In the world of politics, 2004 may be the year that the aura of big labor's money begins to fade. For years, big labor used its members' money to influence elections and virtually to pick candidates. But Missouri's Dick Gephardt may be the history lesson that puts an end to that influence.
Big labor and Dick Gephardt have always been joined at the hip. Gephardt has always touted his labor ties and labor, in turn, has always been more than generous with Gephardt. So when Gephardt entered the presidential sweepstakes last year, labor was first in line to offer endorsements and more importantly, cash.
But with all of the money, Gephardt never found traction with voters. He finished a disappointing fourth in the Iowa caucuses and ended his presidential campaign virtually before it began. All of the labor money in the world could not give Gephardt the charisma and appeal that voters demanded.
So with Gephardt out of the presidential running, labor began touting him as an excellent vice presidential candidate. Just a month ago a top labor official threatened that unless Gephardt got the vice presidential nod, labor would likely view the Kerry camp with lukewarm support. But that threat was ignored Tuesday when John Kerry picked Sen. John Edwards as his VP.
With nothing to show for their millions in Gephardt contributions, labor now suggests that Gephardt would make an excellent Secretary of Labor in the Kerry White House. You have to give organized labor credit - they never call it quits.
Dick Gephardt is in some ways a tragic figure. He had the backing of huge labor dollars from the beginning of his political career and was clearly the voice of organized labor during his long tenure in the House. But despite that financial backing, Gephardt never could gain the support to fulfill the dream that labor had for him.
I assume the lesson is this - whether it's money from labor or business, from the right or from the left, from the liberals in California or the conservatives in the south, money alone can't buy a campaign or an office. Money drives campaigns but ultimately, the American voter makes the final decision. And in Gephardt's case, money and union support was not enough.