Political Animal


THE DEATH PENALTY….USA Today reports on a loose group of law professors and likeminded academics who are pro death penalty. As near as I can tell, their argument is that it’s not true that 100 innocent people have been put on death row and later released. In fact, they say, most of them were released on technicalities, and only about 30 or so were truly innocent.

Let me be the first to say that this is not exactly a strong argument. That’s still a big enough number that any fairminded person should be worried about it, especially since it’s a lower limit. If that many people have been wrongly convicted, it’s a dead certainty that there are additional innocents currently awaiting execution.

The death penalty has always been a curiosity to me. I don’t really have a philosophical objection to it, but let’s face it: the risk of killing innocent people is a really big practical objection. If you imprison someone and later find he’s innocent, at least you can free him and make restitution. You can’t do that after you’ve executed someone.

But the real curiosity is this: why are there so many people who are passionate about keeping the death penalty? What’s the emotional appeal? A life sentence without possibility of parole keeps murderers off the street just as effectively, but death penalty advocates are dead set against accepting this as a substitute. Even the risk of killing the occasional innocent person doesn’t keep them from demanding an eye for an eye.

Why is this?


THE MARKETING OF THE OPPOSITION….As a corollary to the post below, I watched James Carville trying desperately (and failing) to land a blow on Crossfire yesterday when his guest made the point that the dividend tax cut went mostly to seniors. I imagine the right response would be something like this:

You mean seniors like Martha Stewart and Ken Lay?

I don’t know for sure that this would work, but it’s probably better than the alternatives.


THE MARKETING OF THE PRESIDENT….I’ve been thinking about the presentation of Bush’s economic plan yesterday, and the more I think about it the more I admire it. Mind you, this is strictly from the point of view of a competitor admiring another competitor’s marketing coup.

Think about what Bush had to work with: he’s proposing a $300+ billion tax cut on dividends. Most of this will go to wealthy stockholders and is therefore open to attack as a standard Republican sop to the rich. So how does he sell it? Like this:

About half of all dividend income goes to America’s seniors, and they often rely on those checks for a steady source of income in their retirement. It’s fair to tax a company’s profits. It’s not fair to double tax by taxing the shareholder on the same profits.

So today, for the good of our senior citizens, and to support capital formation across the land, I’m asking the United States Congress to abolish the double taxation of dividends.

This is inspired marketing and follows the fundamental law of all brilliant marketing messages:

  • Technically, it is absolutely true

  • But it leaves an impression exactly the opposite of the truth.

The “seniors” who receive most of the benefits are actually wealthy retirees who keep most of their assets in stocks. But the impression the president leaves is that of a frail, aging grandmother depending on the $500 check she gets each quarter from the 1000 shares of General Public Utilities stock that her husband left her when he passed away.

I wonder who came up with this idea? It’s the kind of thing that’s only obvious after you hear it, and it’s absolutely devastating. Paul Krugman can write columns until his fingers fall off from carpal tunnel syndrome and it won’t change the impression that Bush left in just a few seconds of speaking. As a marketing guy who has struggled to figure out the best way to position products many times in the past, I give this effort an A+. It’s simply brilliant.