Seemed like a valiant effort last week by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to put President Bush's free fall in the polls into some historical perspective.

"President Harry Truman," Rumsfeld said at a press briefing, "now remembered as a fine president, would leave office in 1953 with an approval rating of about 25 percent, one of the lowest recorded ratings since folks started measuring those things." That's even lower than Bush's 35 to 39 percent ratings these days.

"Back then," Rumsfeld recalled, "a great many people questioned whether young Americans should face death and injury in Korea, thousands of miles from home, for a result that seemed uncertain at best. And today the answer is the Korean peninsula."

So Iraq is just like postwar Germany and also like Korea?

We hear folks at the White House were most unhappy with Rumsfeld's Truman invocation. A half-century is a long time for a politician to wait for vindication.

Unlikely Diplomatic Look-Alikes

Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes says she's "really enjoying my new role," though she's "still adjusting a little."

"I'll be walking through the airport or the grocery store and somebody will say 'Ambassador,' and I sort of look around for who they're talking to," she said Friday at a luncheon of the Women's Foreign Policy Group.

"But you don't have to worry about any recognition going to my head," she assured the crowd. "I was on a little commuter plane in California not too long ago," she noted, "and the pilot . . . [of] this very, very small airplane, came back, and he was so excited when he saw me, and he said 'I'm so glad to see you.' He said 'I never thought I'd have Madeleine Albright on my airplane!' " The crowd laughed. The former secretary of state is much shorter.

She recounted her "all-time favorite recognition story," which occurred on a Caribbean cruise earlier this year on the ship's elevator.

"Two kind of elderly ladies got on the elevator, and one of them looked at me, and then she looked away. And then she looked at me and stared, and she elbowed her friend in the ribs. And in a loud stage whisper she said 'Condi Rice is on this elevator!' That one brought the house down. 'Condi loves that story,' " Hughes said. The secretary of state has darker hair.

Partisan Barbs Take a Trivial Turn

It started as a mini-political squabble in Montana. The Big Sky Democrats recently posted a blog on their Web site that ridicules Erik Iverson, chief of staff to Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), calling him Rehberg's "Mini Me." There was a doctored photo of Iverson sitting on Rehberg's lap, a la the movie "Austin Powers."

A blogger named "the red elephant," fired back: "I have lived in Missoula for a long time now so I am used to the Democrat's cheap shots at the Republicans but this is so childish it's absurd."

The Big Sky Dems then skewered "red elephant," and accused Iverson of posing as the rouge pachyderm. They told people to e-mail Iverson at Red Elephant's e-mail address: mtredstate@hotmail.com.

Next thing you know, the lawyers are weighing in.

The House general counsel's office wrote the Big Sky folks on Oct. 28. "Please be advised that Mr. Iverson is not 'the red elephant,' " assistant House counsel Christine Davenport said.

"To eliminate possible false light, invasion of privacy and defamation tort problems," Davenport said, citing some famous Montana cases such as Lence v. Hagadone Investment Company, she told the Dems to "post a correction on your website immediately" and "include in your correction" that Iverson can't be reached at that e-mail address.

Fat chance. The Dems' lawyer, James H. Goetz, blasted Iverson for "inappropriate[ly]" involving the counsel's office and threatening legal action "in this rather silly and trivial partisan matter."

No correction, Goetz said in a letter to Davenport. This is constitutionally protected "political speech" and "Iverson (as well as Mini Me) are public figures." But the Big Sky Dems will post Iverson's letter, he said, "as a link to the allegedly offending blog post and include" Iverson's correct House e-mail address.

Davenport didn't respond to our request to chat.

Changes of Address

The second-term White House team is taking shape. Steven S. McMillin, a top aide to former senator Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) and more recently program associate director at the Office of Management and Budget, is now an adviser to Chief of Staff Andrew Card.

Douglas B. Baker, former deputy assistant secretary at the Commerce Department is now a special assistant to the president and director of Border and Transportation Security. Rudy Fernandez, former deputy assistant secretary for governmental affairs at the Transportation Department, has moved in to be special assistant for intergovernmental affairs. Daniel W. Fisk, former deputy assistant secretary of state for Latin America, has moved to the National Security Council to be senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs.

From top: Karen Hughes, Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice.