The Note: Still Believe in a Place Called Kennebunkport/Chappaqua

If Dan Bartlett and his Democratic counterpart know one thing, it is that in politics, as we often Note, there is a big difference between what IS and what OUGHT to be.

(Just kidding: Dan Bartlett has no Democratic counterpart -- more on that below.)

In any case, a December of careful second-term planning has given way, at least partially, to one of the saddest and most serious natural disasters in modern times.

Our politics and our political media are going to be touched by the tsunami fallout and its emotional impact for some time.

Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. It has been inspiring to witness the worldwide outpouring of support and concern.

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At the same time, there are some political realities swirling about, as the President prepares in short order to:

--give his second inaugural

--find a Homeland Security Secretary and an intel czar

--give his SOTU

--figure out how to sell the domestic agenda

--monitor Palestinian and Iraqi elections

The greatest immediate political effect of the tsunami has been the displacement of Iraq from the front pages and out of the leads, which as Dan Bartlett knows, is probably a plus for Mr. Bush right now.

If the Iraqi elections go poorly (violence or credibility problems, or a "disappointing" result), the tragedy in Asia will still likely overshadow events in Baghdad -- providing more political cover than could have been imagined.

And if the elections go well, we are quite confident that the President's Men and Women will be able to elevate the story long enough to take credit where credit is due.

In fact, the greater long-range consequence of the events in Asia gives the Leader of the Free World and the Commander in Chief another extended opportunity to sit astride the world look tough and compassionate at the same time.

(Which doesn't mean that one has to TRY in order to get political benefit even in -- especially in -- a moment of human tragedy. But the presidency is a political office -- something we learned a while ago.)

And, as best we can tell, the Democratic Party (such as it is) will simply nitpick and criticize on an ad hoc basis, bringing the same carping, themeless-pudding approach to disaster relief that it brought to most everything in 2004.

(Bartlett -- and his boss -- LOATHE that sort of Democratic response, although they are never quite sure whether they should be angered by it, pity it, or revel in the weakness of the opposition.)

And/but another thing Dan Bartlett knows is that all the good deeds, time, and money that are now being generated by the USG won't in the short-term erase the media's obsession with the 72-hours-of-slow-off-the-mark performance just over a week ago.

Even yesterday's naming of the 41/42 to head the relief effort (and the deploying of the Florida governor) haven't changed the media mindset. But it is headed in that direction.

More generally, the best thing anyone wrote framing the President's political future while we (and many of you) were otherwise occupied during the holiday season was by the assistant editor of Dow Jones', the estimable Brendan Miniter, who penned thusly on Dec. 28:

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