Though I am writing this column before the debate for publication after the debate, I want to address Kerry's gnawing, self-inflicted wounds on Iraq, as they are sure to be at the forefront of the discussion.
Indeed, given Kerry's disturbing lack of consistency on Iraq, the only chance he has for a draw or better in the debate, or the election for that matter, is to convince the voters that despite his obvious problems with decisiveness, directness and the truth, somehow President Bush is worse.
Almost all of Kerry's problems on Iraq can be traced to the ongoing conflict between his presidential ambitions and his antiwar liberalism. His many flip-flops reflect his political calculations at various points in the campaign about the viability of his antiwar sentiments.
If Kerry had been true to himself -- his antiwar nature -- during the primaries, he might not have survived, but he certainly wouldn't be faced with the problems he is today on Iraq. Yet he felt constrained to vote for the Iraq war resolution because of the overwhelming popular support for it at the time.
It was only after Howard Dean's antiwar rantings began to resonate among Democrats that Kerry realized he'd messed up. He had to explain his vote to authorize the war. What a bummer. Here was John Kerry, a guy whose lifetime antiwar credentials would put Tom Hayden's to shame, now branded by this indelible black mark on his voting record concerning the very war Howard Dean was railing against.
Kerry had to be thinking: "Who is this upstart singing from my hymnal and wooing my voters -- the people who are supposed to put me in the White House after a lifetime of careful preparation? I mean, this guy can talk a good game, but he was a lowly state governor at the time of the Iraq War resolution vote. He wasn't faced with the problem of having to vote against the strong tide of American support for that stupid, annoying war. This Dean guy is an imposter. I'm the real antiwar guy. But how can I square my vote for the war with my lifetime antiwar record?"
Then Kerry had an epiphany enabling him to construct two bogus rationales. Both were completely implausible, except to his Dean-starved antiwar supporters, who were desperate to believe him, and the hopelessly credulous among us.
His two explanations were: President Bush 1) lied about the intelligence on Iraqi WMD and the supposed connections between Saddam and 9-11; and 2) promised he would only attack as a last resort. Both were bald-faced lies, but generated just enough smoke to allow Kerry to save face with his base -- just as with his whiplash-inducing positions on the $87 billion supplemental appropriations bill.