Kerry has the nomination almost within his grasp, and has also emerged from the bruising kiss of imputed scandal. Unless Ms. Alex Polier or some other woman inconveniently crops up again, Teresa Heinz won’t have to wield the carving knife she has threatened to use on her husband’s private parts if his path to the White House is derailed by sexual scandal. Polier notwithstanding, never has a candidate had to put up with less in the way of the baptism of sewage that is a vital part of the primary process. Dean and Clark drew all the fire. Edwards, who could carve up Kerry in a minute, has adamantly refused to deploy his forensic artillery.

Did Kerry have the jaunty mien of triumph, that night of victory in Madison? Not that I could see. His long face, albeit abbreviated by corrective surgery, remained lugubrious, and he stumbled his way tiredly through Bob Shrum’s phrases. The one thing all Democrats this year want is a winner. He doesn’t look like a winner to me. Right now some polls show Kerry a few points ahead of Bush. But at time of writing, February 18, trend lines in other polls show Kerry slipping behind Bush after peaking on February 15. Karl Rove has yet to launch the Shock and Awe barrage that will explode over Kerry’s head sometime in late summer, after the Democrats have got their boost in Boston.

Rove’s targeting plans will obviously include such easy but telling hits as Kerry’s support for Bush’s tax cuts for the rich. (If elected President, according to the bean counters at Forbes, Kerry will be the third-richest denizen of the Oval Office in American history.) Kerry voted for the Patriot Act, and he voted for the ’03 attack on Iraq. And this wasn’t just a resigned or furtive aye. Kerry was up there with Bush, Rumsfeld and Blair as a huckster for all the lies that have come home to haunt Washington. “These weapons represent an unacceptable threat,” he bellowed in the fall of 2002. Not only nuclear weapons of mass destruction. “Iraq has some lethal and incapacitating agents and is capable of quickly producing and weaponizing a variety of such agents, including anthrax, for delivery on a range of vehicles such as bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers, and covert operatives which could bring them to the United States homeland.” Kerry’s bottom line: “The President laid out a strong, comprehensive, and compelling argument why Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs are a threat to the United States and the international community.”

Kerry agrees with Bush about the tax cuts. He agrees with him about the Patriot Act. He agrees with him on trade. He agrees with him on the war. “Why change horses?” Bush will ask the American people. “I can manage things better,” Kerry will respond. What else can he say? He’s never once, in three Senate terms, offered legislation to inconvenience the “special interests” at which he’s lately launched a few pop-gun attacks.

This is where the timid legions of the left, cowed by furious bluster about their treachery in deserting the Democratic standard back in 2000, might ask some serious questions, and maybe even threaten desertion again. All Kerry can offer is superior management of the imperial bandwagon at home and abroad. Defense? Move over, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz! To cleanse the Augean stable with those fragrant heaps of procurement cash handed out to Bush and Cheney’s cronies, Kerry has a broom in the form of his defense adviser, William Perry. Not a clean broom, mind you. Perry, a notorious shill for the avionics sector when he ran the Pentagon’s R&D in the Carter years, drew deserved fire in Clinton time for being the first Defense Secretary allowed to hold investments in a military contractor, Cambridge Research Associates, doing business with the Defense Department.

The War on Drugs? National security advice? Kerry has Rand Beers, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs under Presidents Bush and Clinton. Beers was one of the architects of the aerial crop-fumigation program the United States introduced in southern Colombia, when the State Department hired the private military contractor DynCorp to fly crop dusters at high altitudes, spraying poison on all the vegetation and, often, peasants below. Beers’s terrible role in Colombia was recently stigmatized by Sean Donahue of the Massachusetts Anti-Corporate Clearinghouse. Beers had scant concern for peasants, with their only means of subsistence, whether coca or legal yucca, wiped out. “One doesn’t get a special pass for being poor,” he told ABC’s John Stossel (a sentiment with which Kerry surely concurs, since he voted for Clinton’s onslaught on welfare).

How about oil and empire? Right next to Beers on Kerry’s national security team is Richard Morningstar, whose career was usefully dissected by Laura Flanders not so long ago. An inside player to be sure. He was an executive at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a notorious swill-bin for corporate plunder, then became Clinton’s oil ambassador to Central Asia, where he rubbed shoulder pads with Condoleezza Rice, at that time Chevron’s envoy prospecting capture of the region’s vast oil reserves.

But isn’t Kerry at least a living reproach to the horrors of the Vietnam War? Not really. He’s got his medals back up on the office wall, and here’s what he wrote in A Call to Service, his campaign bio: “I could never agree with those in the antiwar movement who dismissed our troops as war criminals or our country as the villain in the drama…. As a veteran of both the Vietnam war and the Vietnam protest movement, I say to both conservative and liberal misinterpretations of that war it’s time to get over it and recognize it as an exception, not as a ruling example, of the US military engagements of the twentieth century.”

Kerry advocates a “tough-minded strategy of international engagement.” Kerry over Bush, Bush over Kerry? As regards impact on humanity, it’s hard to figure how big a slice of the earth’s inhabitants would register a dime’s worth of difference between the two, or even a genome’s worth, for that matter. After all, they are cousins. Sixteenth cousins. Why, in San Francisco right now they could legally get married. They’ve been close for years.