President Bush came to his parent’s century-old summer home on the Maine coast for a little relaxation and some family time this weekend. He did get that, along with a reminder that his Iraq policy is unpopular with some people.
Several hundred anti-war demonstrators gathered Saturday to march on the road toward Walker’s Point. The stone-and-shingle compound on a craggy promontory is owned by former President Bush and his wife, Barbara, and named after his mother’s family.
The peace activists sang, chanted, beat drums, waved signs and even played fiddles to protest the Iraq war.
“Bush is fiddling while the world burns, just as Nero fiddled while Rome burned,” said Pippa Stanley, 15, of Richmond, Maine, who was helping with the backdrop for pair of fiddlers dressed in togas.
Will Thomas, a Navy veteran from Auburn, N.H., carried a sign demanding that the president “honor the troops, mourn the dead, end the war.”
The protesters are aligned with peace activist Cindy Sheehan, who planned to address them by phone. Sheehan, the mother of a soldier who died in Iraq, gained international attention when she shadowed Bush last summer while he vacationed at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
An Associated Press-Ipsos poll this month found that only about one-third of Americans support Bush’s handling of Iraq.
Attending a wedding
The president was spending four days in Kennebunkport on his first visit to the family’s retreat in two years and planned to attend the wedding of Walker Stapleton.
He is the son of the former president’s cousin, Dorothy Walker Stapleton, and Craig Roberts Stapleton, the U.S. ambassador to France who was a partner with George W. Bush in the Texas Rangers baseball team.
Stapleton was marrying Jenna Bertocchi before about 300 friends and family at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, which is about a minute’s drive from Walker’s Point.
Others in the Bush family also were attending the funeral of Grace Walker, the groom’s grandmother, and the christening of a baby from the Walkers’ side.
The president was skipping those events and even planned to stay away from the reception after the Stapleton-Bertocchi nuptials. Aides said the president feared his presence, with his large entourage and rigid security requirements, would be disruptive.
For two days in a row, the president has taken his mountain bike to the Massabesic Experimental Forest, a stretch of woods about a half-hour from the Bush home that is owned by the U.S. Agriculture Department. Accompanied by companions recruited from a bike shop and elsewhere, the president has indulged in early morning rides of about an hour.
He also engaged in a family tradition, fishing from his father’s speedboat, Fidelity III. Joining him were his daughter Jenna and the former president.
Even without the protests that dominated the tiny, scenic downtown of Kennebunkport, Bush could not entirely escape presidential duties.
On Thursday, he met with the families of five fallen soldiers. He has engaged in telephone diplomacy on the crisis in Lebanon and the nuclear standoff with Iran. He also was keeping updated on the progress of Tropical Storm Ernesto.
The president planned to return to Washington on Sunday before a week of traveling. He is marking the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with a visit to the Gulf Coast; raising money for Republicans in Arkansas, Tennessee and Utah; and addressing the American Legion convention in Salt Lake City.