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More Memories of the Kerry Campaign

What I felt at the time, and what I still think today, is that Bush had Kerry boxed in on the issue. He had no good answer. From my perspective (and most others on that bus) he made a mistake in giving Bush the authority to use force. Simple as that. Any distinction between authorization to use force and voting to go to war was irrelevant, because we all knew what Bush was going to do once he got authorization. So Kerry could either admit he made a mistake on a life and death issue, in which case Bush would have pounced on him further for flip-flopping and bad judgement, or he could say he didn't make a mistake, in which case it would dispirit his base and blur any distinction between his and Bush's policy on Iraq. I can tell you for a fact it made my job as a volunteer much harder, because it's impossible to get into these kinds of nuanced conversations when you're knocking on doors looking for votes among persuadable voters (most of whom already recognized the war as mistake by that point).

While the answer Kerry gave made a lot of his supporters angry (especially the ones who supported Dean in the primaries) Bush really did have him boxed in on the issue. He had no good answer, just a choice between two bad ones. I think Romney is similarly boxed in on the issue of health care reform. Saying HCR was right for Massachusetts, but not right for the rest of the country is an untenable position for Romney. It's like Kerry trying to make the distinction between authorizing the use of force and voting for war. Everyone knew there was no legitimate, real-world distinction between the two, and instinctively everyone knows there's no meaningful distinction between mandating coverage in Massachusetts and mandating it nationally. It's just a needle that is too fine to be threaded politically. I wouldn't want to be the Republican volunteer for Romney who has to knock on persuadable voters doors only to get into a discussion about why HCR was good for Massachusetts, but bad for America, especially if I didn't believe the argument myself. It's no fun, believe me.

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Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.