The Note: Trillions Dollar Baby

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 --


The horrific car bomb explosion outside of Baghdad -- killing more than 100 and sure to dominate cable and network news all day -- shows just how politically strong President Bush is right now.

We only reluctantly draw political lessons from human tragedy, but today's news is yet another reminder that on a range of issues -- national security, foreign affairs, budgeting, dealing with the nation's gathered governors -- the President has the whip hand.

Events and positions that would have brought hailstorms down on past presidents (say: Bill Clinton) don't seem to be seen as "political" problems for this administration right now.

In fact, with the oh-so-prominent exception of Social Security, it is amazing how relatively free and unscathed the White House is to pursue its at-home and abroad agendas.

The Democratic Party is still trying to figure out (1) what Howard Dean is all about; (2) what its positive agenda is/should be; (3) what its 2006 strategy is/should be; (4) who its 2008 presidential candidates are/should be; (5) how it should talk about Iraq; (6) which of allied interest groups it can count on; (7) if the Democratic Leadership Council or MoveOn is more of the answer; and (8) so much more.

Which makes the Social Security conundrum quite confusing and outlying.

We aren't embarrassed to admit that we don't have a clue where things are headed.

The political and policy outcomes remain almost too numerous to list (a protracted battle that ends in bipartisan compromise; a protracted battle that ends in a HillaryCare-style defeat for the President; a quick, face-saving plug pulling, etc), but what might be most significant now is that WITHOUT the Social Security fight that Mr. Bush picked, the Democrats would likely be scrambling even more than they are now.

With 99 percent unanimity, the Democratic Party elites stand united in terms of Bush-style personal accounts. There are tactical differences (most Notably about whether the party should offer its own plan for "saving" Social Security), but the unity, energy, and shared sense of direction that this fight is giving the out-of-power party can't be overstated.

So it would be interesting to see a parallel universe in which the Administration moved Social Security to the back burner and focused on its strengths everywhere else.

But that ain't gonna happen (as Joe Biden would say), so see our Social Security sections below for what is still the biggest story in American politics today, during what will be a busy busy busy week.

President Bush meets with governors at the White House at 11:15 am ET.

First Lady Laura Bush speaks at the UNESCO Education Summit at Georgetown University at 9:00 am ET.

Democratic governors, led by Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) will hold a press conference at the National Press Club at 2:30 pm ET to talk about the federal-state government relationship with respect to health care and other costs.

Today, the National Governors Association holds sessions on Medicaid and communications legislation at 10:30 am ET, after meeting with the President and before they lunch with the congressional leadership.

Governors and their working groups on economic development and commerce, education, early childhood and the workforce, health and human services, and natural resources convene at 3:00 pm ET. More talk on Medicaid tomorrow at 10:15 am ET, and there's a closed session on communications at 11:30 am ET.

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