The Note: Google "Howard-Dean" and "SSMIP" for Three Hits . . .

2 days to the Inauguration


Inaugural anticipation builds; Rice takes center stage; the RNC convenes in festive, chilly Washington; Dean moves closer to chairdom; New York politics becomes even more interesting and Kennedyesque; and The Note begins to experiment with new, semicolon-laden formats.

Take your carrot-cinnamon scone and English Breakfast tea and spread open the Shipley-lickin'-good op-ed page of the New York Times and read every word of all four must-read pieces:

There are three conservatives for every two liberals, David Brooks writes in the Gray Lady, and that makes it tough for Democrats to employ a Newt Gingrich, scorched earth strategy. Gingrich needed to persuade the conservative base to vote Republican; the Democrats, Brooks says, need to persuade middle class moderates to vote Democratic.

"The truth is that Democrats probably need a leader who will make liberals feel uncomfortable, the way Clinton did, not someone who will make them feel righteous and good." LINK

Brooks might not have it exactly right, but he seems to be giving better advice to Democrats than most Democrats are.

Then Paul Krugman compares the selling of Social Security to the selling of the Iraq war, and his take implicitly tries to take on Brooks. LINK

Move on to psychiatrist Joshua Freedman, who was part of a team that analyzed the brains of Democratic and Republican partisans during last year's elections and found that "[w]hile viewing their own candidate, both Democrats and Republicans showed activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, an area associated with strong instinctive feelings of emotional connection. Viewing the opposing candidate, however, activated the anterior cingulate cortex, which indicates cognitive and emotional conflict. It also lighted up the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area that acts to suppress or shape emotional reactions."

It is a largely a bunch of hoo-hah, but it makes for interesting reading. LINK

Finally, filmmaker and moveon-er Errol Morris suggests that Sen. Kerry's recollection of his Vietnam war record casually erased his post-war actions (which Morris admires) thus leaving Kerry. LINK

While it's certainly true that Kerry might have reacted less sluggishly to the Swift Boat veteran charges had he himself brought up his post-Vietnam agita, it doesn't follow that voters would have appreciated the same nuance and complexity and anti-war sentiments that Mr. Morris admires.

Or that Kerry could have better explained his opposition to the Iraq war. Or that Kerry wouldn't have said he voted for the $87 billion before he voted against it. Or that Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman wouldn't have built the world's most aggressive, most impressive, get-out-the-vote machine ever.

But it just might be a better explanation of why Kerry lost than, say, blaming the staff. (And you know who you are, (Senator).)

Today is a busy day in Washington. See if you can read our whole daybook look without a book mark.

At 9:00 am ET, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began it hearings to confirm Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State.

At 12:30 pm ET, Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, talks Social Security at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC.

At 1:30 pm ET, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, holds a news conference to discuss a new DPC report on Social Security.

At 8:00 am ET, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton holds a pen and pad only briefing with members at the National Press Club to discuss funding and security of Inauguration 2005.

At 8:00 am ET, National Journal holds a forum at the National Press Club on what a second term means in the modern presidency and what to expect of the Bush administration in the next four years.

Dan Bartlett, counselor to President Bush and former White House communications director; Leon Panetta, White House chief of staff during the Clinton Administration; Ed Rollins, White House political director during the Reagan Administration; Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform; Celinda Lake, pollster and Democratic political strategist; Gene Sperling, national economic adviser during the Clinton administration; and Jody Powell White House press secretary during the Carter Administration, participate.

At 8:30 am ET, John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; and Miami Mayor Manuel Diaz deliver remarks at the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting. At 9:30 am ET, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley speak at the opening plenary session.

At 10:00 am ET, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the nomination of Mike Leavitt to be Secretary of Health and Human Services.

At 1:50 pm ET, President and First Lady Laura Bush attend a (closed press) reception with Republican National Committee members at their winter meeting at the Renaissance Hotel. Dear Dan and Nicolle: why is this event closed press?

Then the First Couple head to the MCI Center, where at 2:30 pm ET, President and First Lady Laura Bush kick off the inaugural events, attending "Saluting Those Who Serve." At 6:05 pm ET, they stop by the Chairman's Reception at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, and attend "America's Future Rocks Today: A Call to Service" at the DC Armory at 6:45 pm ET.

At 2:30 pm ET, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, Sugarland, TX Mayor David Wallace, Laredo, TX Mayor Elizabeth Flores, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and David Hagy of the Department of Homeland Security discuss homeland security and cities at the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting.

At 6:00 pm ET, the National Conference of Democratic Mayors holds puts the candidates for DNC chair through their paces. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, former Reps. Martin Frost and Tim Roemer, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, Democratic strategist Donnie Fowler, former Ohio state chair David Leland, and Simon Rosenberg, head of the New Democratic Network, have been invited.

At 6:30 pm ET, the Kentucky Society of Washington hosts its "Bluegrass Ball."

Dean, Dean, Dean, Dean, Dean:

Monday's decision by Scott Maddox and the Florida Democratic delegation to the DNC to endorse Howard Dean will precipitate the quickening of opposition to Dean's candidacy (as well as give Dean the potential to break this thing wide open).

If the governors or Southern party chairs from other states want to stop him, they'll probably need to stop him by the end of next week.

It is hard to see how a Bob Kerrey or even a John Edwards entry in the race could reduce the number of votes that Dean ultimately gets. Look at his Hotline survey number, add in the Florida delegation (minus a few who are double counted) and he is fast approaching 100 votes, a number that some of his opponents think he has already surpassed.

He is now emphatically the frontrunner, though he has not yet accumulated more votes than the combination of his opposition, and 50 percent is the threshold.

"'The only knock against Howard Dean is that he's seen as too liberal,'" Mr. Maddox said. 'I'm a gun-owning pickup-truck driver and I have a bulldog named Lockjaw. I am a Southern chairman of a Southern state, and I am perfectly comfortable with Howard Dean as D.N.C. chair.' LINK

The three questions are:

1. Does Dean have a ceiling below 50 percent?

2. Is there someone in the race now who can coalesce the anti-Dean forces?

3. Is anyone else big getting in?

If the answers to those questions are "no," we all need to start thinking about the meaning of the phrase "Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean," but we aren't sure there are three "no's" there.

On the other hand, heck, if Jim Jordan is comfortable with his ex-arch nemesis, who are we to argue?

Jordan is doing work for Dean's bid for chair (as was eye-poppingly reported in Saturday's New York Times with atypically Nagourneyian understatement).

Perhaps Dean is still "an unemployed doctor with no responsibilities"* and still occasionally "slip[s] into incoherence"* but Jordan sees him today as the best candidate for what the Democrats need right now, and both men are smart enough to put aside their differences.

(* = recycled campaign quote).

"For most of 2003," Jordan -- then John Kerry's campaign manager -- tells us now, "I had a front row seat for the Dean Phenomenon, an up close view of just how powerful and transformative a leader he is. He has, I think, a real vision for the future of the party and solid ideas for how to take it there. So that's why I'm lending a hand. That, and because he asked."

The Boston Globe's Peter Cannelos, sensing the possibly inevitable, puts things in perspective:

"The anti-Washington tone of Dean's attacks is reminiscent of GOP attacks on Democrats in the '90s, when Republicans cemented their 'outsider' credentials. Traditionally, the DNC chairman, currently former Clinton fund-raiser Terry McAuliffe, is the consummate insider, and Dean could provide an important bridge to the party's grass roots. He was also an early advocate of injecting more talk of values into the Democratic side of the debate. Long before Senator Edward M. Kennedy was calling for a values-based dialogue with Republicans, Dean was consulting with University of California at Berkeley linguist George Lakoff, whose theories help explain why Republicans succeed at framing issues more clearly than Democrats." LINK

"At the same time, Dean's tactics -- Internet organizing and fund-raising, staged protests, sloganeering -- come uncomfortably close to those of the political fringe, and Democrats must recognize that Dean's connection to anti-Bush groups like is a mixed blessing. Other political stars who had moments of fame in presidential politics, including Republican Harold Stassen and Democrat Eugene McCarthy, became perennial fringe candidates, seeking to relive their moments of glory like aged Norma Desmonds. It's possible to envision that happening to Dean."

But we'd say that Dean is not a candidate for political office. He's a candidate for chair of the Democratic National Committee. He is winning support because he excites DNC members and restores their faith in their party. As a thought experiment, imagine what people would say about Terry McAuliffe or Ed Gillespie were they to run for elected office.

Using the same thought experiment, you can also see the downsides to a Dean candidacy: McAullife was partisan but not polarizing; he didn't bring to the DNC a political ideology that everyone who runs against a Democratic opponent in a purple state can point to (full-throated liberal instincts tempered, somehow, with fervor for balanced budgets. Oh yeah, and let the small states decide what to do about guns themselves.) And Dean's rhetoric suggests now that Democrats have a natural majority out there they're not tapping into because folks sense Democrats don't believe in their causes or because Republicans have duped socially conservative economic populists.

David Brooks, of course, believes the opposite, and if he's right -- if there are today more conservatives out there than liberals and more moderates willing to vote for conservatives -- than Democrats would do well not to allow Dean to become one of the chief public spokespeople for their party's values.

But even Dean supporters don't have to worry about that so much because the Democratic governors have already suggested they will claim the mantle of policy innovation, red-state organization nurturing and become the public elected-official faces of the party.

A lot to chew on . . .

Now dessert: The Washington Post's Mark Leibovich offers a succinct, wise, and wildly observant look at Dean, "the former rock star in a field of 'American Idol' contestants" in the race for DNC chair, who insists that politics is politics and he's running on the same message of reform that he always was. LINK

Bush agenda:

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows a mixed bag for President Bush as he heads into his second inauguration -- "a comparatively weak job approval rating, subdued expectations for his performance in office and the daunting challenge of a single issue with the potential to make or break his second term: Iraq." LINK

"While the president has signaled an intention to focus on selected domestic issues, it's Iraq that dominates public concern. Sixty-one percent give it a 'highest priority' rating for Bush and the Congress to address, easily the most among a dozen issues tested in this ABC News/Washington Post poll. Thirty-five percent, by contrast, give that level of priority to Social Security, and far fewer still to either immigration issues or tort reform," Notes ABC News' Polling Director Gary Langer.

In addition, 58 percent said they disapprove of the President's handling of Iraq; 55 percent said the war is not worth fighting. Terrorism ranks second among priorities for Americans -- 52 percent put it at the top of the list, followed by education, the economy, and health care. More than half of the public said they support his proposals on Social Security, immigration, and tort reform. They split on cutting the Social Security growth rate; 48 percent oppose it, while 47 percent favor it.

Bush's job approval rating is 52 percent -- "about its average across election-year 2004 and well below his career average, 64 percent." Fifty-five percent said they expect Bush to do a better job in his second term than in his first, and 29 percent expect Bush to do a worse job. And 66 percent of Americans said they'd prefer a smaller inauguration, given the fact that the country is at war.

In their analysis, the Washington Post's Rich Morin and Dan Balz dispute the Notion of a mandate, but Note that Americans feel that President Bush's victory means Democrats in Congress should work with him. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Ed Chen takes a good 30,000-foot look at the legacy President Bush is looking to create in his second term. LINK

The Boston Globe's Rick Klein offers up his version of the Bush-is-facing-opposition-within-his-own-party story, and it's a great state-of-play look at a variety of issues that gives good, short-hand detail of the (possible) fights ahead. LINK

Dick Stevenson and Elisabeth Bumiller, in their article about Vice President Cheney's relevance and power in domestic policy battles, include what they describe as the Veep's preference for Social Security reform:

"Mr. Cheney is said by associates to favor creating investment accounts into which workers could deposit 4 percent to 6 percent of their earnings that are subject to the Social Security payroll tax. That position puts him firmly in the camp counseling a more bolder approach than many other Republicans are contemplating. And after months of signals that Mr. Bush is likely to embrace accounts of a more modest size, it suggests there is less consensus within the White House about how to proceed than is widely presumed in Washington. But unlike many other proponents of large-scale private accounts, Mr. Cheney tends to favor coupling the creation of personal accounts with reductions in the scheduled government-paid benefit for future retirees, people who are familiar with his thinking say. They say he leans toward supporting a proposal already floated by the White House to alter the formula by which initial benefit levels for retirees are set from one based on the growth of wages throughout the economy to one based on increases in prices; since wages tend to grow faster than prices, the effect would be a substantial reduction in the guaranteed benefit relative to what is promised by current law."

It's a must-read because of the topic, but the two (dirt) diggers don't really come up with much.

The Los Angeles Times' Peter Wallsten, Tom Hamburger, and Nicholas Riccardi look at how faith-based initiatives and their benefits to churches have made converts out of some Democratic-leaning black pastors. An emphatic must-read. LINK

A Washington Times article on President Bush's faith reads at times like an explicit endorsement of that particular faith. LINK

Those interested in the future strength or weakness of the dollar would well be advised to read Greg Ip's page one analysis in the Wall Street Journal today.

Ip also has a great housing piece inside.

The Los Angeles Times' Mary Curtius writes that despite the President's stated commitment to overhaul the country's immigration laws and pursue his guest worker program, the issue could get lost in the Big Agenda of Social Security and the tax code, even with the efforts of Republican lawmakers like Sens. McCain and Hagel, who are working on their own immigration plans. LINK

Asked to rate him on his handling of the issues in the new ABC News/Washington Post poll, Americans gave Bush his lowest marks on immigration -- 33 percent.

The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne, after some kind words for Mike Gerson with which we heartily agree, writes a fantasy inaugural speech for President Bush in which he, freed from the constraints of running for re-election, can admit mistakes in his first term. LINK

Bush Cabinet: Condoleezza Rice:

Barbara Slavin of USA Today curtain-raises Condoleezza Rice's confirmation hearings. LINK

The Washington Times previews today's hearings, Noting the tough questions she'll get but ultimately, the "positive" conclusion to her testimony. LINK

On the Washington Post's op-ed page, Richard Holbrooke writes that the list of people being considered for leadership positions at the State Department tell you most of what you need to know about the kind of diplomacy a second Bush Administration intends to conduct: "more centrist, oriented toward problem-solving, essentially non-ideological, and focused on traditional diplomacy as a way to improve America's shaky image and relationships around the world." LINK

And yet, he writes, questions remain as to whether Cheney and Rumsfeld allies take other appointments, and whether Condoleezza Rice will be able to smooth out the factions set up in the first term pitting State against the Vice President and the Pentagon.

The inauguration:

The Washington Post's Dan Eggen and Sari Horwitz report that according to outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and a confidential threat assessment by the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice, no evidence exists of a terrorist plot to disrupt the President's inauguration. LINK

"The shift in rhetoric about the dangers posed by terrorists during the inauguration marks the latest retreat from last year's terrorism warnings, which, in retrospect, were based largely on faulty intelligence, dated information or -- as with the inauguration -- an educated guess."

"The change in posture also illustrates the extent to which sketchy scraps of wiretap information, interrogation reports and other intelligence, known colloquially as 'chatter,' form the basis for much of the government's analysis of the terrorism threat. It underscores a simmering political debate over whether last year's warnings were influenced by a presidential campaign in which national security figured prominently."

Thanks to Progress for America, Ashley Faulkner will attend the inauguration on Thursday. LINK

The New York Post claims Bernie Kerik is coming to the festivities. LINK

In its full coverage package focusing on the history and the pomp and circumstance of the inauguration (LINK), also offers exactly the kinds of interesting tidbits that jazz up both print stories and hours of commentary in the freezing cold. LINK

Social Security:

The Los Angeles Times' Tom Petruno and Walter Hamilton write that Wall Street and financial institutions have been strangely silent on the issue of overhauling Social Security. While brokerage houses and mutual fund companies stand to gain a lot in the privatization plan, " . . . the emotions triggered by President Bush's call for restructuring Social Security also have raised the risk that the financial industry could become a target of public ire." LINK


A government panel has recommended that doctors and hospitals get an increase of 2.7 percent for their Medicare re-imbursement payments, which is less than the five percent they would have automatically received. LINK

Bush second-term budget moves = field days for Robert Pear.

State of the States:

The Washington Post's Ceci Connolly uses the dramatic cuts that Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) has made in health insurance for the working poor -- cutting 323,000 low-income adults from the program and limiting services for 400,000 others -- to look at the larger problem of what governors are facing with health insurance and the states. LINK

"The announcement sent shivers through health care advocates nationwide who see in TennCare's retreat the start of a bleak trend to scale back government-paid care at the same time the private sector is trimming benefits. A day later, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) proposed giving Medicaid clients vouchers for private health coverage, making Florida the first state to let insurers set benefits for poor clients. And this week, New York Gov. George E. Pataki (R) is scheduled to slash $1 billion from his state's Medicaid program."


We should have a good idea, by the end of the day, of the pace of absentee voting and registration in the U.S. for the Jan. 30 Iraqi elections.

The New York Times' Monica Davey has a nice national overview. LINK

Dems regroup:

The Boston Globe's Scott Greenberger wraps Sen. John Kerry's speech during yesterday's Martin Luther King Jr. memorial breakfast, Noting that his angry words about voter suppression and shortages of voting machines that kept voters in line at the polls for hours, he "exhibited a passion that many of his critics found him to be lacking on the campaign trail -- a change in tenor he and his aides promised in several brief post-election comments." LINK

He also began laying the groundwork for a continued presence in the electoral debate -- and 2008. "Without offering details, Kerry aides said yesterday that the senator plans to file legislation to correct some of the election problems that occurred in 2000 and 2004. Aides also said that a political action committee he started after the election -- a committee that could lay the groundwork for a second presidential campaign in 2008 -- would also be dedicated to preventing disenfranchisement."

Apparently, Kerry and his aides have a strategy for him to show emotion now when talking to voters about America's future.



John Podhoretz sees Rep. Anthony Weiner as Mayor Mike Bloomberg's most formidable general election challenger. LINK

If you missed the Sharpton Show yesterday, you missed a lot. Michael Slackman of the New York Times gets as much of the theater in the paper as you reasonably could, but there was SO much more (the Reverend's daughter singing for starters!!!). LINK



The New York Times (along with the Post's Fred Dicker) has the story, suggesting that tree-hugging Robert Kennedy might join a field that already sort of includes Mark Green and Andrew Cuomo. The Times explicitly suggests that the tabloids would like this to happen. LINK

Roll Call's hard-charging Chris Cillizza reports that the NRCC has paid off its $3 million in debt, and year-end reports will show them with $2.7 million in the bank.

Cillizza also reports that John Lapp is moving to the DCCC to be executive director -- and then provides a handy tally of who is where at the campaign committees.


The New York Post on Sen. Clinton's pre-inauguration speech in Boston. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Scott Martelle looks at the new books by Newt Gingrich and Christine Todd Whitman that lay out competing visions for the future -- and the 2008 presidential race. LINK

Roll Call's Ben Pershing and Lauren Whittington offer their look at Gingrich 2008 -- or at least how he's positioning.

2004 redux:

USA Today's Mark Memmott reports that the firms that produced last fall's exit polls will issue a report soon -- to explain what happened with the surveys, and what, if anything, went wrong. LINK

Washington governor's race:

The Seattle Times' Andrew Garber looks at the election reforms on the table to prevent in the future the kind of uncertainty that accompanied the gubernatorial race in 2004. LINK

Chris McGann of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that state and county elections officials explained to a state Senate committee yesterday the kinds of problems they were dealing with. LINK