An interesting post by Ezra Klein mounting some measure of defense for Gephardt.
As for the substantive merits of Gephardt, he has a point; I certainly don’t have the animus toward Gephardt that Matt Yglesias does. A lot of liberal centrists, though they’re (more or less) on the right side of the issue share the tendency of Naderites to vastly overrate the importance of changes in trade policy (and, moreover, it’s not as if Gephardt is going to repeal NAFTA even if Kerry drops dead on the second day of his presidency and Gephardt serves the next 8 years.) His conduct in the runup to the Iraq war was probably a political mistake (in terms of the 2004 election, anyway) but it was only a political mistake; it’s hard to believe that passing Biden-Lugar would have significantly altered Bush’s conduct of the war. Gephardt is a decent man and a solid progressive with a good voting record. (Moreover, it’s hard to see much substantive difference between Gephardt and Edwards on these issues.) He’d certainly make a better president than, to choose a random example, Joe Lieberman.
Having said that, I still think the pick is indefensible. Where I think Yglesias is right is that this is a pick for a campaign trying to eke out a tight victory by mobilizng its base; Edwards may open things up in the border states. But, worse, even if you agree with this strategy Edwards is still better than Gephardt. As Iowa demonstrated, Edwards actually has a better ability to mobilize rank-and-file labor votes in the midwest. If Gephardt had won state-wide office in Missouri, I could see it. But since he hasn’t, I suspect Edwards would help in the midwestern swing states more than Gephardt. Since that’s the only conceivable (good) reason for pick him, that’s a serious problem.
Kos also makes a defense, which is plausible but which I disagree with for the reasons above. I do object to the argument that Kerry “has the right to choose the guy with which he feels most comfortable.” Well, yes, in the same sense that Nader has the “right” to run; it doesn’t make it wise, which is the actual issue. If Kerry really picked a VP purely for reasons of personal comfort, that doesn’t speak well of him, period.