WASHINGTON - (KRT) - As the anti-war movement arrives in Washington
this weekend, many top Democrats are leaving.
Nationally known Democratic war critics, including Howard Dean, the
chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton
of New York, Russell Feingold of Wisconsin and John Kerry of Massachusetts,
won't attend what sponsors say will be a big anti-war rally Saturday in Washington.
The only Democratic officeholders who plan to address the rally are
Reps. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia and John Conyers of Michigan.
Today's leading Democrats head a party divided over the war, and many leaders
are wary of standing with anti-war activists, who represent much of the party's
base. The divide between anti-war activists and Democratic leaders underscores
a challenge the party faces in the 2006 congressional elections and beyond.
Some activists say that Democrats such as Clinton and Kerry who criticize the
war but refuse to demand a timetable for withdrawal are effectively supporting
the status quo - and may not merit future support.
En route to Washington for the rally, anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan protested
outside Clinton's New York office. "She knows that the war is a lie, but
she is waiting for the right time to say it," Sheehan told about 500 cheering
supporters. "You say it or you are losing your job."
Spokesmen for the Democrats who are skipping the anti-war event all said they
had schedule conflicts. But some leading anti-war activists aren't buying it.
"There are a lot of people here who are wondering, where are the Democrats?"
said Tom Andrews, a former Democratic House member from Maine who's now the
national director of Win Without War, one of several groups that are organizing
three days of protests against the war in Washington starting Saturday.
"The Democratic Party has an identity crisis on this issue. We need voices.
We need leadership," Andrews said. "But fear is driving them."
The rally comes at a time when a growing number of Americans want a timetable
for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, a proposition that both President Bush
and many leading Democrats reject.
A poll this week by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that 51 percent
of Americans want to keep troops in Iraq until it's stabilized, but the ranks
of those who want to set a timetable to withdraw have grown to 57 percent from
49 percent in July. (Evidently some people chose both answers.)
At the same time, a growing number of grassroots Democrats are dissatisfied
with their party's leadership in Congress. The percentage of Democrats who are
happy with their leaders dropped from 64 percent in May to 49 percent now, the
Pew survey found.
Dean, who rallied anti-war activists with his fervent opposition to the war
during his 2003-2004 presidential campaign, already was scheduled to spend the
weekend meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, spokesman Josh Earnest
"His views on the president's handling of the war in Iraq are well documented,"
Earnest said. The anti-war rally, he said, is "not something the party
was involved with."
Kerry planned to be in his home state this weekend, a spokeswoman said. At
Brown University on Monday, the senator ripped Bush's conduct of the war, saying
the president should admit "countless" mistakes in the war and proclaiming
that "real leadership stands up to special interests and sets the course
for future generations."
Feingold was scheduled to be out of town, a spokesman said. Feingold is the
only national Democrat weighing a 2008 presidential campaign who's endorsed
setting a timetable to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.
Clinton also didn't plan to attend, a spokesman said.
"Our job is to make them pay a price for continuing to support this war,"
said Bill Dobbs, a spokesman for United for Peace and Justice, another group
that's organizing the anti-war weekend in Washington.
Sixty-six members of Congress have formed an "Out of Iraq Congressional
Caucus" that wants either immediate withdrawal or a timetable to withdraw.
None of the party's congressional leadership and none of the likely candidates
for president are members.
Anti-war organizers said they expected 100,000 people Saturday. A rival group
plans a rally Sunday in Washington to show support for the war.