BUSH JOINS THE CONVERSATION: The conversation about Iraq, that is. My one word-response to the president's oval office speech to the nation about the war: finally. Why it has taken so long for Bush to make the case for success in Iraq is beyond me. This is a White House that claims not to do public-opinion polling. With all due respect: That's got to be nonsense. It's inconceivable to me that there's not a sophisticated presidential polling operation. But, OK, even if this is a poll-free presidency, surely they have watched public opinion going south on Iraq for the past few months. Prior to Bush speeches during the past ten days or so, the cut-and-run arguments of the so-called peace movement have been allowed to go effectively unanswered. Surely Rove and Cheney have seen the growing political damage — and understood its perilous consequences for an embattled presidency. So: has the White House's chronic silence been strategic? If so, what possible purpose could be served by allowing your critics to dominate the news cycle for so many days and weeks? It is hard to imagine that fierce Bush loyalists outside the White House haven't been concerned at what has seemed like high-level presidential apathy. Team Clinton was brilliant at responding to critics — usually within the hour. In any event: Welcome back to the conversation, Mr. President. Not that you asked my advice, but here goes: Keep making the case — keep defining the argument in terms of your choosing — or be prepared for staggering mid-term congressional losses next year.