Ballot Box

The Worldview of Dick Gephardt

His instincts on foreign policy and national security.

Slate is running several series of short features explaining who the 2004 presidential candidates are, what they’re saying, and where they propose to take the country. The first series summarized their personal and professional backgrounds. The second series analyzed their buzzwords. The third series outlined what each candidate would focus on as president. This series sketches how they would manage America’s role in the world.

After communism collapsed, American voters lost interest in defense and foreign policy. But those subjects can consume most of a president’s time, and 9/11 returned them to the forefront. It’s difficult to anticipate which hot spots a candidate would have to deal with as president, but it’s possible to get a sense of how he approaches war, diplomacy, trade, and other challenges abroad. This series pieces together a picture of each candidate’s instincts based on his words and his record. Today’s subject is Dick Gephardt.

Trade: Unlike Graham, Kerry, and Lieberman, Gephardt hails from the “fair trade” wing of the Democratic Party, which views minimally regulated “free trade” as a threat to American jobs, wages, and environmental standards. When Bill Clinton and most Democratic congressional leaders pushed for the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993, Gephardt, who was then the second-ranking Democrat in the House, led the opposition. In 1999, he reiterated his disappointment over the adoption of NAFTA. Although he has not pledged to repeal it, Gephardt said in July 2003, “I’m the one who led the fight against NAFTA, and I did it because I believed that that trade treaty was not going to help the United States, was not going to help Mexico, was not going to help anybody in the world, because it is the beginning of a race to the bottom. And that is exactly what has gone on.”

World government: In the 2004 campaign, Gephardt has gone further than any other major candidate toward embracing global regulation. He says he would “press the World Trade Organization to establish an international minimum wage,” which would “vary based on a country’s development level.” He adds that this system “could require compensation under international trade law. Each country’s needs and costs will be individually assessed, and a program of aid and development assistance will be tailored to its needs.” Gephardt has not clarified whether anyone other than the WTO would have a say in determining each country’s minimum wage, development aid, or “compensation.”

War: In the run-up to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Gephardt spoke out against granting President George H.W. Bush a blank check for military action. But in 2002 and 2003, Gephardt gave President George W. Bush early Democratic support for regime change in Iraq. Gephardt issued only mild calls for multilateralism, prudence, and diplomacy. After the war, when Bush came under fire for his handling of prewar intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs, Gephardt reaffirmed his support for the war and his certainty that weapons of mass destruction would soon be found. In July 2003, Gephardt questioned Bush’s credibility in making the case for war but continued to defend the war.