Sock Puppet Politics
October 19, 2004
Pundits too often debate whether George W. Bush is the political heir to President McKinley or President Reagan. In reality, the President’s political style most resembles the once ubiquitous Pets.com Sock Puppet.
Pets.com, with its prominent ad campaign featuring the cute Sock Puppet, was one of the most notable dot.com crash and burn stories. The company fetched $82.5 million in its IPO based solely on what it delivered – $5.8 million in net revenue – as investors ignored the bigger picture revealing $61.8 million in losses.
Nine months later, the affable Sock Puppet was unemployed and became the poster puppy for the irrational exuberance of the dot.com era when hype triumphed over substance.
The two main planks of the Bush campaign – the administration’s tax cuts and the war in Iraq – rely on what I call “Sock Puppet Politics.” Like Pets.com and the Sock Puppet before him, Bush is counting on voters to be persuaded by his affability and the two prizes delivered – tax cuts and Saddam Hussein’s capture – and not focus on the bigger picture of the costs of these prizes.
Since financial markets require companies to disclose their balance sheets, investors ultimately recognized Pets.com as a poor investment and moved their money elsewhere. In contrast, the Sock Puppet can easily survive in politics since the political “market” rarely focuses on the costs of a prize.
That is why Bush will remind voters that last year his tax cuts on average put over $1,500 in people’s pockets and created 1.4 million new jobs. You can be sure, however, that the Bush campaign won’t highlight the fact that (i) the median tax cut in 2003 was only $470; (ii) the 1.4 million jobs came at a cost of $756 billion through 2004 or $540,000 per job; (iii) the tax cuts have led to a $20.2 billion annual increase in state taxes and 35% increase in tuition at state universities since 2001; or (iv) your individual share of the increase in the national debt due to the tax cuts exceeds $9,000.
He certainly won’t tell you that Canada recovered from the same recession with higher job growth and its surplus intact by using more modest tax cuts targeted at the middle-class.
President Bush also relies on Sock Puppet Politics when he states time and time again that we are safer with Saddam Hussein in jail. Of course a world with Saddam in jail is better than a world with him in power, but this ignores the bigger picture. After an investment of $120 billion and 8,580 soldiers killed or wounded in the war, the question is not whether we captured Saddam but whether we are more secure.
“We surely are not,” according to Diplomats & Military Commanders for Change, a group of 27 former diplomats and military officers (all but three of whom served under Republican presidents), and instead are “less safe, and more vulnerable to new terrorist attacks” as a result of the war.
This is evident when you consider the fact that al Qaeda has been able to regroup and is now in 60 countries, Afghanistan is deteriorating as the Taliban has regained control over parts of the country, North Korea has produced nuclear weapons and has the capability of striking the United States, and Iran is rapidly advancing towards joining the nuclear club.
This would be an entirely different race if the Bush administration, like all public companies, had to clearly disclose to the American “shareholders” that your $470 tax break actually costs you nearly $10,000 in additional state taxes and debt payments; or if the political world had the equivalent of Merrill Lynch to inform us that had we not invaded Iraq, the money and resources used by the war could have been used to make us more secure than we are today.
That is why the key to this election for the Bush campaign is not NASCAR dads or security moms, but whether voters embrace the myopic world of the Sock Puppet. Let us hope instead that reason again prevails over irrational exuberance or we will have to worry about explaining to our grandchildren why the face of a sock puppet is on Mount Rushmore.