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.


NORTH KOREA UPDATE….Via OxBlog, I learn that the Bushies have apparently changed their tune about their refusal to negotiate with North Korea:

In a key policy shift, the United States said on Tuesday it was willing to talk to North Korea before Pyongyang ends its nuclear programs but stuck to its refusal to give the reclusive, Stalinist state incentives.

….”The United States is willing to talk to North Korea about how it will meet its obligations to the international community,” said a joint statement after talks in Washington among U.S., Japanese and South Korean officials.

Naturally I think this is good news, but why does OxBlog’s David Adesnik say this:

That’s good diplomacy. It shows flexibility by accepting North Korea’s demands for face to face talks but preserves the US demand that North Korea has to disarm before its substantive demands are met. Hopefully, the North will go along with this plan.

When he said this last Thursday:

Another significant difference between myself and the critics is that they stand united behind their insistence that Bush ought to negotiate with the North.

Explain yourself, David! Has five days made that much difference?

On a slightly different note, I don’t understand why giving North Korea diplomatic recognition counts as any sort of “concession” anyway. Hell, we ought to just do it unilaterally as a show of good faith and see how they react. I’ve always been a little perplexed by the peculiarly American notion that diplomatic recognition involves some kind of moral approval of a regime as opposed to a simple technical acknowledgment that a government has de facto control over their territory.

We should recognize North Korea not because of pressure they’re putting on us right now, but because we should have done it long ago. And as long as we’re at it, let’s recognize Cuba too. I’ve got some cigar smoking friends who might even vote for W in 2004 if he’d promise to ease up on the Cuban trade embargo and let in a few boatloads of Cohibas.

Nah, I’m lying. They still wouldn’t vote for him.