Congress vs. the country

There are limits to protest. Don't try to picket Bush or Cheney, even if you're in a wheelchair. Chances are the cops will Taser you and haul you off. But you can wear an anti-war T-shirt in pretty much every mall in America &

though maybe not in the vicinity of Camp Lejeune, N.C. &

and not even get spat on.

We're not back in the difficult days of the early '60s when anti-war demonstrators faced brickbats and curses from the multitude. We're in the dawn of the 21st century when Main Street America has decisively turned against the war in Iraq, though only the merest handful of senators and U.S. representatives dare stand up and be counted.

At the start of October &

even after Gen. David Petraeus' suave performance on Capitol Hill, hyping his "surge" &

only 27 percent of Americans wanted Congress to OK the $190 billion Bush requested for Iraq and Afghanistan. At the start of this week, the Washington Post summed up its latest poll, conducted with ABC TV, thus: "Most Americans do not believe Congress has gone far enough in opposing the war."

The way things are headed, in two or three months we'll have over 95 percent of the American people wanting pull-out from the war in Iraq, and 95 percent of Congress obediently voting funds to keep the troops there. On Capitol Hill, if nowhere else in America except 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., they want to attack Iran.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, the senator from Israel (albeit officially identified as the Independent Democratic junior senator from Connecticut), recently put up a bill encouraging the Bush administration to place Iran's Revolutionary Guards on the U.S. government's official blacklist as a "terrorist organization." This legislation was clearly hatched as a way for Bush to attack Iran without seeking congressional approval. It cantered through the Senate with only 25 opposing. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama voted for it. The House approved a similar measure with only 16 noes, of which 12 were Democrats.

The only Democratic presidential candidates shouting for the troops to be brought home are all outsiders: Kucinich, Richardson, Gravel. At the Democratic debate at Dartmouth College last week, Clinton, Obama and Edwards refused to commit to having all U.S.

troops out of Iraq by the end of their first White House term &

i.e., January 2013. In Congress, the shortest timeline for withdrawal is offered in Sen. Russell Feingold's bill, which requires troops to be out of Iraq by June 30, 2008. The bill has only 12 co-sponsors in the Senate, Clinton and Obama conspicuous by their absence.

That's the take on Capitol Hill. In the rest of the country, it's a very different story. Take Brian Baird, a five-term congressman from the very liberal 3rd congressional district in Washington state, in the Pacific northwest. Back in 2002, Baird voted against the war, and has been re-elected twice since. He still maintains, "The invasion of Iraq may be one of the worst foreign-policy mistakes in the history of our nation."

But in August, he went to Iraq on a congressional delegation that got the Petraeus treatment. He returned with the zeal of a born-again convert, and publicly swore his allegiance to the Bush administration's line that the "surge" is working and needs more time.

Baird's constituents were outraged and remain so. When Baird finally got the nerve to hold a public meeting a few weeks ago in the state capital, Olympia, 90 minutes down the interstate from Seattle, the hall was packed with angry Democrats, vets and soldiers. Party regulars are talking about dumping him in a cutting-off-nose-to-spite-face maneuver akin to what they did to his predecessor, Jolene Unsoeld, whom we tossed aside for what appeared to be pandering to the NRA even though she was a solid lefty on most other issues.

The unpopularity of the war haunts Republicans even more. Front-runners like Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney may nuke Iran in every campaign stump speech, but to win the White House they have to attract the nation's swing voters, who will ultimately decide the outcome. Third-quarter fundraising for the anti-war, "out of Iraq now" Republican candidate Ron Paul, rated as a distant outsider, increased 114 percent from the previous quarter, while the campaigns of Giuliani, Romney and McCain suffered a decrease. These days, the swing voters don't want to nuke Iran and they don't want to stay in Iraq. They want out.

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through . To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at .

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