Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What’s In A Name?

A bailout by any other name would smell just a foul. Or would it?

The Bard may have captured the essence (pun intended) of the smell test, but then again he didn’t run for elected office. Nor did he live in a media saturated, image drenched world as we do. Therefore, when Bush left it up to the political tone deaf Treasury Secretary and Fed Chairman to be the messengers of the plan to rescue the US and world economy, he violated the primary rule of any political action – control the message. And controlling the message means framing the issue properly with a title that captures the essence of the desired action and one that will help win the hearts and minds of voters and their representatives. After all, who is in favor of a bailout of any sort? Least of all one for the “New York City fatcats (who) expect Joe Sixpack to buck up and pay for all of this nonsense*”?

To some, what you call something may appear to be trivial. However, behavioral scientists (and common sense) will tell you that many decisions made in life (including investing matters) are not done in a dispassionate, rational manner but by using mental shorthand tools (heuristics). And part and parcel of that process is how you frame the issue (framing). Therefore, if you let something get framed as a “bailout”, that’s what it will be perceived as.

So, as many members of the House rethink their profiles in cowardice by putting re-election before country, perhaps the administration and congressional leaders might consider a better process of explaining more clearly to the American public and their highly re-election conscious representatives what it is at stake.

The “Rescue America from a Depression” bill may not be the best smelling sausage to come out of Washington, but the stench of a deep recession will smell a heck of lot worse.

*Rep. Ted Poe (R), Texas

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