- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 1, 2003

Congressman Richard Gephardt is having a difficult time getting momentum rolling on his second race for the Democratic presidential nomination. For months, his campaign has been disappointed by union powerbrokers, who have made it clear that they're keeping their endorsement options open despite a long, cozy relationship with Mr. Gephardt. Then, two days ago, the Hill newspaper reported that the Missourian so far has raised only $1,000 in Iowa, a neighboring state where he won the caucus back in his 1988 White House bid. The bad news is not over yet.
The former House leader might be politically vulnerable for allegedly fudging his family's historied union connections. At his Iowa campaign kickoff in Des Moines two months ago, Mr. Gephardt repeated one of his usual stump-speech lines: "My dad was a milk-truck driver in St. Louis. He was a Teamster. He told me every time, pretty much, we were at the dinner table that we had food on the table and I had clothes on my back because he was represented by a union that could bargain to get him fair wages for his hard work." In 1998, the pitch was similar: "I can remember, many days, my dad telling me that it was because of the Teamsters union and collective bargaining that he got a fair wage for a hard day's work. We need more labor unions."
This doesn't jibe with what the politician's brother remembers about his father's views. Don Gephardt told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that, "My dad was in the Teamsters, but that's because he had to be to get the job. I don't recall him talking much about the union, about how great it was. He prided himself on being a Republican. He hated Truman … He had the feeling that you had to make it on your own, that any kind of welfare program would just raise his taxes."
Obviously, exaggerations and personal mythmaking are nothing new in politics. It's true, too, that family feuds can be particularly personal and nasty, especially in a he-said/he-said conflict in which the veracity of brothers is entirely at odds. Politicians frequently enough try to hide crazy aunts or disgruntled siblings from the press, but there's no sign that Don Gephardt has an ax to grind. An electronic news search on him turned up only one story from 1999.
This sort of controversy is particularly dangerous to Dick Gephardt because he is known as a straight shooter, a man who likes to recall his days as an Eagle Scout. We were impressed when he alone among Democratic congressional leaders took responsibility for his party's drubbing in last year's midterm elections and resigned his leadership post.
On the dubiousness of his father's union pride, however, the presidential candidate dodges. Gephardt campaign spokesman Kim Molstre would tell us only that her boss, "truly believes that the union job was the best for his dad and family because of the wages and benefits it offered" but wouldn't comment on the appearance that the congressman might be distorting his late father's beliefs to score political points. Although evasive, at least the campaign avoided straight-out lies to protect their man. Even that is a refreshing change in this town, especially after years of the Clintonites.

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