Tough summer for President Bush.
Gas prices are shaky, and the stock market is shakier. The death toll climbs in the Iraq war. Democrats call for his impeachment, Republicans for greater leadership. And many American adults just don't like the way he is handling his job. In fact a majority &
52 percent, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll &
say they "strongly" disapprove.
There is in the land a general malcontentedness, a frustration with Bush and anxiety about the nation's future and its place in the world. There is some positive news for the president: Sixteen percent of adults polled strongly approve of what he is doing. Someone somewhere is still on his side, saying: Heckuva job!
You can find two of those folks at a smoky, sprawling crab shack on the east side of Frederick, Md., a few miles from Camp David. Bush is still their hero.
Gas hikes and Wall Street horrors are seen as part of the economic cycle. And as for the war ...
The war in Iraq, says one of the two, Kevin Sheehan, "is about the survival of our country."
And "the most humane thing you can do in war is completely destroy the enemy," he says.
Together with business partner Joan McIntyre, Sheehan owns Jug Bridge Seafood. Spend a few nights in conversation with them and you'll find out who the Bush lovers are.
Jug Bridge Seafood sits on Highway 144, just east of downtown Frederick. The restaurant seats 300. It's got a huge kitchen. On a great day, McIntyre and Sheehan serve more than 200 people. There's an all-you-can-eat buffet for $23.95, or $31.95 with Maryland crabs.
There's also room in the lumbering hulk for three other, smaller establishments: an ice cream shop, a soon-to-be-opened fondue room and the Monkey LaLa Bar. Before they bought the building, "it was a vast ugly hole," McIntyre says.
At one level, the joint is just another seafood cafe. There are life preservers hanging by nails, lighthouse paintings on the walls, model ships propped here and there.
At another level, it's a Gibraltar-rock of conservatism, the kind of place that, if you're in that 52 percent, might make you stop and catch your breath. Near the front door hang signed photos of and letters from various Republicans &
Dick Cheney, members of the Bush family, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. There's a big Robert Ehrlich campaign sign against one wall.
"We've lost our resolve," says Sheehan, a somewhat wiry, salt-and-pepper-haired guy in black T-shirt, bluejeans and cowboy boots. He's 52, a Vietnam vet and a hard worker, a man who says he's serious about his patriotism.
McIntyre, 53, thinks the United States should go to war against other truculent countries. "I'd like to see us kick a little more (tail)."
After finishing the day's cooking one recent evening, Sheehan has planted himself on the patio, where he's swigging Michelob Ultras and smoking Winstons. Eventually McIntyre joins him. Her sunglasses are perched on top of her short blond hair. She wears a blue polo shirt, jeans and sneakers, and dines on quesadillas, washing them down with vodka and cranberry juice.
Not married, not lovers, Sheehan and McIntyre have been business partners since 1999. Sam Elliot and Camryn Manheim might play them in the movies.
Brad Paisley's "When I Get Where I'm Going" blares on the jukebox. Sheehan says that just that afternoon he and McIntyre sent another local warrior off to fight in Iraq. Sheehan cooked him a free steak and McIntyre set him up with a couple of beers and a goodbye kiss on the cheek. "We have a lot of soldiers who come home," Sheehan says, "and they tell a different story about what's going on in Iraq. The outlook is a lot rosier, from what they say. It's war."
"War is ugly," McIntyre chimes in.
Sheehan is convinced that "we can turn the whole Middle East around. We've already taken Iraq," he says. "Our enemies there now are paid mercenaries. They're going to run out of fighters before we do."
The United States, he says, is engaged in "a religious war." He sees Europe as the next hotbed of Muslim fundamentalism. "We have got to win this."
McIntyre and Sheehan never discussed their personal politics before forming their partnership, but they soon discovered a shared conservatism.
As a teen-ager in Montgomery County, Md., Sheehan worked for the reelection of Richard Nixon. Right after high school he went into the military. "I was sent places Americans weren't supposed to go. Let's just say I was a military adviser." Once he got out, he discovered that he was a pretty good bartender and cook. "Great money. Hours were conducive, because I'm nocturnal. Babes everywhere."
He's been married and divorced three times. He has a girlfriend now.
Over the years he owned some restaurants, worked at others. For a time, he was a chef at Holly Hills Country Club near Frederick. The highlight there was cooking for the first President Bush.
McIntyre's story: "I'd been Donna Reed for 20 years." She has an ex-husband and two daughters. Coleen, 24, is a teacher in Montgomery County. Rachele, 21, works at the restaurant. McIntyre graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in elementary education. For the next dozen years she worked for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.
She and Sheehan bought the seafood place in 1999 and opened the doors a year later. "We didn't have any money," Sheehan says. "It was 100 percent sweat equity." And lots of credit card debt.
These days business is pretty good, they say, though on occasion they have found themselves struggling for crabs. Finding enough high-quality crabs seems to be getting more difficult, McIntyre says. "We are at the mercy of the elements &
waters, temperatures." Recently, they had to close for a day when crabs weren't available.
But "Kevin and I have a good flow," McIntyre says.
McIntyre takes Wednesday nights off because she is on the Frederick County Planning Commission. She ran for county commissioner last year, but lost in the primary. She was co-chairman of the Ehrlich campaign in Frederick County. She is trying to persuade Sheehan to run for mayor.
For the Republican nomination for the 2008 presidential race, McIntyre is leaning toward Rudy Giuliani and Tom Tancredo. Sheehan likes Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson.
But both worry about the country. They believe that television provides a distorted view of the war and the state of the union. "I hate that TV shelters us from the reality of 9/11 because it might upset people," McIntyre says. "Hell, it should upset people."
When they are asked why they seem to be in the minority on Bush, McIntyre says most folks are too fickle. "I don't believe people as a whole are loyal or committed to ideals and principles," she says. "Most are wishy-washy and can't see beyond what immediately affects their own personal lives."
Sheehan explains it this way: "People's attention spans are too short and they watch too much TV." And what Americans shouldn't be forgetting is what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.
In the past, Sheehan says, he was careful not to mix business and politics. When he opened Jug Bridge, he decided not to hold back. It may chase away some customers, he says, but it attracts others.
For a long time after Sept. 11, the seafood restaurant's roof and storefront were plastered with huge Bush-Cheney posters. Sheehan says he wanted Bush to know he had support as he flew back and forth between the White House and Camp David. "One day a man stopped by," Sheehan recalls. "He said, 'I don't know you. I don't even like seafood. But I saw the signs out front and I had to come in here and spend some money.' "
Bush is not perfect, Sheehan says, and he believes the president is soft on immigration. But overall, why shouldn't Americans strongly approve of the job Bush is doing, Sheehan wants to know. The economy is humming right along, he says. High gas prices are part of the "ebb and flow of the business cycles."
Frederick is growing. People from all over the world &
with differing backgrounds and values and religions &
are moving into town. Sheehan likes to tell the story of a Pakistani Muslim coming to see him shortly after 9/11 about renting part of the building for a pizza parlor. Sheehan was amazed to see him there. "It took some kind of (moxie) to come in here. This is a God Bless America kind of place," meaning that at that moment, many Muslims may not have taken the chance.
Sheehan ended up renting to the guy. "It was kind of funny to see him out by the dumpster praying to Mecca," Sheehan says. "He was a good person."
Back on the Monkey LaLa patio, Sheehan returns to what keeps him focused &
and what he believes too many other Americans are overlooking.
"When those twin towers were falling in New York City, were you not thanking your lucky stars that George Bush was president and Al Gore was not?" he's saying, leaning forward in his chair.
He takes a drag from his cigarette. "We forget the hard stuff."
A bushel of crabs and a back slap for Bush
Tough summer for President Bush.