Dick Gephardt

The Washington Post has been profiling the candidates for the Democratic nomination for President. This week it was Dick Gephardt’s turn.

My feelings about Gephardt are decidedly ambivalent. In 1988, even though I was living in his home town of St. Louis, I was active in the campaign of his rival Paul Simon (no, not that Paul Simon, the other one– the nerdy-looking senator from Illinois). I went up to Iowa a few times in the dead of winter to knock on doors on his behalf. (People in Burlington, Iowa, are about the friendliest you’d ever want to meet, BTW.) I supported Simon mostly because he advocated a national policy to provide a job for every American who wants to work. I thought it was a good idea, and I still do. Anyway Simon lost to Gephardt in Iowa, and they both lost the nomination to Michael Dukakis, who in turn lost to George HW Bush in the race to succeed Ronald Reagan.

My opinion of Gephardt has improved since then. On the positive side, he has put health care (the most important domestic issue, IMO) at the center of his campaign and considers the lack of health insurance for tens of millions of Americans a moral issue. He has strong ties to organized labor and understands the importance of unions in improving the lives of working people and their families. He connects well with ordinary people, and he’s very hard to dislike. He supported the Iraq war and doesn’t apologize for it, which hurts him among Democratic activists. Nevertheless he has rightly criticized President Bush for his postwar failures and his kid-gloves treatment of the corrupt Saudi regime. I think he is the candidate the Bushies would have the most reason to fear.

On the other hand, Gephardt often comes across as wooden on the campaign stump. He hasn’t managed to generate much excitement so far among Democratic activists. His health care plan is ambitious, but has some obvious shortcomings. (I think a Canadian-style single-payer system makes much more sense.) He needs to win in Iowa or it’s all over for him.

Still if I had to choose now among the Democratic candidates, he’s the one I’d vote for.