West Wing Story: Alas, Love Fades

When George W. Bush first became president and I started following him around the country, we'd run across a handful of protesters here and there. As we whizzed by in the motorcade, I'd catch a sign or two in the blur. Invariably there was an IS I KING? poster or the ever-popular HAIL TO THE THIEF slogan in the mix.

Gradually, griping about the contested election was drowned out by concerns over Bush's environmental policy. "Fossil Fool" and "Log Bush" were among the refrains that stick in my mind. Then 9-11 happened. The protests came to an abrupt--and prolonged--halt. American flags replaced angry placards. Any posters we glimpsed along the roadside were variations on the theme "We Love Bush."

Alas, love fades. The protesters are back. And this time it's a possible war in Iraq that has brought them out. Now it seems as if every time Bush hits the road, there are a few dozen Americans who feel strongly enough to line the motorcade route with NO WAR IN IRAQ and NO WAR FOR OIL signs. It was thus on Monday en route to Neville Island, Pa., where there were also the same old WE LOVE MR. BUSH posters and, I should point out, one that read DOWN WITH THE PRESS.

The biggest protest so far has been in Portland (a.k.a. Protestland), Ore., where some 1,500 people closed off the streets around Bush's hotel the other week. Even from inside the Hilton we could hear (so I presume Bush could, too) the monotonous beat of the drummers, who had affixed pictures of Bush to their drums and a sign that read BEAT BACK BUSH'S WAR. What does Bush think about this? "The president welcomes peaceful protests," explained his press secretary, Ari Fleischer. Expressing diverse opinion, he went on to say, is "a strong part of America's democracy."

Today, Bush jumped into that very democratic fray. He started to make his case against Saddam Hussein to the American public and the world. "Today, the process starts," Bush told reporters after he met with congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room this morning. He called the leaders in to assure them that he would be seeking their support for any military action he might take. He didn't give them military plans or the so-called "latest intelligence" on Iraq's nuclear capability.

Instead, he gave them Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who later briefed members of Congress at a closed-door hearing--the first of many in the next five weeks (by which time Bush hopes to have approval for military force should he need it). "For 11 long years, Saddam Hussein has sidestepped, crawfished, wheedled out of any agreements he had made not to develop weapons of mass destruction," Bush said. "So I'm going to call upon the world to recognize that he is stiffing the world. And I will lay out and I will talk about ways to make sure he follows up on his agreements."

The president started calling upon the world today. He'll be speaking with the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council this week. His message: "The world's credibility is at stake," Bush said. This weekend, he'll meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at Camp David, much as he did before the military campaign in Afghanistan. As before, Blair was out in front making Bush's case to the international community yesterday. "The threat posed by the current Iraqi regime is real," Blair said. Predictably, the British press made fun of their man for being such a Bush flunky that he has even started hooking his thumbs into his belt Texas style.

Meanwhile, the Texan in the White House continues--to borrow a new Bushism--"crawfish" out of whether he has made a decision about going to war. Or whether he has new damning intelligence. When he speaks at the U.N. General Assembly next Thursday, Bush will lay out his case against Saddam, but not necessarily what he plans to do about him. The only thing we know for sure is that he'll do something. "Doing nothing about that serious threat is not an option for the United States," the president said today. New polls show that support for military action in Iraq has dropped off here at home--56 percent favor military action against Iraq, down from 69 percent early in August. Bush will now have to take his case on the road, where he'll be met with an ever-growing number of negative placards in addition to flags.