With America's debacle in Iraq blaring on every TV channel, Democrats in Oregon tuned in eagerly to Kerry as he toured their state in mid-May, awaiting their champion's robust savaging of the commander in chief, tottering through some of the worst news headlines of his presidency.

            They waited in vain. Though Iraq is a simple word of only two syllables, Kerry avoided it, and when reporters cued him to put the boot in, he raised a decorous finger to his lips, saying he wanted to give President Bush "some space to get things done."

            "I'm trying not to talk about it in politics," he told reporters aboard his campaign plane. "I want to give the president some space to get things done and see what happens," Kerry said. "I wish the president would lead. He needs to lead, lives are at stake. He needs to be really bold." Finally, at a rally in Portland, where Howard Dean lashed the crowd into bellows of approval as he savaged the administration, Kerry made a measured reference to Iraq, though he tactfully forbore to mention the president by name. Later, he indicated that somewhere within the four years of his first term he would supervise some form of withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, which gives us a new slant on "four more years."

            Having given the anti-war vote the back of his hand (much to the dismay of liberal columnists like Robert Kuttner and Robert Scheer, who have fretted that Kerry was adeptly boosting the Nader vote), Kerry focused his campaign skills on the bedrock constituency on which every Democratic candidate must count: the millions who fear that Bush's judges will abolish Choice.

            Yes, said Kerry, he's open to nominating anti-abortion judges. Then, with a typical Kerry swerve, he added, as long as that doesn't lead to the Supreme Court's overturning Roe v Wade. And he said he's sorry now he voted to confirm Antonin Scalia back in 1986.

            Then Kerry wrapped up the week with an interview with AP in which he "grudgingly gave Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress credit for creating 900,000 jobs this year, echoed the administration's views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and seconded Bush's decision to Nominate Alan Greenspan for a fifth term as chairman of the Federal Reserve."

            This man Kerry reminds me of Michael Dukakis, who led the Democrats to whimpering defeat in 1988. Why is Kerry giving Bush a pass on jobs? The most recent April job figures reveal that despite the growth of more than 300,000 jobs last month, there are still fewer people employed than at the start of the recession, in March 2001. The figures are these: March 2001 -- total employment, 132.5 million; April 2004 -- total employment, 130.9 million. That is really quite a remarkable statistic. More than two years into the recovery from the 2001 recession, the U.S. economy has not produced any net increase in jobs. It's the first time since 1949 that this normal pattern of job growth in a recovery has not occurred.

            My coeditor of CounterPunch, Jeffrey St. Clair, and I have a book forthcoming on the election. It's called "Dime's Worth of Difference." At this rate we'll have to change the title. Why exaggerate?

            Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.