The Note: What Do Mindy and Katie Think About Iran's Nuclear Capability?

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 --


Things we thought about leading with this morning:

1. The domestic political semiotics of the President's European adventure and daily Iran remarks.

2. Our handicapping of the looming Swift-Boat-style attack on the AARP over gay marriage and "related" "issues."

3. The Social Security recess Daily Double -- Rick Santorum's hard-slogging town meetings and Robert Samuelson's devastating attack on the political press for covering Big Casino more like a game than as life-and-death math.

4. The Boston Globe's attempt to cover Mitt Romney's meta-presidential campaign like it is two weeks out from the New Hampshire primary.

But there really is only one lead in American political journalism, and lucky for us it comes verbatim right out of an e-mail from the Republican National Committee.

Now, The Note gets criticized for a lot of things -- including an overuse of exclamation points.

So, we should be clear: we aren't criticizing Mindy and Katie, or even the ethos that underlines their latest work, which we let speak for itself, in its entirety:

"Hi everyone, it's Mindy and Katie again. Thank you all for making the first segment of Off the Record such a hit! Your interest certainly proved that Senator John Thune of South Dakota is a rising star in the GOP."

"This week, we're proud to bring you our second installment of Off the Record with a man who will be spearheading GOP efforts in the coming cycle, new Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman. Don't miss this one-on-one with Chairman Mehlman as he reveals the RNC's ambitious agenda for the next few years and shares some interesting personal history."

"To watch Off the Record with Chairman Mehlman now, visit!"

"For those who missed Off the Record with Senator Thune, don't worry, it's not too late. You can still find it on in latest RNC video."

"Thanks again for your support and for the positive feedback. Keep it coming. Please continue to email with comments and suggestions for future segments."


We have great expertise in coming up with questions for the OTR guests, especially since they're "off the record."

But/and (and here's a Note reader quiz) which of the following are real questions and answers and which were written by bored and smitten Googling monkeys?

"Mindy: Great. Your job before chairman of the RNC was as chairman of the Bush-Cheney '04 reelection campaign. How does someone manage such a huge organization and a broad effort?"

"Mindy: One of the big stories to come out of the 2004 election was how the GOP built such an incredible grassroots network. How will the RNC continue to build on that success?"

"Mindy: And music. If we opened your CD player right now, what CD would we find?"

"Mehlman: You would find a lot of U2, a lot of Led Zeppelin, a lot of classic rock. You'd also find, I also like the Neville Brothers, which is in that genre, but a little different. I love B.B. King; I love Ray Charles. So kind of classic rock, but also some kind of more bluesy stuff I like as well."

(It looks like Ken has a BIG CD player!!)

A million miles from all this, in Germany today, the President has already met with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. At 9:35 am ET, President and Mrs. Bush arrive at the Guttenberg Museum.

At 11:30 am ET, President Bush addresses members of the 1st Armored Calvary at Wiesbaden airfield. The package then departs for Bratislava, Slovakia, where the President RONs.

Back at home, the House and Senate are out of session, with many members still talking about and listening to constituents on Social Security.

The Supreme Court meets today at 10:00 am ET without its chief justice.

At noon ET at the National Press Club, Comptroller General David Walker joins a Concord Coalition panel on fiscal policy.

At 6:30 pm ET. Sen. Chuck Hagel joins Washington, DC's political elite in announcing a new initiative to encourage younger folks to vote. That's at the Kennedy Center.

We would be remiss if we did not point out that the Oscars are on Sunday (on ABC) and our official pre-show countdown starts at 9:00 am ET that day as George Stephanopoulos interviews Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California. Redistrict that TiVo if it's too early for you.

Social Security:

The must-read of the day is Robert Samuelson's op-ed in the Washington Post, where he chides journalists for missing THE point of the Social Security debate, in his opinion: "[President Bush's] plan doesn't address baby boomers' retirement costs."

"He's claiming to make Social Security sustainable. In 40 to 50 years, Bush's approach might work. But in the next 25 years -- when the real budget problem occurs -- it does little. Bush wants it both ways: He wants to appeal to younger voters by offering personal accounts; and he doesn't want to offend older voters (including baby boomers) by cutting their benefits. This may be smart politics, but it's lousy policy." LINK

"The public is understandably confused, and the media feed the confusion. Tackling Social Security's long-run sustainability sounds like dealing with the baby boom -- but it isn't. Generally, the media overlook the distinction. Most stories dwell on Social Security's politics and on the advantages and disadvantages of personal accounts. Journalists echo Democratic criticisms, but that's not balanced or clarifying, because the Democrats, like Bush, aren't acknowledging the unpopular choices posed by an aging baby boom generation. Reporters have to reach independent judgments, but this founders on math phobia."

"The disagreeable reality is that the baby boom's sheer weight will sooner or later force cuts in Social Security and Medicare. We ought to be debating them now and giving people warning. But almost everyone has a stake in denial, and the media are complicit. Personal accounts -- like them or not -- don't solve the real problem. If journalists were doing their jobs, everyone would know that."

Seriously: read it and don't weep -- but learn.

The Portsmouth Herald praises the President's courage for putting Social Security reform on the table. LINK

(But in this analogy, Bush is the investor whose fortunes could rise or fall if the cooks -- namely Bill Thomas and Chuck Grassley -- fail to cook up something edible?)

A New York Times editorial questions whether one's heir can really get a Social Security annuity passed on, but any sentence with the words "New York Times" and "heirs" begs out for a Grover Norquist quotation. LINK

We also like it any time Gail Collins begins a sentence with "Nothing freaks out the Bush administration more than . . ."!!!! (Take that, Mindy and Katie!!!)

The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal surveys the "header" the markets took yesterday and ruminates about interest rates and the Fed. But the concluding paragraph is a shot across the bow of 1600:

"On the other hand, it didn't help to hear President Bush suggesting last week that marginal-rate tax increases are on the table as part of Social Security horse-trading. Even though GOP leaders in Congress quickly said no such thing would happen, the disagreement suggests Republican disarray on what has been a core economic policy conviction. Just as Mr. Greenspan is raising rates to head off any inflation is precisely the wrong time to hit the economy with the double whammy of a tax hike."

The New York Times does the "Old folks worry about younger folks' retirement security" story today -- Robin Toner accompanied Sen. Rick Santorum to Widener College in Chester, PA, where "people over 50 occupied perhaps half the seats . . . [and] asked many of the questions -- most of them negative."

"At one point, Mr. Santorum looked out at the raised hands and said somewhat plaintively: 'I'm seeing a lot of older hands. I'm not seeing any younger hands.'" LINK

The New York Times briefs that USA Next ad targeting the AARP on same-sex marriage. LINK

Larry Kudlow thinks raising the cap is a no-good very bad idea and has numbers to back it up. LINK

What does Ross Perot think about all this? Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) wants Perot to return to television to talk about deficits, but Amy Fagan's article in the Washington Times doesn't say whether that might happen. LINK


It was only a matter of time before a prospective 2008 presidential candidate was called a flip-flopper -- and it's happened to Gov. Mitt Romney, by the Log Cabin Republicans, over his comments Monday in South Carolina that he's opposed same-sex marriage and civil unions from "day one." Romney pointed to his past statements saying that he didn't support either option, but between the two, civil unions are the better outcome -- and that he isn't "pulling a John Kerry" on the issue. Others see it as a clear sign that despite his protestations, the governor isn't focused on the Bay State in 2006. LINK

The Boston Globe's Scott Lehigh looks at Romney's "veer starboard" and concludes much the same thing. LINK

The Boston Herald's David Guarino writes that Romney has also been positioning himself as an opponent of abortion rights in important presidential primary states, after being cagey about his views on abortion in the past, and supporting keeping abortion legal during his 1994 Senate campaign. LINK

Correction: Yesterday we referred to a story about Gov. Romney in South Carolina written by Alexander Morrison of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, and mistakenly referred to Mr. Morrison as "Alexandra." We regret the error, and promise to improve our typing skills.

John Kerry plans to go to Casa Blanca to honor the Red Sox, says David Wade via the Boston Herald. LINK

AmericansForRice, the first major Web-based movement to urge Secretary Rice to run for President, will be expanding its online presence in the next few weeks.

Matt May, formerly a C-SPAN archivist, will be their blogmaster. And the group will soon install a dedicated phone line to reach its staff, which, while it ain't a fundraising team or a caucus commitment, is a good place to start. AmericansForRice is the brainchild of Dr. Richard Mason, a Miami Republican, and has active co-chairs in at least three other states. Mason and his allies plan to seed movements in all 50 states.

We wonder what the group thinks of Dr. Rice's positions on social issues, to the extent it knows them.

A new Zogby poll** for a political client suggests that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is the candidate Democrats think could beat a Republican like John McCain or Rudy Giuliani.

** = but, heck, it's a Zogby poll, it's four years out, the sample size was 370, the questions seem weird, so don't hold us to anything.

A Siena College poll shows that more than 60 percent of voters think the United States is ready for a woman president, AP reports. Eighty-one percent of those surveyed said they'd vote for a woman, and 53 percent said they think Sen. Hillary Clinton should run. Forty-two percent said Secretary of State Rice should run. LINK

Bush agenda:

The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman reports that the White House deleted a chapter on Iraq's economy from the Economic Report of the President, allegedly because of its upbeat tone, on the guidance of the National Security Council. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Walter Roche reports that a St. Louis-based defense contractor that fits military vehicles with more armor has done very well -- as has one of the members of its board -- William H.T. "Bucky" Bush, the President's uncle. LINK

Chairman Dean and the Democrats:

Michigan Daily's Justin Miller* recounts Sen. Carl Levin's (D-MI) studied indigestion about his party's new chairman.

"'I have mixed feelings in terms of Dean,' he said. 'I think he brings some tremendous plusses to the table, in terms of his appeal to people that have never been involved. He opened up a whole new way of raising money that is healthy and successful. The minuses are that the image he brings to the party is not the image that attracts a lot of independent voters. That's why he wasn't nominated.'" LINK

* = Justin: do you want an internship? E-mail Marc Ambinder

(By the way, the Daily has great basketball coverage as well: LINK )

Jon Ralston's daily flash includes this nugget: "The Senate minority leader said this morning during a taping of 'Face to Face' that presidential counselor Karl Rove actually had the chutzpah to call him and lament the national GOP attack on him mailed to a million folks across America. Then, Reid actually got uncharacteristically animated, even testy, when I asked him if this direct mail assault wasn't just standard fare as he accused the media of relativism and not reporting. Reid would not confirm that, as has been reported, the president claimed at a White House dinner not to know of the Republican National Committee attack. But it's clear if Bush said that, Reid didn't believe him."

NGA chair/Gov. Mark Warner will be appearing in many articles like this one in coming days as the NGA gears up for its agenda-setting conference on education. LINK

Sen. Chuck Schumer's weird dream about Hillary Swank, and its significance, revealed here: LINK

We've learned that Maria Cardona, formerly a New Democrat Network senior vice president, will be designated today a principal for the Dewey Square consultancy. Cardona will help Dewey Square's corporate clients with Hispanic outreach and its political clients with Hispanic outreach, among other duties.

Republicans and conservatives:

The RNC had $16 million on hand as of Jan. 31; the DNC had an eighth of that. LINK

Cindy Adams slaps Doug Wead. LINK


There's a movement afoot in Iowa to convince Gov. Tom Vilsack to please, please, run again, and while it cites David Yepsen for inspiration, it is not a special access program masterminded by the influential political journalist. Some of Vilsack's prominent supporters have created a website, LINK , that urges the governor to keep his mind firmly in Des Moines, forget about 2008, and seek a third term.

By announcing the Web site, Vilsack drafters hope the governor will use it as a way to open the door to another run. He is not term limited, but long ago announced his intention to not seek another four years.

But the door to re-election is shut for now. An adviser to Vilsack says he doubts the governor will change his mind soon; asked on Monday, Vilsack said he wasn't inclined to run and said there are many good candidates preparing to run.

Now then: Vilsack could take Yepsen's advice and at least drop hints that he might be willing to do it, and then he'd have some oomph to put behind his efforts to deal with Medicaid costs and property taxes this term.

The Web site names Jerry Crawford, Gordon Fischer, and Rev. Carlos C. Jayne as alleged supporters of its effort.

Iowa SoS Chet Culver (D) has coveted the seat for years; development czar Mike Blouin is another potential Democratic candidate and is reportedly a favorite of the governor. State Assembly Minority Leader Mike Gronstal is also thinking about a run.

Some Vilsack supporters are worried that Culver will win the nomination but lose the general election.

Republicans angling for the state house include Rep. Jim Nussle, Bob Vander Platts, and Doug Gross. Nussle and Gross will tussle for GOP establishment support.

The AP's Sharon Theimer's donor sources sent her a nice collection of recess invitations from politicians who want cash. LINK


The New York Observer's Ben Smith reports that NYAG Eliot Spitzer will endorse Freddy Ferrer for mayor and says that that is a big deal. LINK


A photo of Bill Bradley, carrying a basketball and wearing a necktie in a political context, appears in today's New York Post. LINK

The GOP in Washington State says it has evidence that more than 1,000 felons voted illegally in the gubernatorial election. And discovery continues . . . LINK

Halbfinger's in Hollywood! So covered by the New York Observer. LINK

And he shares a byline with Sharon Waxman today to write about Miramax's film-rich future. LINK

Sen. Howard Baker (R-TN), U.S. ambassador to Japan since 2001, is back in town and back at the law and lobbying firm Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz, Roll Call's Kate Ackley reports.

Ralph Reed in Iowa: LINK

Free Matt Cooper and Judy Miller:

The Wall Street Journal ed board seems less concerned with the fate of our colleagues and whether there should be a federal shield law than it is with the MSM's encouragement of runaway special prosecutors. And Gigot & Co. seem to have little respect for Mr. Fitzgerald. (Note: we are waiting for a Googling monkey to pull for us the clips from the '90s when the page railed day after day (we assume . . . ) against Ken Starr et. al.)

The Schwarzenegger Era:

New Field poll numbers to chew on show a drop in the governor's popularity, but he's still well above 50 percent. LINK