I don't really share Neil Sinhababu's utter contempt for Dick Gephardt. But still, the last reporting on the former House Dem leader's lobbying career (here's Frank Rich and, via Neil, a Nation piece) is hard to square with the idea of Gephardt as a great liberal leader. Which leads me to:
Was the field of candidates for the 2004 Democratic nomination for president the worst ever? Do they all look worse than they did then?
John Kerry, I think, is the exception. Whatever his merits as the nominee, he took his loss well and has returned to business in the Senate. He isn't an all-star Senator, but he's done nothing I can think of to disgrace himself since 2004.
The rest of the field? Well, there's Gephardt, who has hired himself out to any interest group who will pay his tab. There's John Edwards...yeah. There's Joe Lieberman, already moving to the right by then, but still more or less a mainstream Democrat. I can't imagine that there are very many Democratic primary voters who, seeing what these three have done over the last five years, think that they should have been anywhere near the leadership of the party.
I think the same goes for Gen. Wesley Clark. I don't think his reputation has been exactly harmed in the intervening years, but it certainly hasn't been enhanced, either. The idea of General Clark was always more appealing to some Democrats than the actual person, and I don't know of anything Clark did in 2004 or since to build on that. The next candidate, Dennis Kucinich, retains the same reputation now that he had then, and while I think Democrats would disagree about whether Kucinich's style of liberalism is a good thing or a bad thing, it's pretty clear that almost no one thinks that the guy should be president.
That leaves Howard Dean. Like Clark, I think the idea of Dean wore better on Democrats than the actual person; unlike Clark, and unlike the rest of the pack other than Kerry, Dean has actually done things that might enhance his reputation over the last five years. I don't think that those who supported Dean in 2004 are embarrassed about it at all, and I suspect that some Edwards and even some Kerry supporters from then might have foggy memories that allow them to recall support for the Vermont doctor. Do they think he'd make a good president? I don't know, but other than Kerry I would say he's the only one of the bunch where most Democrats would consider it a close call.
Of course, this is exactly what one would expect when the incumbent president is very popular just at the time when candidates are starting to gear up for the next election. But, to me at least, it's interesting to see the reputations of the group deteriorate over time -- it looked like a weak field then, but it looks much worse now.