WASHINGTON -- A hooting, foot-stomping, cheering Congress gave George Bush a hero's welcome last night, hailing him as a kind of leader, conqueror, and master pol rolled into one.
"It's a great night to be an American," exulted Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan. The House majority leader, Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., echoed those sentiments: "A gracious speech for a great moment."
President Bush's victory address was interrupted by 10 standing ovations -- quite possibly some kind of modern record. Then again, it was the kind of speech Democrats and Republicans could easily stand up and cheer about -- what with lines like "The war is over" and "Let us [set] the face of this nation against discrimination, bigotry and hate."
Indeed, Mr. Bush used a similar line about ending discrimination -- to similar effect -- in his State of the Union address in January.
"I was the first one up," insisted Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., a passionate opponent of the Persian Gulf war. "I led the standing ovation."
Representative Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.-7th, also said he had led that ovation. Later, the two lawmakers agreed that they both had led the packed hall in cheering that line.
And yet, there was partisan undercurrent to the proceedings. Most lawmakers held tiny American flags, many of them planted in their breast pockets. Republicans were more inclined to wave theirs frantically at certain applause lines, as if on cue.
Republicans, too, sported larged yellow buttons adorned with little American flags that read, "I voted with the President" -- just in case anyone missed the point that they were with today's winner when no one knew who the winner would be.
Republicans also shouted homecoming-style chants on the House floor -- "Bar-Bar-Bar-Bar" for Mrs. Bush, "Bush-Bush-Bush-Bush" for the president himself.
Democrats were ready with their rebuttal. The American people, insisted Mr. Gephardt, "don't expect the Congress to become a rubber stamp. They want us to stand up and fight for our own beliefs."
but there was a hint of defensiveness in those assertions.
Sen. Al Gore, D-Tenn., one of a minority of Democrats who voted to authorize the use of force against Iraqi troops, took to the floor of the Senate to lambaste the Republicans.
"Shame on these Republicans . . . for the disservice they do to the brave American soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country," he said. "Was their blood shed so Republicans would have something to talk about in campaign commercials?"