With each month that passes, the Democratic Party seems to have touched bottom. Then it promptly sinks even deeper into the ooze of cowardice and irrelevance.

While Interstate 45 from Galveston to Houston was clogged with evacuees fleeing the wrath of Hurricane Rita, there was a similar jam on the beltway round Washington, D.C., as Democrats fled the city on the eve on the Sept. 24 antiwar rally, panic-stricken lest their presence in Washington might somehow be construed as endorsement of the rally's antiwar message.

Here's a war that the voting population of the United States views a hostility that is soaring by the day. The latest CNN poll released on Sept. 26 shows 67 percent disapproving of Bush's Iraq strategy. This represents a jump of 10 percent holding this position since CNN ran its last poll, less than a month ago.

More than half CNN's latest sample declare that Iraq will never become a democracy; 63 percent want to see a pull-out start right now.

It looks very as much as though attitudes to the war no longer break along traditional party lines: Forty percent of Republicans oppose their own president in regarding the war as a bust. At Saturday's rally it was only Ralph Nader who pointed out that Republicans may be the antiwar movement's prime emerging market.

Nader pointed out that Rep. Lynn Woolsey's "homeward bound" resolution to begin the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops is cosponsored by two Republicans, Walter Jones of North Carolina and Ron Paul, whose Texas constituency stetches south west of Austin down to the Rio Grande.

You would think that on the most elementary precepts of political self-advancement, congressional Democrats would have been besieging the rally's organizers for a speaker's slot. But the Democrats have not only forgotten how to fix elections, they've lost the simplest political instincts of all, opportunism and grandstanding.

Not 50, not 20, not 10, not five, but precisely one congressional Democrat, Cynthia McKinney -- a woman the Democrats tried their best to destroy three years ago -- addressed the 150,000 people on the Mall protesting the war in Iraq on Sept. 24.

For those interested in some of the reasons for this incredible abdication, we can cite former NSC staffer and muckraker Wayne Madsen, who reported two days after the rally that "according to Democratic insiders on Capitol Hill, AIPAC put out the word that any member of Congress who appeared at the protest, where some speakers were to represent pro-Palestinian views, would face their political wrath."

Madsen wrote that three members of Congress had been scheduled to speak at the rally -- McKinney, Woolsey and John Conyers. "Word is that AIPAC will direct its massive campaign to Woolsey's neo-con and pro-Iraq war primary challenger, California state assemblyman Joe Nation, who has strong connections to the RAND corporation."

Insofar as there is an official position on the war from congressional Democrats, it's presumably the "U.S. Army Relief Act" put forward by Sens. Joseph Lieberman, Hillary Clinton, Bill Nelson and Jack Reed, and Reps. Ellen Tauscher and Mark Udall. Reed, Tauscher and Udall are among the most liberal Democrats on the Hill. The resolution calls for the increase in U.S. military troop strength by 80,000 over the next four years.

This is not a position that is finding much favor among American voters. The recent CNN poll registered just 8 percent of respondents, both Democrats and Republicans, as supporting an increase in U.S. troop strength in Iraq.

There's scant doubt that 2008 will see an anti-war Democrat running in the presidential primaries. It might well be Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, although it seems Mrs. Feingold cited his presidential ambitions as one of the reasons she was divorcing him, a plan she disclosed to the senator earlier this year.

But Feingold fled the Sept. 24 rally just like the others. Perhaps he feared jeers from the demonstrators from his bizarre performance in another political arena, the hearings on Bush's nomination of John Roberts as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the Senate Justice Committee's questioning of Roberts, Feingold's tough interrogation extracted damaging testimony from Roberts on the nominee's view that U.S. citizens can be held indefinitely, without access to attornies, on the thinnest suspicions that they might be associated with a terrorist organization.

Feingold also pinned down the Catholic zealot on the death penalty, where he forced Roberts to disclose that he stands with Scalia on the latter's view that innocence is no defense against the executioner's lethal needle.

Then, Feingold voted to confirm the 50-year-old Roberts as chief justice, a post he may well hold through most of the first half of the twenty-first century. Another liberal Democrat, Sen. Kent Conrad, enthused that he found Roberts to be "extraordinarily intelligent, and he has assured me that he brings no ideological agenda to the Supreme Court. He wants to be a justice for all of the people."

Already 12 Democratic senators have announced support for the confirmation. Among them is Pat Leahy of Vermont. He joined Feingold in voting to send Roberts' nomination to the full senate. And what grave reasons of state prompted Leahy to adopt this position? If we are to believe a report in The Hill, a well-informed source on such matters, Leahy was miffed at a gag order that had been issued by Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic minority leader.

Reid had ordered all his senatorial colleagues to keep their mouths shut on how they would vote on Roberts until after the hearings were over and they could speak with one clarion voice. But Reid became so incensed at Roberts' answers to Feingold that he could contain himself no longer and publicly declared that Roberts was unfit to lead the Court.

Up to this point, Leahy, on his admission, was on the fence. He had prepared two speeches, pro and con Roberts. Reid's manly outburst was the decisive factor. Leahy cast aside the text offering measured rebukes of Bush's nominee and grasped the other speech supporting the nomination. He confided to colleagues that Reid had gone too far.

The prime loyal Democratic voting bloc left consists of black Americans. If one facet of Robert's career is indisputable, it's his lifelong hostility toward, and efforts to undermine civil rights laws and federal court rulings on desegregation.

This carries scant weight among Democrats on the Hill. You want any further evidence of Democratic collapse? How many of them went down to New Orleans to protest the most glaring demonstration of racism since Bull Connors wielded his cattle prod? One or two.

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 www.counterpunch.com. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2005 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.