WASHINGTON, Feb. 6
Today's super-important capital doubleheader (the release of the President's budget and the Senate hearing on domestic surveillance) should not distract you from the long-term play (of which today's dramas are a small and symbolic part).
Nearly a week after Mr. Bush delivered his State of the Union, only two places seem to have broken the code to the White House's 2006 plan. Watch (for free!!!) last Friday's Charlie Rose political panel here LINK, or, for those of you who still don't know how to stream video on your computer (Get with it, Mr. President.), you can read Michael Barone's column.
Barone's Barnesian attempt to find heroic good news in everything the Bush White House does sort of fails in the end this time. Here is the key sentence, analyzing the SOTU and the year (but NOT the rest of the Bush presidency): "Bush's staying the course on national security and detour [to the center/left] on domestic policy may or may not produce the Republican victory in November his strategists are so confident of." LINK
The obvious (but still largely unspoken) consensus within the Republican Party: play the national security card (read David Savage's Los Angeles Times picture-perfect curtain-raiser on today's Judiciary hearing LINK); shore up the prescription drug benefit (read today's Robin Toner New York Times story on the sordid history of the benefit LINK and, if you work in the White House, yesterday's Des Moines Register poll showing Iowans are unstubbornly liking their drugs LINK).
All of this, after the largely wasted 2005, is intended to maintain the Republican majorities in Congress above all else, or 2007 and 2008 will be even more wasted than 2005. In other words -- with the "strong on defense, change the tone, budget cutters AND compassionate conservatives" mantra -- tread water in 2006 in order to live to fight another two years for the rest of the 2000 Bush agenda.
This plan seems so transparently silly that it must, must, must be doomed to fail, right? "Wrong," says, Paul Krugman implicitly, slapping Democrats as knuckleheads, behind the pricey Times Select wall. LINK
"Maybe not so wrong," says Joe Klein, in his Time essay panning the SOTU's lack of boldness and praising Tom Vilsack. LINK
"Probably wrong," says The Note, which asks this question: If Sens. Schumer and Kennedy are on the evening news tonight decrying a program the President swaggeringly claims exists only to protect Americans, does that undercut their party's message on Medicare cuts in the budget? Won't they be putting their most troublesome issue in the spotlight at the expense of what may be their best position of strength with the American public?
As The Note will say most every day between now and Election Day in November -- only time will tell.
PS: The biggest problem with this White House plan is the pending encroachment of 2008 and its presidential election. See Newsweek's story on the race to replace Bush LINK, and Adam Nagourney's New York Times story about Ken Mehlman's swipes at Senator Clinton (a story that is at once a huge over-reaction and way ahead of the curve). LINK
The press is trying to turn George W. Bush into a lameduck. Will today's two big events forestall or hasten that process?
Again, only time will tell, but we'll know a lot based on how both narratives are framed at 6:30 pm ET tonight. Stay tuned.