updated 10/17/2005 9:36:42 AM ET 2005-10-17T13:36:42

Like the lead in a Hollywood action flick, President Bush descended upon the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 2, 2003, in a Navy S-3B fighter jet, complete with a full fighter pilot uniform.

It was one of the most dissected moments of his first term, but without a doubt the most breathtaking.  The symbolism was as heavy as maple syrup-the emancipation of Iraq proclaimed on the ship dedicated to Abraham Lincoln; and the tough, Top Gun appeal of our cowboy Commander-in-Chief juxtaposed against the comparatively effete contenders on the blue side of the aisle.

It was cheesy, but it was brilliant.

But it was also misleading.  The sign behind him read "Mission Accomplished."  The mission hadn't even begun.

Tomorrow the Iraqis vote on a constitutional referendum derived from much deal-making and heartache among the Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites.  In an effort to highlight this historic moment and salute the troops helping to make it safe for the Iraqis, the President held a teleconference with 10 members of the Army's 42nd Infantry and one Iraqi soldier.

It had the makings of being this term's Top Gun moment.  Unfortunately, this rocket was a dud.  And just as that famous May day in 2003 captured the bravado and brawn of the President's first four years, this flaccid moment foreshadows the trouble to come as the White House struggles to keep neo-conservatives on message.

The event was highly choreographed to say the least.  Prior to the President's appearance, a Pentagon official named Allison Barber walked through each question with the soldiers.  While it was clear that the responses were not scripted, nearly every other moment was.  This made for awkward pauses when the President deviated from the script to pal around with the soldiers.

Bloggers bit, of course, and are choosing sides on this PR debacle.  Both sides of the blogosphere have valid points.  We are naive if we think that these photo ops aren't scripted-in general.  Plastic moments are the one truly bipartisan effort in Washington.  It is more the fact that this well-oiled machine, the Bush spinmeisters, would let the puppet strings show.  It indicates a change, a lack of focus.

Today we'll take a look at that moment, but we'll also look at the big picture in Iraq.  A panel of reporters will join us on this, the eve of the referendum.

Later, an update on Plamegate as Karl Rove is set to testify again.  Michael Isikoff is with us.

I hope you will be, as well.

Email me: Maciulis@msnbc.com

Today's blog links:

The Moderate Left
Wonkette
In the Bullpen
National Review - The Corner

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