch of his Iowa campaign after a widely perceived slump last fall.
Newspaper editorials, including a biting attack in the Des Moines Register Tuesday, have condemned Gephardt's trade proposals as protectionism that could lead to a trade war and ultimately hurt American exports. Several news reports have contended that the farm crisis, around which Gephardt has centered much of his Iowa campaign, is over.
Gephardt said these observations are wrong, made by what he called "Establishment" interests who are not personally affected by trade and farm problems.
Speaks at Drake University
"Unfair trade practices do not lower the standard of living of economists," said Gephardt, addressing 100 people at Drake University here. "The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal doesn't have to worry about their jobs being shipped abroad. And the grocery stores will be filled with produce, whether it comes from family farms or corporate farms."
Gephardt said his opponents are "unable or unwilling" to confront the "Establishment view." Quoting President Andrew Jackson, Gephardt said that the Democratic Party must remain "the party of farmers, mechanics and laborers."
"At our best," he said, "we have never won the support of the Establishment. Jackson was never popular on Wall Street. Most editorial writers fervently denounced Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal."
Gephardt's trade bill calls for negotiation to reduce trade barriers and eventual sanctions against countries that impose tariffs on U.S. goods. His farm policy advocates referendums to permit growers to establish mandatory controls on commodities.
Willing to 'Take Heat'
Gephardt said he is willing to "take the heat" for his stands. "I know the reaction of the Establishment--of apostles of the status quo--of Democrats who would prefer to talk only a little and do even less in areas like trade," he said. "But I entered this campaign to stand for change--and not simply to run for office."
Gephardt read his speech from TelePrompTers and gave much of it over the loud drone of a faulty fire alarm. Staff members and volunteers filled about a third of the audience. The rest were university employees, high school students who were there for classes and Democratic activists. Drake students are on their winter break.
Wants to Sharpen Message
Gephardt's aides said he used the speech to try to sharpen his message and to set a stronger, more presidential tone for the last five weeks of the Iowa campaign. Joseph Trippi, Gephardt's deputy campaign manager, said the candidate considered the address important "because he's found a better way of communicating what he cares about."
"It's basically harder, tougher language, more focused . . . " said Trippi. "He's a guy who started the campaign talking about which bills he's had passed in Congress. But, at some point, he had to articulate these (issues) as a President, as someone who is going to lead the country to change."