He's got that look again, and that indignant, put-upon tone of voice too. George Bush says he has had it, and he's letting the world and, more pointedly, the American electorate know it.

The president has had it with the liberal, big-spending taxers of a Congress controlled by Democrats. Nasty bullies, they made him do it. They held him ransom and made him cough up by signing that tax-increase budget he hated. But no wimp he. He'll show them by taking his case to the people and campaigning against the very ones whose support made it possible to gain the budget compromise he now boasts of winning.

He has also had it with Saddam Hussein. After weeks in which the erstwhile "butcher of Baghdad" dropped off the presidential screen, at least in the public's attention, suddenly the new Hitler is back again. He's starving our diplomats, cutting off their water, knocking out their air conditioning, subjecting them to new indignities daily and making the American flag hang limply over the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait.

Never mind that these new outrages don't square with reports within the last week, even from the ambassador's wife, about the well-being of embassy personnel or of their adequate supply of foodstuffs and water. Never mind, either, that there has been no continuing presidential signal alerting the nation to these latest Mideast horrors. As congressional leaders asked the president in their White House meeting this week, exactly what has changed that makes the Mideast situation suddenly so much more ominous and requires that official rhetoric about war be escalated to such inflammatory heights?

There has been no adequate presidential response, except the loudly expressed one that he's had it. The same president who counseled American patience and resolve in recent weeks has turned peevish and impatient. He'll show 'em, just the way he'll show those congressional upstarts.

Perhaps there is an explanation for these latest shifts, twists and turns in presidential tone and emphasis. In the immortal words of New York mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia, who rasped out the terrible secret in one of his famous radio broadcasts to the people he served, "It's called politics. Do you get it? Can you believe it? That's p-o-l-i-t-i-c-s."

Of course, the president heatedly denies such base intent. Not even the most cynical observers would believe that a president of the United States would play with public emotions and the lives of American military personnel for political gain, he solemnly insisted to reporters who raised the question with him at the White House Wednesday.

Fair enough, but the timing of these presidential moves makes that suspicion inevitable. They coincide not only with the end of the latest round of federal budget folly but also come days before off-year congressional elections that had held, not so long ago, high hopes for Bush and the Republicans. The fortunes of the president and his party suddenly seem dismal. Some well-regarded GOP analysts are even speaking openly of impending political disaster next Tuesday.

There's another factor, fair or not, that inspires public cynicism. That's the record and the memory of the last campaign.

If the calendar didn't prove otherwise, the sounds and scenes filling television screens in these last few days before the first election of the '90s could well be a replay of those from the last election of the '80s. The George Bush now on the stump strikingly resembles the Bush of the Willie Horton campaign: attempting to conquer by dividing.

In the normal course of events, Americans could either smile indulgently or turn away in disgust at this latest evidence of the low level of national campaigns. Just politics, you know. Or, as Vice President Quayle admitted in a rare burst of candor last Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" and again Wednesday on PBS's "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour," this is the "silly season" of American life. He meant, obviously, the political campaign season when statements need not necessarily be taken at face value nor political rhetoric believed.

The problem, however, is that this is not a normal time in American life. The nation is between the worst of two worlds: a deep recession presaging possible economic decline and a war of heavy cost and terrible loss of American life.

It is a time when people want to turn to their president for clear, believable signs of leadership and for quiet, candid exposition of choices facing the nation. Instead, of late, the country has been offered confusing presidential signals on intentions domestic and international.