Blaming voter dissatisfaction on both the modern political process and the national press, House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) called for change before a crowd of approximately 250 at the Kennedy School of Government Monday night.
In a talk about the perils of "divided government," Gephardt said the recent rash of resignations of timeworn legislators reveals how partisan politics have begun to hinder the effectiveness of the federal government.
Criticizing Republican Presidents Ronald W. Reagan and George Bush for bankrupting the country, Gephardt said that the country needs to "unify a government now divided by party lines."
Despite his calls for unity, Gephardt still extolled the virtues of his own party, calling the Democrats "champions of sweeping government reforms."
Gephardt also said Americans are becoming "economic adversaries" of each other because of growing suspicion, fear and doubt of public institutions.
"We need to restore values that call citizens to larger purposes that rise above narrow interests of the day," Gephardt said.
Voters are disillusioned by the "dollar chase" of political campaigns and are fed up with the skyrocketing federal deficit, Gephardt said.
According to Gephardt, three-fourths of the public debt has been accumulated since 1981, and Americans think that 40 cents of every dollar are wasted by the federal government.
Passing the balanced budget amendment, which will be considered in congress on June 1, would be a first step in treating these problems, said Gephardt. He also called for an extensive campaign finance reform bill which would include caps on campaign expenses.
Gephardt said changes should include the establishment of energy import taxes as well as increased taxes on high-income individuals.
He also called for substantial defense cuts involving the dissolution of some foreign military bases and terminations of unnecessary federal departments and agencies. Gephardt did not say which agencies he would eliminate.
Praising the "total quality management" of private sector politics, Gephardt said that the federal government should treat citizens in a more business-like manner, "as responsibly as business treats its best customers."
Gephardt held the national press responsible for fostering recent political tensions by reporting on "what panders best to our emotions and preferences and purchases" instead of on serious issues such as education and the character of candidates.
As a consequence, elected officials are suspicious of each other because of "scandalous, superficial" news provided by media institutions driven by ratings and tied to big corporations and the financial concerns of their owners, according to Gephardt.
Saying that the media treat presidential campaigns as "horse races," Gephardt called on the press to restructure its policies and agendas.
"You may write off all of what I say as press-bashing, but that would be wrong," Gephardt said "The press must learn to reward excellence and courage."