The Jackass Whimpers

Bush's war has sent the Democratic Party scurrying for cover

Valerie Silidker, a 28-year-old student with black John Lennon sunglasses and blond Glenn Close hair, spent a recent Saturday bobbing between thick rows of traffic on Sunrise Boulevard, handing out antiwar fliers to drivers waiting for a green light.

Most of them were happy to take one. Some weren't.

"Fuck you!" one man yelled at her.

Ah, echoes of George W. Bush's own diplomatic style.

As the man showered obscene epithets on her, Silidker noticed a toddler strapped in the back seat of the man's car.

Such fury, however, was only scattered at the February antiwar rally in Sunrise. Silidker estimated that 85 percent of the drivers accepted the flier and the constant honking of sympathetic horns clearly showed that the majority of motorists stood with the protesters.

About 175 people attended, which doesn't sound like much unless you consider that it's about 20 times the amount that showed up at the first anti-Iraq war rallies last year. In the United States, a million people protested that day, according to estimates from the Independent Media Center. More than 7 million rallied around the world.

Sure, our president dismissed them all with a wave of the hand. He had every right to do so, politically speaking. The Americans among them don't make up his constituency -- the vast majority of them wouldn't vote for him if their hair were on fire and he had the only glass of water.

No, the blossoming of the antiwar movement isn't really a Bush problem. It's a Democratic problem. Silidker and her fellow protesters should be the guts of the party, its manic glory, but instead they are mostly frustrated political loners or Green Party advocates. The party of the left seems to have been stabbed in the heart -- and its blood is running out onto America's streets.

"I don't trust the Democrats; they tend to say one thing and do another," said Silidker, who is registered as an Independent. "A lot of times, they are Republicans in sheep's clothing. The Green Party is like the new Democrats. I think they have a very strong foundation in their beliefs as far as protecting the people and the environment. There is hope with them."

Remember the damage Ralph Nader did to the Democrats in 2000? Now imagine what this burgeoning antiwar juggernaut could do in 2004 if the Democratic Party doesn't come to its senses and strongly oppose the so-called Bush Doctrine and the policy of preemptive attack.

Today, its middle-of-the-road stance is as beneficial for Dubya as it was for Bubba back in the '90s. If Iraq hawks like Joe Lieberman or John Edwards win the nomination, Bush might as well start writing reelection thank-you cards to his big-money supporters.

Never has the jackass seemed such a dead-on mascot for the party. Locally, Democratic elected officials have largely been mum on the Iraq issue. Of the three Democratic congressmen representing Palm Beach and Broward counties, only Alcee Hastings voted against the resolution to give Bush the go-ahead to attack Iraq. Robert Wexler of Boca Raton and Peter Deutsch of Plantation both back the president.

As a little experiment, I called three Democratic Broward County commissioners last week to question them about their views on the impending war. Suzanne Gunzberger and Josephus Eggelletion didn't return my call. Only Ben Graber was good enough to discuss the issue -- and he supportsthe war. Of his quiet colleagues, Graber said, "They prefer not to discuss it -- they are afraid they are going to make people angry."

Cowardly politicians? Imagine that. Amy Rose, an aide to Gunzberger, told me her boss has never spoken publicly about Iraq. So I asked Rose, who is also president of the Young Democrats of Broward County, what she thought of it. She said she opposes the war but added that the protests aren't reputable enough for most Democratic officials. "There are fringe groups who show up there," she said, "so there is a reluctance of credible people to get involved in the movement."

OK, so the party is run by a bunch of sheltered snobs. That's no secret. Only now, they are do-nothing, sheltered snobs.

In defense, Mitch Ceasar, chairman of Broward's Democratic Executive Committee, pointed me toward an antiwar resolution the DEC quietly passed last month. But that's just a useless piece of paper that does nothing to question the president's dangerous policies. What has the DEC actually done? "Right now, we're just watching and waiting," Ceasar said.

And history passes them by. One Democratic leader, though, is calling for the party to come out of hiding. John Coleman, a former Hollywood commissioner and a high-ranking DEC official, chided the party for its lack of leadership after the February 15 protests. "There were lots of protesters yesterday, but not enough Democrats...," Coleman wrote in an e-mail he sent to all local party officials. "What are Democrats afraid of? Bush? A right wing backlash? The lobbyists from President Eisenhower's 'military industrial complex'? Or, worse yet, being for the same peace that 75 percent of Broward voters seek?"

He concluded: "Now is the hour for the Democratic leadership to lead and add new voices to petition our national government."

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