Stories are beginning to appear that Kerry’s campaign is running scared, afraid that the lies of the Swift Boat Vets and the president’s convention are whittling away at his reputation and the narrow lead Kerry had opened up after the Democratic convention.

Ron Fournier, in a story this morning suggests Kerry may be paralyzed by conflicting advice.

The candidate and his beleaguered staff are being flooded with advice, much of it contradictory. Some party officials want Kerry to criticize the president for sitting out the Vietnam War in the Texas Air National Guard. Others say that would draw unwanted attention to accusations about Kerry’s combat experience, when the focus should be on the economy and the Iraq war.

…Some Democrats pointed to Kerry’s public assurances, under pressure from Bush, that he still would have voted to authorize war in Iraq had he known no weapons of mass destruction would be found there. Still, after months of criticizing the president’s handling of the war, Kerry’s assertion sounded like a flip-flop to many voters, according to polling and focus groups conducted for Democrats close to Kerry.

.. [Frank Schreck, a top party fund-raiser from Nevada,] wants Kerry to bluntly compare war records with the president. “Why not stand up there and say, `He chose to have his father get him out of harm’s way while I volunteered to risk my life?'” The Bush campaign vigorously denies the president used his family’s political influence to avoid Vietnam.

Ken Brock, a Democratic consultant in Michigan, said he wants to see Kerry fight back.

“Personally, I’m for somebody coming out and saying while Bush was in the Redneck Riviera, Kerry was picking shrapnel out of his butt,” he said. “There are those who want John Kerry to drop his drawers and show America the scars.”

Certainly, the mainstream media has some culpability for reporting and hyping the Swift Boat ads before they had done their homework. The articles pointing out that there is little substantiation of the charges do as much harm as good by continuing to publicize the charges.

But Kerry’s inarticulate positions are his biggest problem. In fact, he is not only inarticulate but wrong when saying he would still authorize Bush to go to war in Iraq. And he has been vague about how he would handle terrorism. He needs to clearly challenge the notion that only physical war is the answer. We can’t kill enough terrorists to stop terrorism. But Kerry hasn’t clearly made that case.

Update: Josh Marshall has a post on this issue, where he advises Democrats “[d]iscipline pays rewards.”

Indeed, it does, but that doesn’t negate the fact that Kerry has been far too cautious, or simply misguided regarding some of his stands.