It's official. Broward and Palm Beach counties are 100 percent in support of making war in Iraq.
It seems we're all itching for a bloodbath -- or at least for bloody Baaths -- in Baghdad. We're good and snookered by the bait (Osama) and switch (Saddam), and have abandoned any idea of rigorously containing the Iraqi dictator. We're champing at the bit to show the Arab world who's boss, to kill more people in the name of September 11's dead, to introduce more hate and violence into this suddenly oh-so-messed-up world.
At least, that's all our congressmen, the sum total of our counties' voice, are saying on Capitol Hill. All five of them support the war. That the two Republicans in office, Fort Lauderdale's Clay Shaw Jr. and West Palm Beach's Mark Foley, support the Bush administration isn't surprising. Those two receive barrels of cash from oil and energy interests, and neither would have the guts to stand up to Bush if he wanted to. Foley has even been aping the president's favorite phrase, "We won't get fooled again."
(Note to country: It might be a clue that America is royally screwed up when right-wing demagogues start stealing lines from circa-1970s Who songs. Let's hope not too many American soldiers and Iraqi civilians die before they get old because of it.)
The Democrats' support of the president, though, really bothers me. As I wrote last week, two of our liberal stalwarts, Robert Wexler and Peter Deutsch, support a military strike (see "Hawking for Israel," September 26). The other donkey, Alcee Hastings of Miramar, talks an opposition game but ultimately stands in the war camp. He introduced a joint resolution last week to authorize Bush to go to war. Under the Hastings plan, which hasn't been reported in the local media, the president would have to jump through a few hoops at the United Nations, but he'd get what he wants: The OK to overrun Baghdad.
So we're 0-for-5. But you might at least expect Shaw's Democratic challenger, Carol Roberts, to give peace a chance, right? Uh-uh. The Palm Beach County commissioner has been as silent about Iraq as a stealth bomber over the no-fly zone.
Instead of taking a stand on the most important issue of our time, Roberts has been prattling on about prescription drugs (which, incidentally, can come in handy if you have to listen to her talk). Last week, her campaign sent me a tortured little written statement on the war: "I want to see evidence that containment of Saddam is not working," she wrote. "And I want to see evidence that there is an immediate threat to the United States."
Good start. But read on: "Colin Powell is a man of war, and he understands you don't go to war lightly. If men of war like Powell said it was the thing to do, I'd be there.... Make no mistake about it: I would vote to take the country into war in order to protect the U.S., our people, and our interests."
So Roberts is basically a hawk, and, much worse, she's a hawk who goes around using the phrase "make no mistake about it." These Bush mimics are making me queasy. I know the president is dashing and eloquent and all, but can't they come up with their own lines? Is there no one out there with an original thought? Will someone try to quell this grave and gathering danger (oops, now I'm doing it), this illegitimate despot, this interloping cur called George W. Bush?
Xuna to the rescue.
Juan Xuna (pronounced "Zoona") is running against Shaw and Roberts as an independent. Xuna, who is 53 years old, speaks with a heavy accent from his native Spain, has no political experience, and campaigns out of his family's two-bedroom condo in Hillsboro Beach. He's well-educated and has well-reasoned stances on the issues. Xuna calls himself a Social Democrat and basically wants to bring the best qualities of Europe -- including a national health care system and more vacation time -- to the United States. He panders to no one and serves as a tool for no special interests, which is one reason he stands a snowball's chance in Boynton Beach of winning.
But the peace vote has already lost, making it the ideal time for a protest ballot. So enter with me, if you dare, the Xuna Xone, where political decency lives and common sense and logic doom campaigns to obscurity.
Xuna, who has lived in the United States and Puerto Rico for the past 31 years, was driven to enter politics by two calamitous falls -- of the stock market and of the World Trade Center. He quit his job as a software executive in January to run for office and spent 75 days in parking lots and beaches gathering the 2165 signatures he needed to qualify as a candidate. You might have seen him out there this past spring; he was the guy holding a clipboard who looked a little like basketball analyst Dick Vitale, with a shiny bald head ringed by a dark halo of hair.
He knew he had little chance to win, but he also believed he had important ideas (which are detailed on his Website, www.gr8st8.com). September 11, as he sees it, made it clear that we need to foster better relations in the Middle East, primarily by ending what he calls "total support" of Israel. He believes that, if there is ever to be peace in the region, Israel must become a true democracy -- rather than a theocratic state.
OK, that alone will cause him big problems. You lose the Jewish vote, you suffer.
He's not coming from any religious slant, mind you. In fact, he's brave enough to openly run as an atheist (bye bye, Christians). He is calling to tighten immigration standards (liberals, farewell). And he's stumping to end the embargo on Castro (hasta la vista, Cubanos).
He believes strongly in the development of alternative and renewable energy sources. He supports steep oil and gas taxes to discourage consumption and believes in extensive national conservation and energy policies to free us from our dependence on the Arabs, help the world toward a path of peace, and clean up the environment (so much for an endorsement from big business).
Naturally, Xuna hasn't raised much money. In fact, he's received only three contributions, none from his district: A retired teacher from Miami gave him $200, a California "humanist" donated $100, and a Missouri atheist coughed up a $20 check.
So he has funded his campaign with about $25,000 of his own money. Although successful in business, Xuna, the father of three grown sons and a three-year-old daughter, is far from rich. So he and his second wife, Mona, are trying to sell her oil paintings on the Internet to raise more campaign funds. He recently held two auctions on E-bay but failed to unload a single piece. The money is running out, and he says he'll soon need to seek employment.
Compare this struggle to Shaw's efforts, which have raised $1.4 million, and he has spent nearly $25,000 of it on travel expenses and various reimbursements -- for his wife, Emilie. Shaw's campaign shelled out $58,617 for a Cheney fundraiser in April -- including $825 for flowers. It paid off, though, as Shaw pimped Cheney out for some $500,000 in one day. Welcome to big-time Republican politics. The only thing missing from his expenditure list is a $6000 shower curtain.
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These things frustrate Xuna. Democracy isn't working. The newspapers virtually ignore him, and the routine political venues -- speeches to various groups and clubs -- are a waste of time. "I was hoping to do 20 or 30 debates, but there are no debates," he complains. "I receive invitations, and you have 30 people there, and you get two or three minutes to talk. What can you do in two minutes? Nothing. You are the first journalist to call me and ask about my positions.... It's money, only money. No issues. It is unbelievable."
Xuna is a thinker and a dreamer -- not a natural politician. He's keenly self-conscious about his accent and, though he is fluent in English (and three other languages), he thinks in Spanish, and his tongue can't always find the right translation. He's not what you'd call charismatic, and he wouldn't know a good sound bite if one bit him on the ass. He leaves the tricky rhetoric to the president, who constantly refers to his coming act of aggression as a way to "secure the peace" and plays on our fears to support his war.
"Since we are unable to get peace in the Middle East, [Bush] is trying to distract Americans to show that we are doing something," Xuna says. "Saddam Hussein is a danger to society, but going into a war with Iraq is extremely dangerous -- not only to our soldiers but to a lot of people in the Middle East. We have to clean up our act in the Middle East and not jump into a war."
He's the only local politician out there making that stand. And that's why he has my vote in November. If you oppose this war, he should get yours too.