Didn't John Kerry ever read about rope-a-dope? Karl Rove must be kicking his heels with merriment at the way the horse-faced son of Boston is tangling himself up in the Swift boat comedy. A couple of weeks more and I reckon Kerry will start crying on TV at the besmirchments of his war record, and it will all be over. Are there any skins thinner than those belonging to Democratic loyalists for Kerry? The other night, Jeffrey St. Clair, who coedits the political Website and newsletter CounterPunch with yours truly, found himself at a gathering of antiwar activists in downtown Portland, touting our new book, "A Dime's Worth of Difference, Beyond The Lesser of Two Evils."

        There were about a hundred souls assembled, and Jeffrey's seasoned eye assayed the political temper of the throng. Sure enough, at least a score had that fixity of gaze and tensed naso-labial musculature that betrayed the presence of Zombies-for-Kerry.

        Jeffrey plunged into his talk, an evenhanded assault on both Bush and Kerry. First, he whaled away at Bush, tracing the shameful decline of this war resister from the moral Everest of his Quaker-like refusal to spill Vietnamese blood (or his own) to his latterday militarist posturing and use of the National Guard as a de facto draft, with the draftees press-ganged into indentured servitude by stop-loss orders. (The stop-loss orders, I should note, now face a challenge in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, with lawyers Michael Sorgen and Joshua Sondheimer suing the Defense Department on behalf of an Army sergeant in the California National Guard.)

        Then, Jeffrey turned his spotlight on Kerry's record in Vietnam and began to review the unpleasant record of unmerited Purple Hearts and Silver Star, plus those actions of Lt. Kerry that could be arguably classified as war crimes. At this point, a lady of middle years, the leader of the Kerry loyalists, rose in indignation and, after a whispered and vehement colloquy with the organizer of the event, led her troops -- perhaps a dozen in number -- haughtily from the hall.

        I've no way of knowing, but it's quite possible that among those protesters were several, maybe many, who were passionately opposed to the war in Vietnam, and themselves denounced it as 15 years of war crimes against the Vietnamese people.

        Yet here they were, so deeply committed to voting for Kerry that they could not even bear to hear a discussion of his conduct in Vietnam, let alone sit still for a reasoned discussion of Kerry's pledges to keep the troops in Iraq. My inbox overflows with furious denunciations from Zombies-for-Bush as a "draft-dodger" and fervent testimonials to Kerry as a "war hero."

        Last weekend, one of these aides took the opportunity, in a debate on CNN, to emphasize that Kerry supported "96 percent" of the Patriot Act, and indeed wrote some of the language of the Act. The calculation in the Kerry camp is obviously that the liberal-progressive part of their base will put up with anything, and they seem to be correct in making that assumption.

        John Kerry announces that even if he'd known the allegations of Saddam Hussein's WMDs were spurious, he'd have attacked Iraq. There's scarcely a quiver in the ABB loyalists. Kerry was issuing these endorsements of Bush's war on Iraq at the same moment that two senior Republicans, Rep. Doug Bereuter of Nebraska (No. 2 on the House Intelligence Committee) and Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa, were saying the war was a disaster and the United States should get out.

        Such criticism on the Democratic side was virtually inaudible with only Robert Byrd and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin publicly criticizing Kerry's stance on the war.

        The Democratic power brokers have even gone so far as to try to squelch anti-war protests at the RNC convention. They want to present the image of a loyal opposition, with the message: Oppose Bush, but not the war.

        After a sharp argument with an ABB-er the other day, I asked him what his long-term political perspective was. Here he was, I said, beating the drum for a man who stood for everything he opposed: war in Iraq, war in Colombia, war on drugs, war on the deficit, war on teen morals. Oh, he said, the day after we elect John Kerry, we'll go to war on him.

        Back in the early and middle 1990s, the liberals and progressives were exactly as indulgent to Clinton as they are to Kerry now. After almost four years of Bill Clinton, Washington's liberal advocacy groups, foundations and public interest networks resembled the Vichy French after six years of Nazi occupation, as do the same outfits in their posture toward Kerry in the summer of 2004.

        Pressed for explanations for their pusillanimity, the liberal advocates explained that the Republican hordes who swept into Congress in 1994 were so barbaric, as was the prospect of a Dole presidency, that they had no choice but to circle the wagons round Bill Clinton.

        So the Democratic Party, from DLC governors to liberal public-interest groups, mustered around their leader and marched into the late ‘90s arm in arm along the path sign-posted toward the greatest orgy of corporate theft in the history of the planet, deregulation of banking and food safety, NAFTA and the WTO, rates of logging six times those achieved in the subsequent Bush years, oil drilling in the Arctic, a war on Yugoslavia, Plan Colombia, a vast expansion of the death penalty, re-affirmation of racist drug laws and the foundations of the Patriot Act.

        The serious rebellion took place in the streets, in Seattle right at the end of 1999, and the insurgents most certainly didn't come from the progressive/liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

        There's a strong case for arguing that the importance of these presidential contests is disastrously exaggerated. As always, a monocular obsession with getting behind the Democratic nominee means quitting vital battlefields. In the 1996 and 2000 campaigns, the AFL-CIO pulled many of its field organizers off its issue campaigns, to work for Clinton and Gore, the very architects of the Agreeements that these labor organizers had spent the previous three years fighting.

        Only weeks ago, Andy Stern, head of the SEIU, blurted out to Dave Broder of the Washington Post at the Boston convention that a Kerry victory might well demobilize labor. He had a strong point, even though he swiftly recanted. So we see Stern sending his SEIU organizers out across Oregon, in an effort to keep Nader off the ballot, who's done a lot more for SIEU members in substantive terms than Kerry ever has or will.

        Rope-a-dope can mean tiring out your opponent. It can also mean getting your brains beaten in and shuffling along as a Zombie.

        Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through 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.