President Reagan will surely be hearing from dissenters when the Senate considers ratifying the treaty he and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed Tuesday to eliminate medium- and shorter-range nuclear missiles.
But for American conservatives who see the treaty as a subject of concern rather than comfort, getting anyone in Washington this week to listen to their reservations has been like shouting into the wind.
That does not mean treaty opponents did not try. They held several news conferences where speakers repeated the now-familiar arguments about why the treaty is contrary to U.S. interests.
It quickly became apparent, however, that Gorbachev's diplomatic and public relations blitz had mesmerized the capital and the country to the exclusion of virtually everything else.
The attention focused on Gorbachev and his entourage was not without its negative side. Since Sunday, when thousands of Americans marched on behalf of Soviet Jews and their right to emigrate, the city has been filled with the competing chants, songs and megaphonic shouts of groups seeking a place in the summit spotlight for their causes.
There have been Afghans, Ethiopians and Eritreans protesting Soviet actions in their homelands; Turkestanis, Crimeans, North Caucasians and Ukrainians demanding freedom for their regions of the Soviet Union; and religious groups from Hare Krishnas banging cymbals to protest persecution of their Soviet brethren to Christian fundamentalists denouncing Reagan for "joining hands with . . . an anti-God regime."
Intermingled with demonstrators for religious and human rights have been missile-treaty foes reinterpreting Christmas carols with such lyrics as "Jingle bells, jingle bells, Star Wars all the way" and "Sirens ring, are you listening? Do you see bombs are glistening? A terrible sight, as day turns to night, nuclear winter wonderland."
For those seeking to make their antitreaty arguments on a higher plane, the going was tougher. Typical of what they faced was the scene at a news conference held Tuesday by the SDI Summit Monitoring Group -- several members of Congress and hard-line conservative organizations that strongly support Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).
Representatives of the member organizations -- among them High Frontier, the Heritage Foundation, the American Conservative Union and the Reserve Officers Association -- described in detail their fears that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and other arms negotiations will cripple the U.S. effort to design and deploy a strategic defense and tip the nuclear balance in favor of the Soviets.
But there were more people on the dias conducting the conference than reporters listening to what they said. And in apparent awareness that the news media would be tuned out while Gorbachev was in town, none of the Republicans described as "initial congressional members" of the group -- Sen. Pete Wilson (Calif.) and Reps. Jack Kemp (N.Y.), Jim Courter (N.J.) and Robert K. Dornan (Calif.) -- attended.
Kemp, who was campaigning in New Hampshire for the Republican presidential nomination, sent a warning: "The Soviet Union's highest goal in this summit is to pull off the strategic sellout of the century." The other absent members were described by group officials as "out of town" or "busy with legislation being debated in Congress."
Another news conference later Tuesday, featuring a presentation of antitreaty views by American arms experts and former Soviet scientists, drew a larger audience of 20. Again, some of the planned participants failed to show up. Of those who came to listen, only a handful were from mainstream press organizations. The others described themselves as "freelancers" or, in one case, from a publication of Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr., the political extremist.
The main attraction at this session appeared to be Frank J. Gaffney Jr., who was forced out of the Pentagon by new Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci after serving as chief deputy to Richard N. Perle. Perle is the Defense Department's former senior nuclear arms control official and a prominent advocate of a hard-line position toward the Soviets.
Gaffney appears to be emerging as the political right's main hope for an effective spokesman for antitreaty forces. Perle, who left the administration earlier this year, tentatively has described the treaty as a "good agreement," although he has not decided whether he will endorse it.
However, it is unclear whether Gaffney can come close to approximating his former boss' reputation as an arms control hard-liner able to stimulate the kind of debate the administration wants to avoid. To many in Gorbachev's entourage, Perle seems to have the status of a tourist attraction on par with the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial.
At a party Sunday night, visiting Soviet officials and journalists stared at Perle in fascination and asked American guests for an introduction. And at the state dinner Tuesday night, the White House, apparently trying to ensure that Perle does not aid efforts of treaty opponents to make their views more widely heard, seated him near Gorbachev.