Even the people who tell me they will vote for Kerry take pains to stress that they don't like him. A friend who marched against Bush in New York Sunday phoned me to say that though she didn't like Kerry but would vote for the man," I know now he's definitely going to lose."

        "How do you know that?"

        "There were maybe 450,000 people on the streets of Manhattan, all of them hating Bush, and I saw maybe 10 people with Kerry/Edwards signs. Maybe two with Nader/Camejo signs. People don't connect hating Bush with voting for Kerry."

        You can blame that partly on the whole Bush-as-Monster frenzy that has every bookstore piled with hysterical tracts making the president out as a cross between Caligula and Nero, without even the latter's fiddle playing as a redeeming quality.

        The trouble with this is that Bush, albeit a somewhat weird and limited fellow, isn't Caligula or Nero, and furthermore, unlike the Roman emperors, has an attractive wife whom he hasn't poisoned. To many people Bush comes across as a straightforward fellow. My bet is that he'll probably win the debates with Kerry, not just on style and bearing but because Kerry has made life so easy for him, as was attested by the recent polls that showed Bush inching ahead, even before the Republican convention.

        Some of these polls were being taken even as the headlines were telling us that on Bush's watch more people had slipped into poverty, more kids were hungry, and now 45 million are without health insurance. Meat and drink for Kerry, you'd suppose, but no.

        The prime reason can only be the awful decision of Kerry and his advisers to give his war record in Vietnam the starring role in the Democratic convention in Boston, followed closely by his utterly mad decision in mid-August to announce via Jamie Rubin, his foreign policy spokesman, that he would have gone to war against Saddam Hussein even knowing the WMD threat was spurious.

        The insufferable Jamie Rubin, top State Department flack in the Clinton years, told the Washington Post that "knowing then what he knows today" about the lack of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq, Kerry still would have voted to authorize the war and, "in all probability," would have launched a military attack to oust Hussein by now if he were president. (Previously, Kerry had only said, with typical forthrightness, that he "might" have still gone to war.)

        In August, with U.S. forces engaged in heavy fighting in Najaf and American casualties edging inexorably toward 1,000, Rubin apologized to the Washington Post for his "in all probability" phrase. In more philosophical mode, he now explained that it was "unknowable whether Kerry would have waged the war." "Bush went to war the wrong way," Rubin said. "What we don't know is what would have happened if a president had gone about it the right way."

        How stupid do you have to be to throw away the Non-Existent WMDs as a stick to beat Bush with?

        At this point I reckon a lot of people who don't like the war lost interest in Kerry, as Kerry and his advisers must have realized since they sent out James Rubin to say that he had misspoken, which only enhanced Kerry's rep as a flip-flopper.

        Does Kerry's bid carry the stench of doom? You'd have thought just the economic news would carry him to victory, but doom is what it's beginning to smell like. Maybe only the CIA, an agency fighting for its life, can save him, with some sort of October surprise.

        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.