Rolling toward the Democratic nomination, the Kerry campaign has the enduring benefit of the vast fortune of Mrs. Kerry, the former Teresa Heinz, lovely relict of the Portuguese empire. Mrs. Kerry can use her money to run issue ads. Her interest in environmental issues has been mostly expressed through her Heinz Foundation, whose board until very recently was adorned by that hero of free-market enviros, Ken Lay of Enron.

            The Heinz Foundation put Ken Lay in charge of their global-warming initiative. When Enron went belly up, the Foundation stuck by their man: "Whatever troubles he had at Enron, Ken Lay had a good reputation in the environmental community for being a business man who was environmentally sensitive. When someone does wrong in one part of their life, it doesn't mean they can't do good in another part of their life."

            It's the kind of sublime indifference to the messy realities of politics and life that is now inspiring Democrats to rally behind Kerry, under the vacant banner, Anybody But Bush.

            Already Kerry has had to issue stentorian denials of fooling with an intern, identified as Alex Polier. No, it's not that sort of problem or a bid to prize the gay vote loose from Howard Dean. Alex is a woman, who interned at The Associate Press and had enough contact with Kerry for her father to say at one point, before he suddenly readjusted his stance, the junior senator from Massachusetts is a "sleazeball," a view that seems to be held by some other women who have fallen, albeit briefly, under the spell of the senator's close-set eyes and jutting chin (surgically shortened).

            If you believe the National Enquirer, and I do, Morgan Fairchild says Kerry's favored positions in their close-up encounters were any in which he could gaze in the mirror at himself. If Kerry's denial regarding Polier turns out to have holes in it, we'll be off and running along the Clinton Memorial Boulevard, with all the familiar diversions, detours and blind alleys.

            Kerry seems a frail vessel for Democratic hopes. His recent senatorial record is devoid of achievement, and he exudes a kind of reverse charisma. Even when he's on camera in those endless debates I find myself looking over his shoulder in search of someone more interesting to listen to. Senator John Edwards of North Carolina would surely be a better bet. In contrast to Teresa's evident disquiet whenever her husband comes within touching range, Mr. and Mrs. Edwards actually seem to like each other, and besides, I have an affection for trial lawyers, who have a vocational disrespect for rich corporations. He's a better speaker and quick on his feet.

            Mirroring the bankruptcy of their own ideas, liberal Democrats are reserving their most strenuous political energies for the task of trying to persuade Ralph Nader not to run. The editors of The Nation magazine, wizened organ of progressive opinion, recently printed an open letter urging Nader to bow out. It's hard to think of anything more likely to prompt Nader to stay in. To his austere puritan temperament the curses of the respectable political classes are pleasing reminders that he must be on the right track.

            The Left used to laud war shirkers and deprecate "heroism." Now, most of them snigger at George Bush's positively Quaker-like refusal even to turn out for an Air Force physical in Alabama back in the early '70s. Instead the Left proudly lauds the patriotism of the medal-flaunting Kerry, who insisted to Tim Russert three years ago on the "Meet the Press" that yes, he had committed war crimes in Vietnam. The Left used to revel in the naming of CIA operatives. Now they solemnly deplore the Bush White House's breach of security in outing Valerie Plame and call for stiffer penalties for such breaches in the future.

            The Left ... there are some with backbone, but mostly they're content to rally behind the front runner of the hour, keep their mouths shut and order everyone else to do likewise. It's no way to win an election. It's hard to beat someone with nothing, a point on which Ralph will probably be only too glad to expand in the coming months.

            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 COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.