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The Importance of Being Present
By Dick Morris


May 14, 2003
Wednesday - 12:05 am


Presidential candidate and former House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt has dug himself an early grave in his pursuit of the White House. During his campaign, since the first of the year, he has missed 84% of the votes in the House of Representatives, showing up for fewer than one vote out of every five.

Gephardt did not do the honest thing and resign if he wasn't planning to show up for work. Instead, he let us continue to pay his salary of $154,700. At more than $5,000 per vote, the American people might find him a trifle expensive.

Gephardt may have favored the Democratic alternative to the Bush tax cut, but he missed the chance to vote on it. He may support more adult education in worker retraining, but he missed that vote too. The Missouri Democrat may want the cultivate the support of the disabled, but they will be disturbed to know that he was absent when the Americans for Disabilities Act came up in the House this year. Doubtless he will campaign as an apostle of family values, but he missed the votes on the Exploitation of Children Act, the Child Abduction Prevention Act, and the Human Cloning Prohibition Act. On the stump, he'll likely attack the United Nations decision to make Libya chairman of the disarmament committee, but when the House voted to condemn it, Mr. Gephardt was absent.

When the presidential campaign begins in earnest, he'll eat every one of these votes for breakfast, served up in negative ads. Nothing works on the campaign trail like attacks on candidates for bad attendance. It alienates people on both sides of every issue and reflects a callous disregard of the work of the people. The feeble argument that "I'm running for president" isn't much of a rebuttal. George W. Bush finds time to be president and he's running too.

Moreover, Gephardt's competition find the time to vote, mostly. Senator John Edwards (D-N.C.) made 87% of the votes and Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Ct) was there for 77%. John Kerry, the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts was a bit more lax in fulfilling his public duties, casting 60% of the votes (excluding the month of January when he was, presumably, recovering from his Prostate surgery).

If these folks can show up, why can't Gephardt?

Congressional truancy reflects an arrogance and a disregard of one's responsibilities. Putting campaign fund-raisers and press-the-flesh appearances ahead of voting in Congress reflects just the kind of insider Washington conceit that drives voters certifiably crazy.

Dick Gephardt is the Democratic version of Bob Dole - the former legislative leader/party warhorse who is running with the support of the long-time professionals and party hacks. His suggestion that we repeal the entire Bush tax cut to pay for mandatory, universal health insurance guarantees that he will go nowhere but down if he wins the nomination.

Gephardt will doubtless trot out his career attendance record to show that his recent absenteeism is all campaign related and not indicative of a generally cavalier attitude toward the job. But, faced with a similar situation, Bob Dole at least had the intellectual honesty to resign from the Senate to run for president. Conscious that he couldn't handle both jobs at once, he made his peace with leaving Congress to pursue his candidacy.

But Gephardt asks us to promote him based on a record of truancy in his current job. Most voters won't see a reason to do so.

Ask Bill Clinton. In 1982, seeking to regain the Arkansas Governorship after his first term defeat two years before, the future president found his way barred by Congressman Jim Guy Tucker, his eventual successor as Governor. Attacking Tucker for bad attendance during the campaign, Clinton's negative commercial spun off his opponent's campaign slogan: "The Arkansas Way." "The Arkansas way," Clinton's ad said, "is to show up when they're paying you."




Dick Morris has become a familiar figure as a commentator for the Fox News Channel. He writes weekly columns for the New York Post, The Hill Magazine in Washington D.C. and The National Post in Canada.

Copyright 2003 Dick Morris - Distributed by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. to subscribers for publication.


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