Political Animal


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.


IT’S A FEATURE, NOT A BUG….A friend of my mother’s decided to get a cat the other day, so she went down to our local shelter and picked one out. This was the first time she had owned a cat, and the next day she called my mother and told her worriedly that she thought maybe the cat was sick. “All he does is lie around and sleep all day,” she said.

My mother just laughed.

WORDS MATTER….The LA Times ran

WORDS MATTER….The LA Times ran a story today about David Frum’s new book. Here’s an excerpt about Bush advisor Karen Hughes:

It was Hughes who laid down various rules for speech writers, Frum says: Parents would be referred to as “moms and dads”; “tax cuts” would be called “tax relief,” to come across as “a healing balm.”

In Slate today, here is William Saletan:

Three years ago, when George W. Bush ran for president, he popularized a new name for the estate tax….The calculation was simple….The estate tax sounded good. The death tax sounded bad. Bad enough, it turned out, to get Congress to phase out the tax as part of Bush’s 2001 tax-cut package.

Now Republicans are taking the technique one step further. You don’t have to die to shed the stigma of wealth. You just have to age. Rich people have become “senior citizens.”….Monday, a reporter asked White House spokesman Ari Fleischer whether most beneficiaries of a dividend tax repeal would be “well above the average” financially. Fleischer replied, “More than half the money from dividend taxation [relief] goes to seniors.”

And here is a third excerpt, this time from Al Franken’s Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, possibly the funniest book ever written about politics. The subject is a memo from Newt Gingrich explaining the kinds of words Republican politicians should use:

There are two lists, actually. One contains “Optimistic, Positive Governing Words,” which the candidate is told to use to “describe your vision for the future of your community (your message).” The other, a list of “Contrasting Words,” which the candidate could use to defame, slander, and otherwise impugn his/her opponent.

Republican Words

Democratic Words

  • courage

  • reform

  • candid

  • hard work

  • common sense

  • empower

  • etc.

  • pathetic

  • decay

  • traitors

  • taxes

  • bizarre

  • liberal

  • etc.

This may all sound horribly Orwellian, but it’s a fact of life that words matter, and the right word at the right time can leave an indelible impression. Millions of Americans now think that Bush’s tax cut is aimed at coupon-clipping senior citizens trying to make ends meet on a fixed income. They simply don’t realize that Jack Welch and Warren Buffett are also “seniors.”

In contrast, the best the Democrats could come up with was “We stimulate the job market; the president stimulates the stock market.” The DNC needs to come up with better talking points and a list of “governing words” of their own. I wonder if anyone is working on this?

UPDATE: Steve Messina of No More Mister Nice Blog points me to the full memo written by Newt. If you want to learn how to “speak like Newt,” the answer is right here.