The following interview with the Candid Congressman was conducted outside the House chamber when President Bush finished his speech to the joint session of Congress.

Q: Well, Congressman, what did you think of it?A: I thought it would never begin.

Q: Never begin?

A: Yes. That was the longest welcoming ovation I can remember around here, and I go back a ways. I remember Douglas MacArthur on that rostrum.

Q: You are comparing Bush with MacArthur after he defeated Imperial Japan in World War II?

A: No, I saw MacArthur after Harry Truman brought him home from the Korean War in 1951. He got a tremendous ovation from the Republicans but also from the Democrats. The Democrats cheered him as a military hero, and were still free to go after him later for his political views.

Q: Will you stand by the observation that Democrats can cheer military feats without endorsing the hero's politics?

A: Yes, but the real point is that the Democrats had to cheer Bush and try to blend into the national victory celebration.

Q: Sorry to be distracting. What were you saying, Congressman?

A: I was trying to say that the Democrats are discovering that Bush and the Republicans have picked up tremendous political momentum from the war. There are Democrats around here who think Bush's re-election in 1992 is already settled.

Q: But isn't that an extremely panicky view of what winning a quick war can do?

A: Well, the new Washington Post-ABC poll shows that Bush's overall approval rating is up to 90 percent. That's higher than Franklin Roosevelt, Truman or Kennedy ever scored.

Q: But Congressman, isn't it significant that in the same poll, when you ask about Bush's handling of the economy, he gets 49 percent approval and 47 percent disapproval? And as the questions get more specific, it turns out more than 70 percent say the country is not making enough progress on the budget deficit, poverty, crime, drugs or health care or education.

A: It can give you a false sense of security if you're a Democrat. Actually, it's scary.

Q: Can you explain, Congressman?

A: The Democrats can turn so hard to domestic issues, to get away from the glories of war, that pretty soon the Democrats could be backing all sorts of sweeping new social programs. And they all mean higher taxes!

Q: But couldn't the Democrats just keep arguing the issues?

A: If the Democratic tactic you mention began to work, the Republicans would have to decide whether to defend themselves by turning to one-issue politics. The issue would be the Democrats in Congress who voted against authorizing the president to go to war against Iraq.

Q: You're saying individuals, district by district, and the Democratic Party nationally would be in a campaign that ranged from tough, retrospective debates to outright smears of their patriotism.

A: The mother of all embarrassments for both sides is about the size of it.