A Raucous Discussion In the Baucus House?

In his reelection campaign last year in conservative Montana, Sen. Max Baucus did everything possible to associate himself with President Bush and fudge his identity as a Democrat. Now that U.S. soldiers are dying and bombs are falling on Baghdad, the 62-year-old five-term senator "believes strongly that Saddam Hussein and his regime must be disarmed and removed from power," his chief of staff, Zak Andersen, told us yesterday through a spokesman.

So we were surprised to learn that there's an antiwar poster being prominently displayed in the window of Baucus's Georgetown house. The sign features the message "Peace is Patriotic" over the image of an American flag sporting doves instead of stars.

We wondered if Baucus is talking one way in the Senate, where he has voted to support Bush's anti-Hussein policies, and another way at home.

"Is that so unusual -- being for peace? I thought we all wanted peace," Wanda Baucus, the senator's wife of 20 years, told us yesterday. She said it was she, not her husband, who put up the sign.

"I want the people in Iraq to have peace -- the people whose lives are in turmoil because of the war, the children, their mothers, the farmers, the grandmothers and even the camels that are out grazing," said the 54-year-old Baucus, an anthropologist who has taught at Harvard as well as a painter who regularly visits the south of France.

While Isaac, her bichon frise, barked in the background, Baucus confided that she has been watching television with growing distress and having trouble sleeping -- though she's not worried about the prospect of terrorism in the United States. "I never think about it," she said.

"I don't think we have any business being in a preemptive war against Iraq," she said. "Anytime you drop bombs, there are going to be a lot of innocent people hurt. A billion Muslims all over the world are in pain to see their brothers losing their homes and their families losing the stability of their civilization."

She added: "Baghdad is where the beginning of civilization occurred, literally where the wheel was invented, where the very first city was built, where writing began, and it has a very deep and profoundly beautiful history -- which we should never take lightly, no matter who the existing president is."

Even if it's Saddam? "I think he is very proud of the history of his country. I think it's we Americans who don't know the facts about what anthropologists call 'the cradle of civilization.' When we watch the bombing on television, we really don't seem to understand or appreciate that some of these places are sacred. . . . I disagree with those who say that Saddam Hussein doesn't think about this. He cares about these places and their people."

She continued: "I don't think American lives are threatened by him. There is no evidence of weapons of mass destruction and we have no right to make a preemptive strike on another country and try to assassinate its leader. We have no right legally or morally. We are way out of line."

The senator declined to speak to us yesterday, but his chief of staff said in a statement: "Max and Wanda know they can agree to disagree. They respect each other's opinions and engage frequently in thoughtful discussions about any number of topics. And they learn from each other, which makes their marriage stronger. Max's number one priority is doing what's right for Montana and America. He strongly supports the troops and is praying for a quick end to the conflict in Iraq."


* The Hill's Bill Thomas reports that White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer got some tips from the first President George Bush's spokesman on how to brief the media in wartime. "Ari asked me to come and see him about a week and a half ago," Marlin Fitzwater said. "He had reviewed all my transcripts, and we went over everything that happened each day of Desert Storm. He's shown great patience and stability. That's very important when there's a war going on. . . . The hard part is making sure that whatever you say reflects the current policy."

* In more Ari Fleischer news, the gossip columnist for Britain's Telegraph reports: "The balding White House spokesman . . . has females the length and breadth of the States a-swoonin'. . . . Some comments on the new Ari Fleischer Internet fan site: 'Some people don't understand how a hot blonde 24-year-old NYC girl could have such a major crush on Ari Fleischer -- but I DO!!' writes one groupie. 'I think it is so cool the way he can walk into a room full of press sharks and completely control the room and never ever flinch.' Another sighs: 'I am a 34-year-old wife and mother of two who still believes in right and wrong. Yes, even my husband knows of the crush I have on Ari, and finally I know I am not alone.' " Fleischer refused to take our call. Maybe he needs Fitzwater's advice on this one, too.

* Janet Langhart Cohen -- who along with her husband, former defense secretary Bill Cohen, presents the Citizen Patriot Award to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) tonight -- is hard at work on her memoirs, "Rage to Reason: My Life in Two Americas." Cohen told us she'll include her struggles with racial stereotyping as a black woman in the television news business.