Here I am, enjoying post-solstice sunrise at 5.48 a.m., and, on California's North Coast, sunset at 8.35 p.m. (probably classified info if you ask Tom Ridge). I'm in the early summer of 2003, and already people are acting as though the first Democratic primary was only a month or two away. Already we're wading deeper into the issues that will pulse with increasing intensity across the next 17 months.

            Is the task of booting George Bush out of the White House paramount? Out with the imperial Crusader, the death-penalty-loving, Bill-of-Rights-trashing, drug-war-advocating corporate serf! By all means. But whoa! Who's this we see, galloping out of the mists of rosy-fingered dawn, a knight errant sent by the gods to give the kiss of life to all our fainting hopes? It's . why, it's. yes, it's another imperial Crusader, a death-penalty-loving, Bill-of-Rights-trashing, drug-war-advocating corporate serf. Only he's a Democrat, not a Republican. That changes everything. Or does it?

            Take Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont. Right now, he's enjoying a boomlet. Across this great land, ambitious Democrats are hopping from foot to foot in an agony of indecision. Kerry, Graham, Dean, Gephardt: Which way to jump? Dean! Clinton without the satyriasis, Carter without the Baptist sanctimony; a simple country doctor (albeit with Dean and Witter armorial bearings) who ran Vermont through the Nineties, and who, somewhere in the mid to late 90s, began to set his compass for the White House. Progressive, but not radical; against the war, but no peacenik.

            I'm a realist. I know that anyone hoping to win the Democratic nomination has to achieve acts of political prestidigitation equivalent to, though harder than, guiding a herd of rampaging Gadarene swine through the eye of a needle. No matter that a candidate might have the idealism and social conscience of William Morris, the conscience of Philip Berrigan, the moral clarity of Robespierre or Ralph Nader, he'd still have to act as ruthless swineherd. I know that. But I'll confess it. The more I look at Dean, the less I like him.

            The death penalty? Yes, Dean evolved into a pro-death penalty position just when he was debating a White House run. For heinous crimes like killing kids or cops. Now, with his eye on the primary in South Carolina, he's added "terrorists" to those into whose arms he would stick the needle. Isn't that the posture of Ashcroft or of W. Bush, who signed more death warrants than any other governor in U.S. history? It is, but be reassured by the Dean campaign. In a Dean administration, those consigned to Death Row will know, even as the needle starts pumping the poison into their veins, that President Dean went that last half mile to ensure fairness.

            Medical marijuana? Is the Democratic candidate wholly owned by the pharmaceutical companies, the blue-nose lobby? Dean says, "My opposition to medical marijuana is based on science, not based on ideology." Oh, yeah. Dean's opposition is based on 200 percent proof political calculation. He looked in the crystal ball and decided he didn't want to be pilloried by Tim Russert and the other telly-pundits as a friend of the herb, so Gov. Dean headed off a really good medical marijuana law making its way through Vermont's lower house, the same way he headed off a pioneering health initiative in Vermont. Recently, he called Gephardt's health proposal "pie-in-the-sky radical revamping."  He was gung-ho for welfare "reform," which he has called an "incredibly positive force." He's a "fiscal conservative," which is kiddy code for serf of capital.

            Yes, Dean did stick his neck out a tiny bit on the invasion of Iraq. He said he wasn't convinced by the WMD threat. Smart fellow. He took some stick for that. Good for him, but Dean is a solid, mainstream imperial Democrat, with entirely predictable prostration to AIPAC and the Likudniks.

            I'm glad to say I'm not alone in adopting a reserved attitude toward strident Democrats, saying Out with Bush at any price.

            When we look back in a year or two or five, I think it will become clear the war on Iraq helped to propel the domestic peace and justice movement to a much higher level of organizing. Can the peace movement keep going; and if so, in what direction? Will it become a recruiting base for Democratic candidates for the nomination, or will it remain an independent force?

            A foretaste, maybe even the taste, of what the answers might be came at the start of June in Chicago, at a conference organized by United For Peace and Justice (UFPJ). Wazzat? After organizing the two largest anti-war demos in this country (Feb 15, March 22) UFPJ (of which Dobbs is the press coordinator) is now the major national coalition with more than 650 member groups.

            The conference was aflame with a cross section of America's radicals, everyone from the Socialist Alternative to Code Pink! to U.S. Labor Against the War, to the Communist Party USA, along with local coalitions such as Wasatch Coalition for Peace & Justice (Salt Lake City), the Terre Haute (Ind.) Stop War on Iraq, and East End Women in Black, just to name a few.

            The theme of UFPJ's relationship to the Democratic Party ran like a red thread throughout the entire meeting. At no time did it seem likely that the majority of delegates were anything but independent of both parties. There were impassioned pleas for UFPJ to endorse Dennis Kucinich (also, from a very few, Howard Dean) but such calls were easily overwhelmed by the majority of those present. UFPJ will not be endorsing or supporting any candidates, at any level. Demonstrations are scheduled for both the Republican and Democratic conventions next year. The peace movement is alive and kicking.

            People like Dean had better face facts. The Democrats aren't going to win over everyone with the Anyone But Bush line next year.

            Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.