The Note: Astriding Europe Like a Reformer Seeking Results

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 --


Team Bush is darn good at the mechanics of modern international presidential travel.

They herd the press corps; they create the photo ops; they manage the take-aways; they answer the questions the way they want them answered; they trot out smooth-as-butta Dan Bartlett; and they don't let the storyline get away from them.

No less an Owl Eyes than CBS News Mark Knoller used the phrase "tres bien" with his flawless French accent!) on the radio this morning pertaining to thawing Franco-American relations, although he might as well have been speaking about the whole trip so far.

And/but back here at home (as they say in the news dodge when they are trying to be transitional), the big game remains the President's Social Security overhaul vision.

The Gang of 500 (and/including Republican members of the Congress) continue to propagate the CW that what constituents say to members during the current Capitol Hill recess (and what members are able to convince constituents to believe) will go a long way toward determining the fate of the reform effort.

In fact, you don't need to get all that into the weeds of the tea leaves to say that many "observers" (read: "participants") see the first threshold as whether anything should be tried AT ALL -- and that comes before the questions of WHAT should be tried for and IF something can be passed in 2005.

Stories from two of the leading political reporters on the 2004 presidential campaign tell the tale:

The New York Times' Jodi Wilgoren writes about "folding before the flop . . . " LINK

And Pat Healy (formerly of the Boston Globe but now also of the Times), wrote yesterday about a "melancholy spell over the city." LINK

Now, Wilgoren was writing about poker and Healy about TV shows set in New York, but you get our gist.

Perhaps more on point: the Wall Street Journal today writes about intra-GOP divisions over taxes; personal-account-booster Rep. Paul Ryan doesn't seem all that optimistic; and Ways and Means point guy Rep. McCrery reveals a "Sopranos"-style sit-down with some Administration officials after he recently uttered a discouraging word -- and then closes his New York Times profile with some MORE discouraging words. (More on all this below.)

So while the President -- pre-departure -- cast the Social Security mission as convincing people that there IS a problem, we see the bigger issue right now as convincing Republicans that, in the end, Social Security reform is going to happen. Because without that, the heavy lift becomes excessively Sisyphean.

As both Peter Pan and Tug McGraw have said: You gotta believe.

The Believer-in-Chief -- surely monitoring all these developments from overseas -- has a European day that is packed.

By the time you read this, he has breakfasted with Blair; bi-lated with Berlusconi and met with Yushenko. At 10:45 am ET, he attends an EU meeting. He takes a class photo with EU leaders at 12:20 pm ET. Just before 1:00 pm ET, he takes questions at a news conference with EU leaders.

He has another bi-lat with the EU Commission President at 1:30 pm ET, a working dinner with the EU council and commission at 2:15 pm ET, and then RONS in Brussels.

Congress, of course, is on recess (but happy birthday, Sen. Frist!). The Supreme Court meets at 10:00 am ET for arguments without Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Today, the justices will hear the Kelo v. New London eminent domain case.

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