Will John Kerry please start flexing his muscles?

But the bad boss come up laughin’ at John Henry.

Said, You full of vinegar now, but you about through!

We gonna get a steam drill to do your share of drivin’,

Then what’s all them muscles gonna do? Huh, John Henry?

Gonna take a little bit of vinegar out of you.

That’s from “The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer.” And it seems to me that John Kerry’s handlers have been listening to a little too much Johnny Cash these days.

Back in the good old days (at least for us democrats) of late ’03 and early ’04, not a day went by without some fiery liberal throwing some pretty big stones at the Bush camp. After all, the Ragin’ Cajun himself, James Carville, acknowledges that a campaign can’t get anywhere by lying on its back. But sometime between the Fall of Dean and the Democratic Convention, it was decided that all Kerry had to do was be Not Bush. His camp decided that the best position to take was a supine one. Nowadays, who even knows if Kerry fought with or against the Viet Cong!

The cautious democrats -the “bad boss” apparently -decided it was too much of a risk and too costly to swing the hammer at Bush. If Kerry is a recipe, it looks like Emeril switched out the cup of vinegar for a couple tablespoons of vanilla. Now this wouldn’t be so upsetting if our candidate was, say, Joe Lieberman. He ain’t got too much to crow about in the first place. But Kerry’s got plenty of muscles; he’s just not doing anything with them.

Say the war in Iraq is wrong. Just say it. A thousand soldiers are dead and trying to defend that silly vote hasn’t got you any new support anyway. Call Bush out for being connected to the Swifties. Not only that, call him a draft dodger! You served and he didn’t. None of this, “I respect any and all military service” crap. You volunteered to go to Vietnam and he didn’t, and somehow your character is being called into question? It’s garbage and you know it.

Now, I know you want to take the high ground. I know you want to try to keep an air of civility in the campaign. But you didn’t talk smack in your convention and Bush did, and guess who got the bounce? Americans don’t want a courteous debate; they want a steel cage death match. And you’ve got the chops – I know it! Next time your handlers tell you to be careful what you say about Bush, take a page from your wife and tell them to shove it.

Patrick Gibbons can be contacted at p.gibbons@umiami.edu.