It's now tempting to treat the President's inaugural address like the 1986 season of "Dallas" that was Pam Ewing's dream -- something that we all THOUGHT we experienced, but that -- it turns out -- didn't really happen.
To review: the very, very meticulous, media-savvy Bush White House had the President give a huge, historic speech in which there was unambiguously only one lead/headline possible -- the President was adapting a new paradigmatic extension of the Bush Doctrine that called for fundamentally remaking America's relationships around the world based on the supreme value of supporting democratization.
For more than 24 hours, all the Gang of 500 talked about was how big a deal all this was, how unachievable, how weighted with implications for Saudi Arabia, Russia, etc, etc, etc.
Then the White House started background sessions (supplemented by a "surprise" weekend briefing room drop-by by 41) in which they said that this was "nothing new," "long-term," "broad goals," etc., etc., etc.
So: the President was for democracy on Jan. 19, on Jan. 20, and today. But he didn't really mean to suggest any new policy in his historic, ambitious inaugural address.
For us, the biggest question begged is one we have been thinking a lot about -- does the Bush politico-governmental operation need the spur of an upcoming Bush campaign to have the drive and discipline to hit on all cylinders?
Or, put another way, from where do they derive energy, dynamism, and rhythm without the cutting Steve Schmidt press releases, the caustic Mary Matalin Imus appearances, or the cunning Ken Mehlman e-mails? (OK: the e-mails are in fact still coming . . . )
If the White House truly did not anticipate how the speech was going to get covered, we wonder -- in the wake of how it was in fact covered -- if they have thought about, oh, say, press management of the Iraqi elections and the State of the Union.
Because while the Thursday-Friday-Saturday narrative laid out above is of gripping fascination to the Gang (particularly those at the various Councils and Institutions and Institutes that make up Washington and New York), it didn't really break through to Real Americans.
But that won't be the case if there is a similar performance on these next two big-ticket events, or, really, all that is going on in DC in the next fortnight -- starting today.
Tens of thousands of anti-abortion activists are expected to gather in Washington today for the annual March for Life. The gathering commences at 10:00 am ET, and the walk begins at 1:00 pm ET near the White House and ends at the Supreme Court around 3:00 pm.
Prominent social conservative activists get to meet with Mr. Mehlman afterwards. At noon, President Bush calls the gathering from Camp David.
Who dares to question why the strongly anti-abortion president doesn't address the gathering in person? And there is tradition . . .
The Supreme Court meets sans Chief Justice Rehnquist at 10:00 am ET.
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee meets to consider the nomination of Jim Nicholson to be the VA Secretary.
Democrats hold a press conference on the Hill to announce their agenda for the year at 10:30 am ET. Senate Republicans today are expected to detail their policy agenda for 2005 at 1:00 pm ET.
The Senate is gaveled into session at 2:00 pm ET for legislative business, followed by a vote on the nomination of Carlos Gutierrez to be Secretary of Commerce. At 2:30 pm ET, the Department of Justice bids farewell to Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Tomorrow, watch for the new CBO report on the state of the budget and new state unemployment numbers. Condoleezza Rice is expected to be confirmed as Secretary of State. And Tuesday is also the deadline for Iraqis living abroad to register to vote.
Also tomorrow, President Bush meets with African American leaders and pastors at the EEOB.
On Wednesday, President Bush discusses health care at a forum in the DC area and the Vice President arrives in Poland. On Thursday, President Bush discusses health care technology in Ohio. On Friday, he speaks at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia on the "Congress of Tomorrow" as Republican congressional leaders meet to strategize.
Friday, the GDP for the final quarter of 2004 is expected to be released. Economists are gridding for a growth rate of about 3.5 percent.
On Saturday, Democrats hold their final pre-election regional forum in New York, and the Association of State Democratic Party chairs is expected to endorse a candidate.
Bush agenda: angst and agitas:
We think Adam Nagourney and Richard Stevenson's no-blind-quote article (Take that, Dan Okrent) in the New York Times can be summed up by the following four paragraphs:
"As Mr. Bush embarks on an explicit effort to put an imprint on politics and policy that will long outlast his presidency, his advisers are heady over what several described as an opportunity to make a long-lasting realignment in the nation's political balance of power." LINK
"But even those advisers said Mr. Bush had at most two years before he faced the ebb that historically saps the authority of a second-term incumbent, a relatively short time to sell his far-reaching agenda. And Republicans say his situation could be complicated by the absence of an obvious heir, opening the way for competing wings of the party to battle over details and tactics on the very issues Mr. Bush is embracing."
"Democrats, even while struggling with their own party divisions and confusion, are showing signs of coalescing into an aggressive opposition party, especially on issues like judicial appointments and Social Security."
"Mr. Bush has repeatedly overcome doubts about his ability to win approval of controversial proposals."
Bob Novak-style conservatives aren't happy, as Bob, er, found out, as he hung with his pals last week. " . . . (C)oncern about Bush's second-term course is derived from a variety of signals, small and large, coming from the White House. None of them separately signifies a president abandoning the principles upon which he was elected. But taken together, they generate doubt and more than a little unease on the right." LINK
"In pre-inaugural comments, Bush sounded defeatist about prospects for a constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage. After campaigning on the issue last year, he appeared resigned to failure in the Senate this year. The second-term nominations abound with officials who are comfortable personally with George W. Bush, but do not necessarily follow an ideological course. The first round of nominations contained names provoking outrage on the left: John Ashcroft, Ted Olson, Gale Norton, Linda Chavez (whose nomination was withdrawn) and John Bolton. The second round is less combative. The State Department appears likely to be dominated by careerists under Condoleezza Rice more than it was under Colin Powell. There seems to be no place for Bolton, the conservative bulwark at State as under secretary for arms control since 2001"
The enterprising Jed Graham in the Investors Business Daily writes that Republican expect a good deal out of Bush's ownership society. LINK
Bush agenda: the inaugural address:
The Los Angeles Times' Ron Brownstein says the President offered too narrow a vision to achieve his ends on Thursday. It's not merely an American goal, and cannot be realized solely by American means, Brownstein argues. LINK
"The failure to acknowledge this backlash may have been the most important flaw in Bush's speech. Bush declared freedom a universal right; yet apart from a passing reference to allies, he spoke of its spread as an American mission."
"But the resistance to American preeminence, especially in the Muslim world, means that democracy has a better chance of taking root precisely if it is not seen as an American transplant. That means the first step toward enlarging the world's democracies should be to enlist the existing democracies in the cause of expansion."
The speech isn't a big hit overseas, reports USA Today's Jill Lawrence. LINK
On Sunday, new dad Peter Baker (congratulations!) of the Washington Post wrote that the Bush Doctrine, with its emphasis on "spreading democracy" and "ending tyranny" worldwide is likely to face a less-than-welcoming reception, to say the least, worldwide. LINK
And Jim VandeHei of the Post wrote up 41's moonlighting as a deputy White Hous press secretary doing post-speech spin. LINK
Social Security: the debate:
The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman looks at how Bush Administration officials are citing the concerns of former President Clinton and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan over the health and survival of Social Security -- albeit with their different ideas of what should be done to shore it up -- as move evidence that the plan is in crisis. LINK
Today's New York Times editorial raises fears of Starve the Beast. LINK
Sunday's Washington Post had Mike Allen waxing poetic on "private" versus "personal," with a few Milbankian tweaks of the POTUS. LINK
The Washington Post's Sunday Outlook section was chock-full of many many observations about overhauling Social Security. LINK
Time magazine's Karen Tumulty and Eric Roston take a look at why President Bush has chosen Social Security as his big agenda item. LINK
Social Security: Congress:
On "Meet the Press," Bill Thomas called Social Security a "problem," not a crisis, denied that he referred to the President plan as a "dead horse" in that it was dead on arrival and repeated his assertion that personal/private accounts were simply enough to galvanize a constituency. He also said things about race and gender that will be interesting in the days ahead.
The Washington Post's Mike Allen wraps the comments by Sen. Olympia Snowe and Thomas on the Sunday shows, where they expressed concerns about the President's plan. LINK
On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times' Joel Havemann and Maura Reynolds blocked out the fight over deficit control making itself felt through Social Security and Medicare, and the maneuvering that Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg may undertake to ensure that Democrats don't hang up benefit cuts. LINK
As does the Los Angeles Times' Richard Simon. LINK
And USA Today's Jill Lawrence. LINK
The Los Angeles Times' Janet Hook takes a fascinating look at Republican leaders in Congress, examining why their own careers and ambitions are leading them to somewhat different agendas than President Bush -- including health care for Senate Majority Leader Frist, immigration for House Speaker Hastert, taxes for House Majority Leader DeLay, and a different Social Security plan for Ways and Means Chairman Thomas. LINK
Reports Dexter Filkins of the New York Times: "The senior leaders of the United Iraqi Alliance, the coalition of mostly Shiite groups that is poised to capture the most votes in the election next Sunday, have agreed that the Iraqi whom they nominate to be the country's next prime minister would be a lay person, not an Islamic cleric." LINK
The Washington Post's Anthony Shadid looks at the protest by followers of Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr in Baghdad and towns in southern Iraq, signaling doubts about the Iraqi elections. LINK
Louise Roug and Patrick McDonnell of the Los Angeles Times look at how U.S. forces are attempting to crack down on Sunni insurgents in advance of this weekend's elections, with raids, patrols and round-ups and arrests of suspected guerillas that have boosted the detainee population to nearly 8,000. LINK
Newsweek's Mark Hosenball ruminates on the White House's pick for National Director of Intelligence, putting Gen. Tommy Franks; former CIA director Robert Gates; CIA Director Porter Goss; Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, head of the NSA; and 9/11 Commissioner John Lehman into the mix. LINK
On Sunday, the Washington Post's Bart Gellman reported that the Pentagon has created a new clandestine intelligence arm and is giving Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authority over operations abroad. LINK
"The Strategic Support Branch was created to provide Rumsfeld with independent tools for the 'full spectrum of humint operations,' according to an internal account of its origin and mission. Human intelligence operations, a term used in counterpoint to technical means such as satellite photography, range from interrogation of prisoners and scouting of targets in wartime to the peacetime recruitment of foreign spies. A recent Pentagon memo states that recruited agents may include 'notorious figures' whose links to the U.S. government would be embarrassing if disclosed."
DNC chair's race:
On "This Week," to some questions, Dr. Dean did not answer and deftly changed the subject. (For example: even if he's not a polarizing figure, how does he combat the perception by outsiders that he is one?) But he did bite his tongue before answering a specific policy question on Iraq, perhaps an indication of his willingness to leave policy-making to those who make policy. Except he did answer other questions. Count us confused!
The "good" Doctor, asked about Rep. Marty Meehan's idea for a fixed withdrawal timetable, said: "That's a policy area tha the Congress people are going to be responsible for. If Marty Meehan just got back from Iraq, who am I to come of a Sunday talk show and disagree with his assessment?"
So perhaps Dean as DNC chair would speak in glittering generalities and allow members of Congress to fill in the specifics. Except when he wouldn't -- like when asked about how he would vote on Dr. Rice (against, he said) or if the Iraqi elections should be delayed (no, they shouldn't, he said).
Today, Dean is expected to pick up the endorsements of two senior DNC members: vice chair Gloria Molina and deputy chair Ben Johnson, according to a knowledgeable Democrat.
The San Francisco Chronicle's Carla Marunicci suggests an era of inevitability about Dean but Notes that many in the DNC Western Regional Forum audience thought Frost could win. LINK
The Los Angeles Times' Mark Barabak highlights Frost's critique of the "consultant culture" in Washington and Simon Rosenberg's vow to end the "monopoly of New Hampshire and Washington." LINK
Howard Fineman has newsmagazinely exclusive details of anti-Dean remarks at Clintonian parties, a bid by governors to recruit Jennifer Granholm, and more. By our count, the Clintons have (allegedly) pushed more candidates than Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi! LINK
George Will has a sophisticated analysis of the strengths Martin Frost and Howard Dean would bring to the job. Clintonism looms in the distance... LINK
Justin Sayfie points our attention to a Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel article on Florida Democrats strategizing about 2006. LINK
If you don't check out Justin's site every day, you're missing out. LINK
The AP reports that Asa Hutchinson has told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he plans to resign today from his post with the Homeland Security Department, after he was passed over twice by the Bush Administration to be secretary of the department. Hutchinson said that he was disappointed that he wasn't selected to be secretary but is excited about other options, including a possible run for Arkansas governor in 2006. But he didn't give any definite political plans for the future.
Roll Call's Lauren Whittington looks at the role the issue of abortion may end up playing in the 2006 Senate races as Democrats examine their ranks who don't support abortion rights.
Roll Call's Chris Cillizza looks at the "talent primary" -- the race to line up big-gun consultants for the next presidential campaign. Clip and save!
The Wall Street Journal calls Sen. Bill Frist's "biggest failure of . . . leadership" his "inability to corral Republicans and stop the Democrats' unprecedented filibuster of 10 of President Bush's appeals-court nominees."
Sheryl Gay Stolberg's story about John Kerry's return to the limelight in Sunday's New York Times Week In Review is worth reading if only for the closing quote from Charlie Black. LINK
Would-be Republican presidential candidates how haven't already read and digested Glen Justice's must-read Saturday New York Times story about young Bush fundraisers looking for a 2008 pony need to re-evaluate how badly they want to win. LINK
Saturday's New York Times had Patrick D. Healy playing sloppy-seconds catch up to the New York Post on Gov. Pataki's Virginia PAC donors -- adding in a sensitive Ground Zero connection. LINK
Bob Novak's weekend column suggested that George Pataki has been talked to by the right people about taking the U.N. job, and that John Kerry's Rice gambit was '08 tinged. LINK
Does Newt Gingrich's view of the death penalty and his past personal life make him any more (or less) ineligible to speak at Catholic U. than, say, Stanley Tucci? The Saturday Washington Post story examining this reveals Victor Nakas to be an awesome flack. LINK
She's a star wherever she goes: the Palm Beach Post on the visit of Sen. Clinton to the area and her call for leaders with vision. Is this a stump speech, or the makings of one? LINK
On Sunday, the New York Times' Rick Lyman looked at Florida as a case study for the drastic measures that governors are taking to deal with Medicaid costs, by restricting access and dialing back services. Gov. Jeb Bush's proposal involves allowing the 2.1 million Medicaid recipients in Florida to buy their own coverage from managed care organizations -- making the state the first to allow private companies to determine services. LINK
Why do opposition Senators so often vote for the incumbent party's cabinet nominees? David Lightman explains. LINK
All stem cell lines tainted? LINK
Monica Davey on the Blagojevitch-Madigan-Mell feuds. LINK
David Postman of the Seattle Times reports that Washington state Democrats are ready to throw down and settle the dispute over the election of Gov. Christine Gregoire in the legislature, rather than in the courts, where Republicans are fighting it. LINK
The Los Angeles Times' Evan Halper reports that in his quest to get California fiscally solvent again, Gov. Schwarzenegger has left tax breaks for the rich and corporations untouched. LINK
And a tip of the hat to Noteworthy Renaissance man and New York Times Book Review and Poetry magazine contributor David Orr for snagging the National Book Critics Circle award for excellence in reviewing. Even The Note cannot live by prose alone. LINK
Shrum's out. Breaux's sold out.* So who's in? Well, Mark Penn announces today that his firm is expanding beyond polling to include media and communications strategy. Former WH Political Director Craig Smith and Edwards Communications director David Ginsberg have joined the firm to beef up the political and communications strategy, as well as creative whiz Marius Penczner, who created the ads for Clinton 96, Gore 2000, and some of Edwards 2004. Look for an ad in Roll Call this week for more.
* = we say lovingly
David Nyhan, rest in peace. LINK
He was a great man, with the energy and verve typical of that breed of Boston Globe political wiseguys the likes of which we will never see again -- and our world is the worse for that.
It has come to this: Glen Johnson, who used to write about George W. Bush and John Kerry, now writes about pigeons and open inspection holes. LINK
David Shribman returned to the Boston Globe on Saturday -- to write about football!!! LINK