The Note: 'Both Hopeful and Precarious'

WASHINGTON, March 8 --


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

"What worries some Democrats about the debate over Social Security is that Bush stands for something and they do not, other than opposition to the creation of private accounts. So far, party leaders believe that posture has served them well. But some Democrats fear that Bush, by having pushed for changes and by appealing to younger voters with his proposal for the accounts, will score a political victory even if he does not get the main element of his plan."

". . . Bush may have underestimated Democratic resiliency on Social Security as he steps up his travel and salesmanship. But the more his plan appears to be in trouble, the more pressure will grow on Reid and Pelosi for a Democratic plan. Many Democrats are mindful that Bush has reversed course before -- on creation of the Homeland Security Department and the commission to investigate the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- and claimed political victory in the process."

But the danger for the Democrats, of course, is the same as it is for the President: being the first to talk in detail about tax increases and benefit cuts is scary.

The bottom line on today's mayoral elections in Los Angeles: Incumbent James Hahn is in real danger of losing his job.

And with no serious Republican candidates in the race, this is more about personality than national politics, even if we are talking about the nation's second largest city.

Hahn, city council member Antonio Villaraigosa, former police chief Bernard Parks, and former state assembly speaker Bob Hertzberg are likely to finish in the top four. (There are 12 candidates running; an absolute majority is improbable, so the top two candidates will advance to a May 17 run-off.)

Hahn's tenure has been marked by struggles with the city council over police staffing, the high profile firing of a black police chief (Parks), a declining crime rate, and his successful effort to prevent the San Fernando Valley from seceding. If Hahn doesn't place first or second today, his backers will blame the Valley succession nix and Park's ouster, both of which have caused him to try to reconfigure his political base.

The son of a popular county commissioner and white civil rights icon, Hahn was first elected by drawing support from middle class suburban voters in the Valley and from African Americans. Hispanics, who make up nearly fifty percent of city residents, supported Villaraigosa that year; white liberals were split. (Re: Hispanics: as we said, they're about half of the city, but far fewer are eligible to vote, and fewer than that actually do so.)

This year, the demographies are different. Hahn has lost most of his black support, which is now split between Villaraigosa and Parks, but gained the endorsement (and, presumably, the vote) of organized labor. Hertzberg reached out to Republicans and white moderates; Villaraigosa now gets many self-identified liberals. Los Angeles is historically friendly to incumbents, but Hahn's supporters have less ardor than his opponents, so a high turn-out election should benefit them, not him. Plus, one theory touted by political types holds than in a post-Arnold California electorate, personality means more than it did, so Mr. Hahn, who is seen as Gray Davis dull, has an added disadvantage. (The Governor endorsed Hertzberg's main policy proposal.)

Most observers expect turnout to be quite low. Angelinos seem rather characteristically unengaged when it comes to this race.

Hahn will host his election night party at the Conga Room; Hertzberg will be at the Airtel Plaza Hotel in Van Nuys, and Villaraigosa waits for results at the Fonda Theater in Hollywood.

Also worth Nothing: voters in California's 5th congressional district will winnow the field to two candidates in a race for the seat of recently deceased Rep. Bob Matusi (D). His widow, Doris Matsui, will likely be one of those who advances. (The top vote-getters from each party move to a runoff if no candidate receives 50 percent plus 1, winnowing the field from 12 to six.)

In Florida, voters in Broward and Miami-Dade counties will decide whether to allow slot machines in jai-alai frontons and race tracks. The arguments pro and con are familiar: the gaming industry has dangled a 30 percent rebate of all profits to the state government, but opponents worry about the community effects of gambling and fear that the slots will hurt existing businesses.

Gov. Jeb Bush doesn't want the slots there. LINK

But he may not have a choice.

Elsewhere in Washington today, the President meets with one current president (Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic) at 11:35 am ET, and two former ones (his father and Bill Clinton) at 1:45 pm ET.

We wonder whether anyone at the White House will ask President Clinton about Iran. LINK

First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Rice celebrate International Women's Day in the Ben Franklin Room at the State Department at 9:00 am ET.

The Senate takes up bankruptcy reform legislation at 9:45 am ET, and the parties hold their policy luncheons in the afternoon. Sen. Bill Frist will come to the cameras around noon. DNC Chairman Howard Dean attends the Democratic luncheon.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California is in DC all day; he has a private meeting with Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling; a fundraiser at the St. Regis; and meetings with HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt and Interior Secretary Gail Norton in the afternoon. There may be a protest outside the fundraiser by nurses who don't like his pension proposals.

Bolton from the blue:

The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler and Colum Lynch lay out the controversial career of new U.N. Ambassador-nominee John Bolton, a diplomat who uses tough language and a "willingness to eschew diplomatic niceties" that Democrats are vowing to bring a fight over. LINK

The Los Angeles Times refers to Bolton as the "un-diplomat," and Paul Richter explores his reputation and brusque approach that's won the heart and mind of Vice President Cheney and led others to describe him as something of a new Jeanne Kirkpatrick. LINK

USA Today's Bill Nichols Notes Sen. Kerry's comment that Bolton's nomination is "inexplicable," and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's promise that the confirmation hearing is going to be a bumpy ride. LINK

Writes the New York Times' Steven Weisman: "Some Republicans predicted that he might have difficulty winning confirmation." LINK

Former assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice describes the criticisms and "con" items against Bolton, writing that there's a lot of bated breath as those who know his record watch carefully -- and hope he proceeds carefully to see how he does at the U.N. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's editorial board nods so vigorously at Bolton's nomination that we worry it might snap off.

Is there a 5 percent chance or greater that any Republican Senators will vote against Bolton? We think not.

Social Security: the politics:

The New York Times' Glen Justice writes on the new $2 million Progress for America ad buy and another AFL-CIO success at convincing a company to leave the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security LINK

The Times' David E. Rosenbaum explicates the mystery of the trust fund. LINK

Bush agenda:

The Washington Post's Peter Baker takes a look at the progress made recently in the Middle East that gives President Bush's foreign policy a little more momentum as he heads today to the National Defense University to talk about his plans, and the massive amount of work that's left to do. LINK

"How much the president influenced events driven by indigenous forces on the ground remains a point of debate here and in the region. Some diplomats, analysts and intelligence officers with long experience in the region worry that the Bush team is celebrating too soon and overestimating its ability to steer the change it is helping to set loose. Reforms have been announced in the Middle East in the past only to prove hollow in reality. And the U.S. government has rarely built the sort of sustained effort that many believe will be required to ensure that genuine change takes root."

AP curtain-raises the speech itself, Noting President Bush's return to his inaugural theme that the spread of democracy is the best way to fight terrorism. LINK

The Washington Post's Jim VandeHei wraps President and First Lady Laura Bush's visit to Pittsburgh yesterday to talk up their plan to help at-risk youths. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Ed Chen calls the President Mrs. Bush's warm-up act. LINK

USA Today's Mimi Hall looks at the Department of Homeland Security's efforts to make sure the agency is portrayed positively in a theater or TV show near you. LINK

Chairman of the (Fed) Board:

Duck and cover: One of those glossy men's mag A-bombs is about to hit official Washington.

In this case, the "A" stands for "Alan."

GQ's Wil Hylton has written a non-loving profile of Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan in which he accuses the Chairman, with some evidence, of being, a, well, a political hack -- but not necessarily a partisan one.

Tracing Greenspan's political career from obscure Randian disciple to Nixon economist to Ford political adviser (sort of) to mysterious, Andrea-Mitchell-loving, tennis-playing, naked-bathtub-loving Fed Chair, Hylton suggests that Greenspan's political instincts do not always lend themselves to the advancement of Republican causes.

To wit: Greenspan's famous "deal" with Bush 41. There's an amusing exchange in the article with Nicholas Brady, who seems to admit that Greenspan agreed to lower interest rates if "the president would tackle fiscal policy . . . He just plain didn't do what he said he was going to do." According to Hylton, Brady does a Class A Emergency Dial Back after those remarks.

Fans of the Chairman's will find Hylton's profile to be gosh-darned mean and will probably dispute his account of history, but the article is certain to be be widely e-mailed and widely referenced in the days ahead -- after it is released in NY/LA on March 22.

Hylton's account is characterological and eschews an in-depth discussion of policy issues -- and certainly doesn't even attempt to answer the question of whether the Chairman has done a good job.

A telling excerpt:

"In certain parts of Washington, parsing the Fed chairman's language -- known as 'Greenspeak' -- has become a sort of parlor game. But according to people close to Greenspan, that's a waste of time. There is nothing to figure out, they say, because Greenspan isn't saying anything. As his friend of fifty years, Charles Brunie, recalls, 'Before he took office, he said, 'If ever you think you understand me, you will be mistaken, because I plan to obfuscate.' I remember the word obfuscate.' Or as Greenspan's tennis partner and former Clinton aide, Gene Sperling, explains, 'When he's sending a vague or mixed signal, it is by design.' Or as Greenspan's old friend, the economist Milton Friedman, puts it, 'I don't think it's an accident, whether he's ambiguous or not.' According to sources at the Fed, Greenspan even takes pleasure in his obfuscation. Sometimes he will return from one of his speeches before Congress and order a video of his testimony, marveling out loud as he watches: 'What in the world does that mean?" Obstruction, then, is the name of the game.'"

Insiders: watch your e-mail and fax machines for the advanced text.

Civilians: Look for the April issue on newsstands.

Big casino budget politics:

If it is important to David Rogers, it should be important to you.

Writes Rogers in the Wall Street Journal: "Senate Republicans, in a return to the budget debates of the 1980s and '90s, are proposing almost $14 billion in Medicaid savings over the next five years while demanding that any new tax cuts in excess of $70 billion be paid by closing loopholes."

"Both the Medicaid and tax targets have frayed nerves, and were the subject of Senate leadership meetings yesterday, talks that included White House Budget Director Josh Bolten and Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt."

"The aggressive strategy comes from the Senate's new Budget Committee Chairman, New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, whose budget plan for the 2006 fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 is slated to be released tomorrow. The final numbers could change, but the goal is to set the government on a path to cut the deficit to $229 billion by 2010 -- about what President Bush is seeking -- while also making more of an allowance for the cost of the war in Iraq."

"Mr. Gregg appears most determined to exact long-term savings from major government-benefit programs such as Medicaid. But he has also argued that the party leadership could attract moderate support if it were less aggressive in using budget rules to restrict Senate debate on new tax cuts."

The Washington Post's Dan Morgan takes a great look at how the President's decision to cut subsidies to cotton growers is touching off major troop movement in Republican politics among those who would try to defend them vs. the budget hawks who argue that the money would be better spent elsewhere. LINK


Former Sen. John Edwards heads to Milwaukee on April 2 to speak at the Wisconsin Democratic Party's Founders Day Gala. LINK

Following on the intrepid work of the 's ace political reporter Josh Gerstein, the New York Times reports on former Clinton fundraiser Peter Paul's expected plea deal with the government to resolve the Stan Lee Media case. As Gerstein pointed out yesterday and as the Times reports today, that makes it more likely Paul will testify in the David Rosen case. LINK

Dick Morris explicates the latest move in the "Hillary Playbook" and (surprise) takes credit for writing it with her. In Morris' view, it's all about building national security cred. LINK

In one of the paper's FOUR pieces today on the 2008 presidential race* the Boston Globe's Joan Vennochi turns in a must-read on the Clinton Juggernaut, Noting that the Clintons are experts at political repositioning and going for the middle, but the idea of her nomination as inevitable doesn't hold up -- or, at least, shouldn't in Joan's World. LINK

The Boston Globe's Brian McGrory turns in a must-read on Gov. Romney's wait and see strategy for 2008, factoring in the Democrat-controlled state legislature and the built-in resentment of Bay State voters who would watch him shoot for the national stage while seeking re-election or at least keeping his job as governor. LINK

Brian gets Romney advisers being more explicit about this strategy than anyone else has to date. This piece is more than must read -- if Romney is elected president in 2008, this piece is historic.

And speaking of that legislature, the Boston Globe's Raphael Lewis looks at the $100 million for stem cell research proposed by Massachusetts Senate President Robert Travaglini, setting up a veto by Gov. Romney. LINK

The Boston Globe's Scott Lehigh makes the case for moving Massachusetts' presidential primary to the spring. LINK

* = folks, don't accuse US of being fixated too early!!!!

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee had a boffo performance on Crossfire yesterday, squaring off against Bob Novak and free marketeer Fred Smith. The topic: obesity, and the government's obligation to help alleviate it. Smith kept alluding unfavorably to Huckabee's fiscal record in office; the Cato Institute gives him a "D" for some tax hikes and spending increases.

The AP and the New York Times have stories about the Reform Institute, the non-profit founded by Sen. John McCain to promote campaign finance legislation. The articles Note that McCain's chief political adviser, Rick Davis, is paid $110,000 a year by the group, which helps to fund McCain's travels. The Times story has a good quote from Davis about conservatives who don't like campaign finance reform legislation and thus how the group could not possibly help promote McCain's presidential ambition. Board member Norm Ornstein endorses the group, as have several companies who had business before the Commerce Committee last session. LINK

We like the photos of John Weaver and Sen. McCain and Sen. Lott being all palsy-walsy.

And we wonder about the timing of these stories. Hmmmmmmm.

Dean and the Democrats:

AP's Will Lester reports that with Howard Dean at the helm, the Democratic National Committee raised $3.4 million in three weeks -- and the Internet solicitation hasn't even gone out yet, the Governor Noted. LINK

The DNC's commission on the primary calendar holds a day-long meeting in Washington this Saturday. The group will hear presentations from various factions about revising the primary calendar. It's open to the press.

California politics:

Patrick McGreevey and Michael Finnegan of the Los Angeles Times detail the ground game for Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, state Sen. Richard Alarcon of Sun Valley, former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg and City Councilmen Bernard C. Parks and Antonio Villaraigosa during their last full day of campaigning before today's mayoral primary. LINK

If, as some expect, Doris Matsui wins more than 50 percent in today's primary to succeed her husband, she is likely headed for an assignment on the Rules Committee, and possibly Budget, Roll Call's Erin Billings and Josh Kurtz report.

The Congress:

Writes the New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg in full explanatory mode: "A bankruptcy bill pending before the Senate is about to provide a forum for the first abortion battle of the new Congress, and how it plays out could set the stage for much larger fights over abortion restrictions and judicial nominees, including perhaps a nominee to the Supreme Court." LINK

"At issue is a proposed amendment intended to deny bankruptcy protection to protesters who use violence to shut down abortion clinics. The measure is expected to come up for a vote on Tuesday before a Senate with an expanded Republican majority that includes some of the most ardent abortion opponents in American politics."

Paul Krugman on the bankruptcy bill: "The bankruptcy bill was written by and for credit card companies, and the industry's political muscle is the reason it seems unstoppable. But the bill also fits into the broader context of what Jacob Hacker, a political scientist at Yale, calls 'risk privatization': a steady erosion of the protection the government provides against personal misfortune, even as ordinary families face ever-growing economic insecurity." LINK

Note to 2008 Democratic presidential candidates: Note that Krugman throws down the gauntlet in his final graph.

The Los Angeles Times' Mary Curtius reports that Senate Republicans on Monday defeated the minimum wage hike Democrats were trying to attach to the bankruptcy bill by a vote of 49 to 46. LINK

Congressional Democrats are planning to take a page from the Republican Revolution playbook today with a 147-page report accusing the Republican leadership of abusing their power with parliamentary tactics, writes the Washington Post's Mike Allen. LINK

Blogs and politics:

The American Prospect's Garance Franke-Ruta Notes the increasingly murky links between prominent Republican political operatives and the conservative blogosphere, bringing up the Thune-Daschle race, Eason Jordan, the smear of O'Malley and more more. While she acknowledges that lefty bloggers have their entaglements with the Democratic establishment, she concludes ". . . there's another a key difference between the effort against Gannon and conservative blog firestorms: The targets of the liberal blogosphere are conservative activists; the target of the conservative blogosphere is the free and independent press itself, just as it has been for conservative activists since the '60s. For the Republican Party, pseudo-journalism Internet sites and the blogosphere are just another way to get around 'the filter,' as Bush has dubbed the mainstream media." LINK

Which strikes as a selective reading of the evidence. It is true that the Right has always been ahead of the left in using new technology to advance traditional political ends. But so what? What if the conservative bloggers -- even if they're sponsored by patrons with ulterior motives -- have a point about the mainstream media? That it is, you know, too un-self critical? And what about the dozens of liberal websites devoted to mainstream media and political criticism? Recall that Howard Dean's successful DNC chair race was helped by aggressive liberal bloggers who used oppo research generated by Dean allies (not the campaign directly, mind you) to take down his opponents. It may be true that conservatives have used their blogs more effectively in recent months, but that's a matter of tactics, not intent.

And we're not entirely sure what's wrong with "traditional politics" as defined herein by Franke-Ruta: "But unlike traditional news outlets, right-wing blogs openly shill, fund raise, plot, and organize massive activist campaigns on behalf of partisan institutions and constituencies; they also increasingly provide cover for professional operatives to conduct traditional politics by other means -- including campaigning against the established media. And instead of taking these bloggers for the political activists they are, all too often the established press has accepted their claims of being a new form of journalism."

We're not sure what Franke-Ruta thinks about the FEC's upcoming rulemaking about Internet and politics, but we know her thought-provoking piece will be dissected, favorably and unfavorably, on blogs across the 'verse, and to paraphrase an ex-con, that's a good thing.

The National Review's Jonah Goldberg has a variant of the same argument: "Don't let the word "conservative" fool you. Rebels on the right were pioneers in the political exploitation of new and alternative technologies long before anyone knew what blogs were. Led by Rush Limbaugh, conservatives even revived AM radio, making it a major source of a populist backlash against liberal-controlled institutions. Cable profoundly transformed politics. C-Span alone did more to demystify government than a generation of muckrakers -- or bloggers -- ever could. CNN pioneered the steady erosion of the Big Three Networks' stranglehold on information. Later, Fox News soon destroyed CNN's stranglehold on 24-hour news."

Read his whole article, too. LINK

Go to it, Inside Politics Blog Ladies!!!!


The Sharpton Diet: lots of cookies, two salads a day, and three servigins of exercise a day, per the enterprising M. Slackman of the New York Times. LINK

HOH: Grover Norquist's April 2 marriage to Samah Alrayyes, "at an undisclosed location in Virginia." Mazel tov!

Greg Speed's leaving the DCCC for Communities for Quality Education, The Hill reports, with Bill Burton coming on board.

We're auditing this class: LINK

And Sen. Padavan, we'll send you a memo.