Who would you rather have in your corner, Sasso or Baker? In its hour of need the Kerry campaign brings on board John Sasso, breathlessly described in one news story as “canny and ruthless,” but mostly known to the world as one of the men who ran the Dukakis campaign in 1988, which was about as far from “canny and ruthless” as you can go. Meanwhile, the Bush crowd brings on former Secretary of State James Baker to handle negotiations for the presidential debates. Yes, Baker, the man who negotiated the theft of the election in Florida in 2000. If you hunted for words that best describe Baker, “canny and ruthless” would do nicely.

When historians come to dissect the Kerry campaign they will surely marvel at the rich platter of issues handed the Democratic candidate, which he has thrust from him with shudders of distaste and instead turned back, like Mencken’s Bryan, to swat at flies.

Read the report of the 9/11 Commission, as Kerry and his “strategists” have surely done, and there are mounds of fragrant dung to hurl at Bush and Cheney: the warnings from the FBI and CIA ignored by the White House, the obvious lies about Cheney getting Bush’s go-ahead to issue the shoot-down orders that never reached the Air Force pilots.

You’d think the Kerry campaign would have put together a group of 9/11 widows and, along the lines of the Swift Boat vets, had them trail Bush, denouncing him as the man who slept through the warnings of imminent attack by Al Qaeda. It’s all there on the plate, but Kerry has spurned it; 9/11 is off the table.

Read the US Senate report on the manipulation of intelligence to concoct the bogus WMDs, used as the rationale for the Iraq invasion. It’s replete with detailed stories of Cheney’s eight visits to CIA HQ at Langley to browbeat the analysts, plus scores of kindred jimmying of the data. Kerry could have said he voted war-making powers to the President because he and his colleagues were served up lies.

But no, Kerry hops around on the issue all summer and then loses it at the Grand Canyon, saying that even knowing what he does now about the lack of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq, he still would have voted to authorize the war. This was after James Rubin told the Washington Post that “in all probability,” Kerry would have launched a military attack to oust Saddam if he were President.

As a piece of tactical stupidity it’s hard to beat. There on the plate in front of Kerry was probably the best-documented account of White House deception in living memory, and he thrust it away. Fake WMDs are off the table. In fact, the whole war is off the table, even as American dead top 1,000, as Kerry refines and redefines, shifts from foot to foot and says he would have done it all differently.

Spygate? The nation’s secrets being filched by Bush’s neocons, passed to Israel and Tehran? The only surprise here is that Kerry hasn’t already called for charges to be dropped against any and all suspects, and urged the dismissal of FBI investigators on grounds of anti-Semitism.

In Afghanistan, America’s man Karzai can drive around bits of Kabul in relative safety, the same way that America’s man Allawi can display himself in a couple of acres of downtown Baghdad. Elsewhere the Taliban rules and Osama takes his noonday mountain hikes in the Hindu Kush. But for Kerry, Afghanistan is off the table.

Pretty much everything’s off the table except for some Kerry rhetoric that no one believes about a health plan and taxing people who make more than $200,000. As Bush told the crowds in Ohio, the Kerry plan will never fly because everyone knows the rich don’t pay taxes anyway. The Supreme Court? Kerry said in May he wouldn’t hesitate to nominate an anti-choice Justice. On the heels of this crafty rallying cry to his core supporters, he made the disclaimer that he wouldn’t want to have a Supreme Court that reversed Roe v. Wade.

At a quick count, off the agenda of debate this year are the role of the Federal Reserve; trade policy; economic redistribution; nuclear disarmament; reduction of the military budget and the allocation of military procurement; the role of the World Bank, IMF, WTO; crime, punishment and the prison explosion; the war on drugs; corporate welfare; forest policy; the destruction of small farmers and ranchers; Israel; Cuba; the corruption of the political system. The CIA is on the table but not in an encouraging way, since Kerry touts the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, which wants to go back to the era before the Church hearings of the mid-1970s. The Senate and House Democrats are now backing off opposition to Bush’s nominee as CIA director, Representative Porter Goss, seemingly on a signal from the Kerry campaign.

So what have Kerry supporters and prospective supporters got to hang their hat on? Not much, which is why most of the ones I meet seem wan and out of sorts, reduced to mutterings about fascism’s march. It may indeed be on the march, but there are no spirited vows from Kerry that he’ll stand in its path. Just the other day, in a debate on NPR one of his “strategists” boasted that he’d drafted some of the Patriot Act’s language.

Once there was a vibrant antiwar movement outside the Democratic Party, and therefore with some purchase on the candidates. Howard Dean took care of that, and the Democratic National Committee took care of Howard Dean. Now there’s pro-war Kerry, with no aggressive antiwar movement to push him to the left. All’s quiet on the Western front. The left is in a funk, spouting nonsensical scenarios about 9/11, abandoning all long-term issues. Meanwhile the Empire is out of money, the housing bubble due to burst in the not too distant future. Why talk about that? This election, reality is off the table. As someone said back in 1995, political campaigns are “the graveyard of real ideas and the birthplace of empty promises.” This was Teresa Heinz in the Utne Reader, just before she married Kerry. My bet is on a very low turnout.