John Kerry's persistent problems on the campaign trail should come as no surprise. There were reasons he couldn't get traction even with his own party prior to Howard Dean's implosion, and those reasons remain.
Several articles in the mainstream media over the past few days address Kerry's difficulty in finding a theme that will resonate among voters. A New York Times headline read "Kerry Struggling to Find a Theme, Democrats Fear."
And Newsweek's Howard Fineman wrote, "Beltway wise guys belittle his campaign as a listless and message-less mishmash that has failed to engage a vulnerable incumbent."
It seems odd that a person running for the highest office in the land doesn't have a defining reason for his candidacy, but it's easier to understand when you realize that he wants to be president much more than he cares about advancing a particular policy agenda.
I think Kerry is a lot like Bill Clinton in that respect. I always disagreed with those who said that Clinton wasn't a liberal but an opportunist. Why couldn't he be both? In fact, he was, it's just that his political aspirations always prevailed in the event of a conflict, but he was nevertheless a committed liberal.
There's no doubt that Kerry's a committed liberal, too. He is intrinsically weak on defense and national sovereignty, especially on foreign policy and environmental matters, anemic on traditional values and passionately in favor of redistributing wealth -- except for his own.
But Kerry isn't nearly as shrewd as Clinton and is a far worse actor. When pressed about his inconsistencies, he is much less artful in explaining the inexplicable or justifying the unjustifiable. He has no drama arrows in his quiver remotely approaching Clinton's lower-lip bite. Instead, when he's trapped, he's exposed as a man deeply uncomfortable in his own skin.
Unlike Clinton, Kerry isn't convincing as anything other than the liberal he is. So when he pretends to be to the right of George Bush on national security, it's laughable. But he has to try something, because during wartime at least, liberalism just doesn't play well among the majority of Americans, despite talk of the nation being evenly divided.
So the answer to the question raised by various tone-deaf liberal publications is that Kerry is struggling to find a theme because the positions he's comfortable with simply won't work in America right now. It's no accident, then, that Kerry is flailing around for coherence, one day armed with the machismo of a war hero and the next back to his Jane Fondaesque roots.