Sock Puppet Politics
October 19, 2004
By Bennet Kelley
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
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
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
"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.
Bennet Kelley is author of "President Bush: The False
Prophet of the Christian Right" which appears in Big Bush
Lies (RiverWood Books 2004), publisher of BushLies.net
and a dot-com survivor.