The Note: Pumpin' Up the Volume, Breakin' Down to the Beat

WASHINGTON, Feb. 11 --


America's two leading political parties have much in common -- animal mascots; annoyance with cumbersome campaign finance laws; 2004 presidential candidates who like to clear brush LINK; a mixture of fear and envy of Karl Rove; and, of course, grassroots supporters who appear to be buoyed by the selection of Howard Dean as the next DNC chair.

And/but yet there ARE some real differences between the parties.

With the Democrats gathered in Washington for Dean's coronation and in the wake of Bill Clinton's delivery of a Delphic roadmap at the Terry McAuliffe send-off last night, let's examine what separates the Republicans from the Democrats (with apologies to Ralph Nader):

One party has political elites who revere and respect its recent presidential candidates; one party can't even be bothered to stop chatting and, err, partying to listen to its candidates speak.

One party has a clear programmatic agenda that has been relentlessly pursued in a well-organized fashion for five years; one party is still trying to build a credible war room (both materially and culturally).

One party never apologizes and never shows weakness; one party is on its fourth day of cry-babyish "defense" of its Senate Leader, after a run-of-the-mill GOP "attack."

One party is already organizing for 2005/6/7/8; one party is still trying to figure out what changes a yet-to-be-elected chair will make on the Wisteria Lane of politics -- Ivy Street, SE.

One party would know that electing a national chair with a net negative approval rating is at a minimum problematic; one party thinks it's a virtue.

One party can whenever it wishes take off-the-shelf opposition research (video and text) and turn it into talking points that drive the friendly and (sometimes) mainstream media; one party considers 36 hours to be "rapid response."

One party will air its dirty laundry to whatever lowest-common-denominator media outlet comes a-sniffin'; one party engages in cock-fight-style drag-'em-outs in their headquarters' basement.

One party is on offense; one party is on . . . something else.

On party learned the lessons of the '90s; one party unlearned them.

One party knows the press is its "enemy"; one party mistakenly thinks the press is its "friend."

One party is expending resources to expand the base and broaden the tent; one party says it is planning to do those things, but is distracted defending demographic and geographic turf.

One party owns national security; one party can't figure out how to own health care or the environment in a way that would help win elections.

One party figured out how to keep its "extreme" party platform on abortion and still make electoral gains; one party hasn't.

One party is trying to use its general unity to hold together and pass Social Security reform; one party is trying to figure out how to extend and build on its unity over opposing personal accounts to a general strategy.

One party has been taking the long view for a long time; one party can't see past yesterday.

One party has members who will take these words to be gospel; one party is dominated by people will quickly dismiss it as mean-spirited.

One party would agree with what we wrote above; so would the other one.

This is the landscape as the DNC winter meeting continues today at the Reagan Hilton.

Gov. Dean will chat with various caucuses at 12:15 pm ET, 12:45 pm ET, 3:40 pm ET, 4:35 pm ET, 5:00 pm ET, 5:20 pm ET, 5:40 pm ET, and 8:00 pm ET.

A plenary session at 10:00 am ET includes speeches by Terry McAuliffe, Sen. Harry Reid, Gov. Bill Richardson, Sen. John Edwards and more.

Tomorrow, Dean is expected to receive a near-unanimous vote to be DNC chair and holds a press conference.

Today, President Bush attends the swearing in ceremony of Mike Leavitt at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington today at 10:40 am ET. He returns to the White House and attends a performance of "Lincoln: Seen and Heard" with actor and Nation reader Sam Waterston playing the role of Lincoln.

Tomorrow, in Anaheim, CA, the National Religious Broadcasters convention kicks off. You can get there's a Republican Connected With The White House in attendance. LINK

And the Grammy Awards are on Sunday.


As one of his first acts as DNC chair, Gov. Howard Dean plans to appoint Lindsey Lewis to be his top finance aide, according to two Democrats with knowledge of Dean's decision. Lewis, a former Gephardt hand, has more than 10 years of experience in Democratic fundraising circles and is well-respected. Lewis did not return calls for comment yesterday, and Steve McMahon, Dean's close adviser, said he would not comment on personnel matters.

As he accepted applause from the Association of State Democratic Party chairs yesterday, Dean warned them that he expected a lot from the state party group over the next four years. It's been a knock against Dean that he won the DNC chair's race by pandering to the state party chairs, promising them money and lavishing them with visits, phone calls, and praise. Many in the party think those chairs and their state organizations are among the biggest pathologies the party needs to exorcise, so they are unsure whether Dean truly understood the nature of what ails the DNC.

To whom much is given, much is expected is what Dean essentially said yesterday. He told the state chairs that he would hold them accountable for their performance; he told them he'd visit them regularly and seek to inspect their books (Yes -- Mark Brewer was an inch from Dean as he said this.). And he said that as chair, he'd visit Red States more than Blue states, which is "where we really need attention." (See Deb Orin's take: LINK , and start your stopwatch to see how long it takes for a gimmicky RNC press release in which Ken Mehlman offers to pay Dean's airfare.)

Nina Easton of the Boston Globe has today's must-read article on how Dean looked to the Christian Coalition for organizational inspiration. LINK

"Dean's decision early last year to follow the Christian Coalition model grew out of his own aversion to a Washington establishment that first underestimated and then resisted his presidential candidacy, despite a volcanic outpouring of Internet donors and grass-roots volunteers who were drawn both to Dean's antiwar stance and his stinging condemnations of Republican opponents."

Easton Notes that still-squeamish big-pockets donors may direct their cash to Democratic organizations other than the party.

There's a new USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll of 223 DNC members, USA Today's Jill Lawrence reports, and they think the party should focus on outreach, not compromise, and work with Republicans on specific issues . In terms of pinning the culprit for the 2004 presidential loss, "about half said Democrat John Kerry lost the presidential race because he was up against an incumbent president in wartime. Twenty percent said inferior grass-roots efforts were the main culprit, and 16% said it was Kerry's fault." LINK

The Washington Post's Dan Balz takes an excellent look at the questions that remain for a jittery party about to choose Dean as its chairman tomorrow -- namely, whether or not he's the person to cure Democrats' image ills, and whether he can make the party competitive again in Red States. LINK

John Harwood in the Wall Street Journal writes about nervous Democrats -- there's a reassuring Steve McMahon, but also jittery Doug Schoen and Tim Penny. And Molly Beth Malcolm, who in print is mildly critical but who yesterday made sure to buttonhole Dean as he left the ASDC meeting and chatted amiably with him.

Why does Anne Kornblut of the New York Times, in an otherwise fine article, say that Dean kept out of public view yesterday? He was at the DNC winter meeting and spoke in front of cameras twice, roamed the halls and chatted with reporters, and even attended the TRM Tribute. (See below). LINK

Dean told The Hill his meeting with Reid and Pelosi went well. LINK

Karl Frisch makes his quotatatorial debut in the New York Times, and if you're wondering why that belongs in this section, just ask him. LINK

Deb Orin of the Murdoch Empire columnizes that Dean's ascension makes Sen. Clinton look good. LINK

Tribute to TRM:

At a crowded, sentimental farewell to Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, President Clinton and Sen. John Kerry offered up forceful arguments that reports of the Democratic Party's demise have been greatly exaggerated -- and with the cadence of a preacher at the pulpit, Clinton outlined a blueprint for Democratic victory: unity; clarity of message; aggressive campaign tactics to match those of Republicans; a national message; and hard work.

He didn't specifically say the party needs to run for the center, but instead urged Democrats to find their center, saying that the plan is clear and will work if the execution is right.

He also answered critics ("people who call themselves liberal") who said he'd abandoned the liberal base during his own presidency, vehemently ticking off gains for the middle class, the poor, women, gays, and minorities on his watch.

"All we disagreed about by the end was trade," and that wasn't much of a disagreement, he claimed. "We need to stop beating on each other and work together," and build the party together, Clinton went on to say.

"We will not, however, win again until we learn a few lessons," Clinton said stressing that Democrats need to support Howard Dean, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and state parties. Democrats need better tactics, he said, and need to brand themselves better. "Too many voters didn't know why we were Democrats except that we were against the President's policies."

"We need a national message," Clinton said. "Every time we have a national message, we do well" -- begging a question or two about John Kerry, who was sitting right there and who Clinton otherwise praised.

If Democrats want McAuliffe's gains for the party -- including fundraising, voter lists, e-mail lists, and getting out of debt -- and to build on the energy of Howard Dean, "We need a vision, we need a program, we need unity, and we need clarity -- and you can do it."

Clinton also tried to buck up a party left licking its wounds after November's loss, urging the faithful not to believe commentators who say the sky is falling and Democrats can't win, either because they give Clinton credit for too much (comparing himself to Michael Jordan with a 4-foot vertical jump), blame him for the party's problems, or say that Democrats are splitting the difference between themselves and Republicans. "That is a lie -- a factual lie," Clinton said. And "when all these people tell you we're about to be buried, tell them to get a life and look at history."

Kerry "warmed" the crowd up by ticking off McAuliffe's accomplishments in improving the party's organization and outreach, promising that the grassroots are the way Democrats will win -- beginning with 2005 governor's races -- Corzine in New Jersey and Kaine in Virginia.

Kerry also looked forward to Saturday, and the coronation of Howard Dean.

"I watched him campaign with an energy and affection for the country that is special. It's not often that people running against each other can turn around right away and work together. We didn't just become political friends; we became real friends."

The party will continue to grow under Dean, Kerry said, and mentioned his $1 million check to the party to continue grassroots party building.

Poignant moment: a chance encounter between Joe Trippi, Dean's former campaign manager, and Jimmy Dean, Dean's brother. The two chatted politely for about a minute, and then Trippi implored Jimmy Dean to tell Howard "how proud I am of him. Really. Just tell him that." Trippi was on the verge of tears.

We also thought it was classy that Jack Oliver came, although he looked a little fish-out-of-watery to our eyes.

The Washington Post's Dan Balz looks at the rather candid, unquiet exit of DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, who at this late date is throwing a little criticism at John Kerry's decision not to go after President Bush in his convention speech and his slow-off-the-mark response to the Swift Boat ads, and how the issue of abortion rights continues to be tough for the party, particularly in the chair's race. LINK

The Washington Post's Peter Carlson reviews the par-tay. LINK

National Journal's Political Insiders Poll, out today, shows that out of 46 Democratic insiders asked, 38 said they thought Howard Dean would have either a '"very positive" or "somewhat positive" impact on the party as DNC chairman. The 38 Republicans were split, with 14 saying they thought he'd have a positive impact, 22 saying he'd having a negative impact, and 2 sitting this round out.

Democrats regroup:

Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times sees a new attitude among Democrats, personified by Howard Dean and realized through a more combative style, as a way for them to put the screws to the President during his second term. They're more likely to throw down and less likely to accommodate this time around, but the combativeness could be due more to anxiety than a feeling that their footing is secure. LINK

"Yet some Democrats believe that by following a more partisan course, the party is merely emulating Bush's strategy of primarily pursuing policies that motivate his political base."

"Over the long term, it's unclear whether a strategy of ideological polarization will serve Democrats as well as it has Republicans in a country where the number of self-identified conservatives outnumbered liberals by more than 3 to 2 in the last election, according to exit polls. But the tougher tone reflects the urgency in the Democratic ranks about the GOP gains in November and the fervent demand for militancy from the party's liberal base, whose influence appears to be rising."

We wonder if President Clinton's "stick together and don't let them define you" message of last night will penetrate this. We also think it's interesting that John Kerry is seeking advice from a foreign leader on how to take a minority party to the majority.

The New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg has a sensible piece on the Democrats getting lessons in value-speak from Wallis, Lakoff et. Al. Good quotes from David Obey and Mark Mellman, and Mellman (suspiciously?) talks about "shared values," which is exactly what Bill Clinton said last night. LINK

We will save our rant against George Lakoff for another day, but suffice it say: talking about values and trying to reframe the issues . . . as in "a war against poverty is a moral value" ain't gonna cut it.

The Will Rogers Democrats:

Note to Brent Bozell and Rush Limbaugh: do not take this section seriously.

Note to Democrats: we shall repeat this again . . . a bit more slowly.

The reason . . . why . . . the . . RNC . . . is . . .going . . . after . . . Harry . . . Reid . . . is . . . to . . . make . . . him . . . mad . . . and . . . get . . . Democrats . . . all . . . riled . . . up.

Republicans do not truly believe that a few e-mails a month challenging Reid's record in Nevada is going to somehow change the dynamic of politics in that state; South Dakota and Tom Daschle are very different animals -- just compare the Bush win percentages in the two states, and see how closely Kenny Guinn and John Ensign and Harry Reid work together.

The more Democrats whine and moan over the attacks against Harry Reid, the less they concentrate on more important matters to them . . . and the more they appear to be the party of opposition . . . rather than the opposition party.

Jonathan Chait, we think you're a real smart guy, but this column of yours will have Republicans laughing and laughing and laughing because you got caught in their trap. LINK

The Washington Post's Chuck Babington and Brian Faler look at the over-dramatic letter that Senate Democrats sent to President Bush yesterday urging him to make the RNC stop picking on Harry Reid. Nyah nyah. LINK

Maybe do an event with Mia Hamm?

Big Casino budget politics:

Writes Edmund Andrews in the New York Times: "Unpublished budget projections prepared by the White House make it clear that Mr. Bush cannot reach his budget goals without making deep cuts in programs that have strong political support, including veterans' medical care, education, scientific research and nutritional assistance for impoverished mothers and small children."

Zowie. "The projections show that discretionary spending, adjusted for inflation, would drop by 16 percent, or $65 billion a year, through 2010.Mr. Bush, who proposed cutting or eliminating scores of domestic programs in the budget he introduced this week, did not put forth any specific cuts then beyond 2006. But the White House projections define a path to keeping spending flat through 2010:" LINK

Also on 43rd Street, Floyd Norris is about as happy as his paper's editorial board about the budget. LINK

Paul Krugman wonders why a roll back of tax cuts isn't on the table, but when was the last time you heard a top elected Democrat make the same argument? LINK

And ask yourself to break the code: why aren't they?

The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne writes that the Bush Administration is masterful at setting the terms of political debate, but in the end the proposed budget shows that cutting the deficit just isn't a priority. And offers "three hearty cheers" for his conservative friends on the Wall Street Journal's editorial page!!! LINK

Social Security:

The Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman sat down yesterday with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who remains skeptical on the President's Social Security plan, saying that not only are voters unpersuaded, but the President needs to get Democrats on board if he wants to accomplish anything on the issue. Hastert said he's open to combining the Social Security overhaul with tax legislation, but declined to name the changes he's looking for, and predicted a possible long, hard slog on the agenda. LINK

The Washington Post's Michael Fletcher traveled to Pennsylvania and North Carolina on President Bush's Social Security tour yesterday, Noting that "Bush offered no plans to close the projected Social Security funding gap, other than to rule out tax increases. He mentioned several ideas, including an increase in the retirement age and cuts in promised benefits, saying he is open to discussing them with members of Congress. 'All ideas are on the table,' he said." LINK

As did the Los Angeles Times' Ed Chen, who Notes "Bush made a blatant appeal to lawmakers who are worried about taking on the politically sensitive issue: 'I believe that candidates are rewarded -- not punished -- for taking on tough issues. I say that to give assurance to the members of Congress who may feel somewhat fearful of taking on the issue.'" LINK

From David Sanger's write up of two town hall meetings: ":President Bush argued Thursday that unless major changes were made to Social Security, future benefits would be cut, payroll taxes would rise drastically or the country would incur 'massive debt' to save the system. But at stops in North Carolina and in this Philadelphia suburb, Mr. Bush steered clear of discussing the price tag of creating the personal accounts he advocates, which Vice President Dick Cheney said on Sunday could cost trillions of dollars in coming decades." LINK

"The president said he was open to any solutions 'except for running up payroll taxes,' and the White House said he would also reject raising the ceiling on income that can be taxed to finance Social Security, a limit currently set at $90,000."

ABC News' John Cochran reported last night on "World News Tonight" that raising the income subject to taxation was off the table for now, but White House officials hinted that they might be flexible in the future.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told USA Today's William Welch that private investment accounts "are being oversold," and he foresees compromise on the issue in President Bush's future, calling the borrowing necessary for transition costs "the Achilles' heel" of the program. LINK

". . . Graham, R-S.C., said Bush and Republicans who control Congress eventually will have to agree to increase Social Security revenue, such as by lifting the cap on income subject to payroll taxes. And he said the key to closing the program's future money gap is changing the way benefits are calculated to slow their growth for future retirees."

Fletcher of the Washington Post also takes a look at how President Bush is framing the issue of race as he promotes his Social Security plan, calling the current system unfair to African-Americans, given the statistically shorter life expectancy of black Americans, and focusing on private accounts as a way to transfer and build wealth between generations. LINK

From John Harwood's Washington Wire in the Wall Street Journal:

"California Democrat Feinstein joins bipartisan group of seven assembled by South Carolina Republican Graham. For now, staffers seek 'principles' for agreement, not specifics. At recent retreat, House Democratic 'Blue Dogs' were near-unanimous against creating private accounts from Social Security taxes; the one backer, Florida Rep. Boyd, opposes big borrowing. But ex-Democratic Rep. Penny, a private-accounts advocate cited by Bush in his State of the Union speech, predicts 'the power of the presidency' will win out.' Bush's elevation of strategist Rove stokes Democratic skepticism about bipartisan outreach."

Mary Williams Walsh writes of indexing and trust fund deburdening in the New York Times. It's a good primer. LINK

Big Casino budget politics: tax cuts:

Reports . . . yes . . . reports . . . the Wall Street Journal's editorial board:

"No one is admitting this in public yet, but our sources tell us that's the political reality. The usual Republican suspects from New England are opposed, John McCain is sending out negative signals, and the truth is that even the White House is reluctant to push for tax cuts early, before the hard slog on Social Security. The Rovian strategy seems to be to wait until the great tax reform debate next year, when all tax issues will be resolved and rates are reduced to even lower levels. And, who knows, stranger things have happened."

And read what the Journal has to say about the death tax:

"By the way, we're told there are also talks going on behind the scenes about a compromise on death-tax repeal, now set to occur in 2010 for one year only before tax rates snap back to the confiscatory levels of 2001. Such Democrats as Florida's Bill Nelson -- up for re-election next year -- appreciate the power of the issue enough that they say they'll vote for total repeal. But we suspect that once the vote climbs close to 60 some of those Democratic votes would vanish faster than silence at a lawyers' convention."

Bush agenda:

Senate passes class action. Check. LINK

House passes tough immigration ID legislation; Fight with Senate ahead; guest worker program dead? LINK

But Sen. Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi, said, "The president's guest worker program is not going anywhere, period.' Mr. Lott added: 'He needs to go ahead and accept it. We are not going to do anything that looks like, smells like or in anyway resembles amnesty, period.'"

The Los Angeles Times' Mary Curtius writes that House Republicans aren't buying in to the "guest worker" idea . LINK

Read carefully: "Immigration policy "'is the issue that will boil up and spill over and split [Republicans in Congress], if the administration continues to want to drive down this direction,' said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a member of the House Immigration Reform Caucus."

AP's Larry Margasak looks at the argument House Democrats are trying to start over Reps. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Tom Cole (R-OK) being on the ethics committee, arguing that by contributing to House Minority Leader Tom DeLay's defense fund, they could be biased in their judgement on issues involving him. LINK

From the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire: "As Bush touts nuclear power as an energy answer, his budget boosts funding for Yucca Mountain waste facility by 14% to $651 million; that was a nuclear-industry priority. Realtors and mortgage lenders cheer $200 million in tax breaks for new home buyers, part of Bush's 'ownership' agenda. Health insurers applaud sweetened Health Savings Accounts."


Yesterday, we incorrectly wrote that Al Franken told us he was not running for Senate in 2006. In fact, Mr. Franken did not go that far in his conversation with us. He did, however, tell his audience on Air America Radio yesterday that he would not run because he believes in honoring his commitments -- he's agreed to do the radio show and that he's doing it because he wants to push back against the right. We presume he'll talk more about on Air America today. Mr. Franken is a long-time Note reader (we aren't worthy . . . ), and we did not intend to mischaracterize him. We apologize. LINK

Franken: Not so much -- maybe in 2008. LINK

Grams says yes to MN 06; Kennedy will probably do so today. LINK

The Chicago Tribune's Tim Jones profiles Ohio Secretary of State/gubernatorial candidate Kenneth Blackwell, "the anti-Obama." LINK

Rep. Jim Davis (D-FL) is jumping into the Florida gubernatorial race. LINK

Davis was at the TRM Tribute last night.

Pataki's low poll numbers: LINK

And another maid: LINK

Don't bet on Sen. Tom Harkin running for governor of Iowa. LINK


The Boston Globe's Scott Greenberger and Frank Phillips look at the comments yesterday by Gov. Mitt Romney in the New York Times opposing the cloning of embryos for stem cell research -- and the friction Romney caused with Senate President Robert Travaglini by not giving him a heads-up about where he was going. LINK

Romney, saying he's a regular Note reader scoffed at criticism that he's laying the groundwork for a national campaign by choosing the New York Times to talk about the issue. "'There is no story that I know that is a local story that is not a national story,'" he said.

Our work here is done.

David Guarino in the Boston Herald writes about Gov. Romney's trips to court business to Massachusetts and says he hasn't kept his campaign promise. LINK

In a separate article, Guarino quotes NRLC's Carol Tobias: "`If (making an appeal to the right) is what he's trying to do, it's not going to work,' said Carol Tobias, political director of the National Right to Life Committee." LINK

Due to a typing error, we incorrectly spelled the name of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's press secretary. He is Brian McClung. We regret the error.


Cathleen Falsani of the Chicago Sun-Times opens a three-part series on evangelical Christians with a look at a recent meeting in which church leaders -- "white, black and Hispanic, friends and strangers, charismatic, traditional, liberal, conservative, centrist, megachurch shepherds, rising stars, longtime vanguard pastors. Among them, they represent more than 50,000 Chicago area evangelical Christians" -- focused on changing and shaping the public perception of who they are and what they stand for. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Scott Gold looks at a bill in the Texas legislature that would give the state ethics commission the power to put the kibosh on the prosecution of a politician -- what watchdogs are calling a baby version of House Republicans' efforts to shield Majority Leader DeLay from consequences to his post if he were indicted. LINK

The New Hampshire state House passed a bill yesterday changing the rules of the game for Granite State voters, the Concord Monitor's Daniel Barrick reports. If it becomes law, no longer will an independent voter be able to temporarily register with a party to vote in its primary, and then cancel that registration immediately after casting a ballot. This measure would require voters to stay with the party for at least 90 days. LINK