The Note: 'Both Hopeful and Precarious'

WASHINGTON, March 8 --

NEWS SUMMARY

On the one hand, whenever President Bush climbs on the national security stage -- as he does today at 10:15 am ET in Washington -- he reminds the nation that he is the 10,000-pound gorilla of American politics who speaks authoritatively about an issue of great importance.

On the other hand, from a purely political point of view, the President's capacity to leverage his national security dominance for partisan gain -- as he was able to do again and again during the 2004 campaign -- seems extraordinarily limited now.

On the one hand, the mega in-your-face pick of John Bolton to be United Nations ambassador is like Bill Clinton making a joint nomination of Joycelyn Elders to be both Secretary of State and Secretary of Health and Human Services.

On the other hand, the Democrats on the Hill are not afraid of the President any more (maybe they should be . . . ).

On the one hand, it's never too soon for Rick Berke to assign (yet) another front-page New York Times story on Dick Cheney's vast-but-quiet influence on the second Bush term. (Make no mistake: Bolton is a Cheney man . . . )

On the other hand, David Brooks' favorably assessment of Paul Wolfowitz on the op-ed page of the Gray Lady is potentially the start of the something big. LINK

On the one hand, in the run-up to the 2004 election, consultants from both parties decided that "security" was the buzzword/concept of choice, and Democrats began saying things like "security is more than protecting our shores -- security is about health care security, and job security and retirement security."

On the other hand -- while Democrats are being tricked by the White House into "small" fights over Social Security, bankruptcy, and energy -- for the second day in a row, the nation's major newspapers are fronting stories about (a) the booming American economy, not held back by pesky oil/gas prices (See: LINK and Thaddeus Herrick's A1 article in the Wall Street Journal); and (b) how the President's efforts to inspire democracy and change throughout the Middle East are on quite a roll -- silencing critics such as Jon Stewart and author Nancy Soderberg.

In his speech this morning at the National Defense University, the President is expected to talk about the progress being made in Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, and Lebanon .and the how the "determination and courage" of the Iraqi people is an example to the rest of the Middle East, reports ABC News' Karen Travers.

As for Social Security, there is one must-read today, and that is Dan Balz's tour de force exposition of the opposition in the Washington Post. The White House has put (some of) its cards on the table: the Republicans have a (controversial and tough to sell) plan, but the Democrats have none.

Mr. Balz lays out the advice for congressional Democrats by Stan Greenberg and James Carville (and Harold Ickes), who warn that even though the opening salvo in the Social Security fight seems to be going well, Republicans are far from shot down and Democrats still have a big image -- not to mention specifics -- problem on their hands. LINK

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