In the early laps of his 2000 race for president, George W. Bush made a pit stop in Cincinnati. But I can't remember his speech.
On the way from his hotel to Memorial Hall, something happened that crowded out the rest of the evening like a fat man in the middle seat on a flight to L.A.
Sitting an arm's length away in a bouncing SUV, I asked him if his campaign promise of tax cuts was empty talk like his father's pledge of "no new taxes." I think I used the phrase, "read my lips,'' which is probably as popular around the Bush family as saying, "no controlling legal authority'' at a Gore reunion.
He fixed me like a bug under glass with a stare that can only be described with an adjective from a Western novel: "steely."
I can't remember his answer that well, but I know it was simple, cold and straight as ice water. "Because I will do it." Period.
This year when I filed my IRS-1040, I found a nice bonus of tax cuts. He did it.
I saw the same steely resolution in his speech on Thursday night. But the president has changed a little. There was less bounce in his heels as he replied to the double-dare questions. He was respectful. Gracious. Composed. He refused to be baited or taunted. He was go-to-war serious.
He called the bluff of the ridiculous appeasers on the United Nations Security Council. He has played their game like a guy sitting in on dealer's choice poker. France and Germany keep changing the wild cards from deuces to one-eyed jacks.
But now Bush has the deal. Nothing's wild and he holds all the aces. Either Saddam has disarmed or he has not. Anyone who claims he has is immediately exposed as a liar and a cheat.
And Bush will keep his promise to disarm Saddam - because it's the right thing to protect our nation. He won't wait for a hall pass from the U.N.
Another thing Bush said that night in Cincinnati is a message for the anti-war protesters who can't see the plain truth: "I'm not about polls and focus groups." Protest all you want. We have a leader, not a weather vane. We have a president.
Besides, a lot of what I hear from the protesters sounds like bitter whine from fermented sour grapes.
Once upon a time we hated Nixon because we hated the war. Some of us who protested even thought we hated our country.
But now, I hear protesters who hate the war and their own country - because they hate the president.
Most of them said nothing about Kosovo. Europe couldn't shoot a rabid dog in its own backyard - and now we're supposed to wait for their permission to kill the snakes in our garden? I don't think so.
At least the people who hated Clinton were honest about their ample reasons.
Never mind, though, because Bush will do what has to be done, as sure as he cut taxes. The protesters are the mice that roar in the media, but the rest of the country knows what has to be done.
It goes back to a second-grade classroom in the Emma E. Booker Elementary school in Sarasota, Fla. Bush was listening to the children reading a lesson, when someone leaned over and whispered in his ear, "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack.''
Some people just don't get it. But we are going to war because of what happened on that morning, Sept. 11, 2001 - to make sure those kids in that classroom don't grow up in a world of terror.
Nobody wants war. But read my lips: President Bush will not back down. Thank God.
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