Sunday, September 26, 2010

Democrats and Dunkin' Donuts

As you have surely noticed, many businesses are organized as franchises. Fast-food restaurants, some auto-repair shops, and car dealers are examples. The point I want to make here is how these businesses advertise: centrally. GM does not take its advertising budget and hand it out to its dealerships to buy ads, nor does Perdue hand over its advertising dollars to its chicken farmers. Nearly all advertising in national franchises is done nationally. And I doubt the franchisees would wish it otherwise; it's hard to believe that Ernie Boch Toyota could do a better job of advertising the Camry than Toyota could.

Yet no one ever does this in politics. The job of the House and Senate campaign committees, and of the national committees, is to raise money for individual candidates to use on making their own commercials. Why does national advertising make sense for Dunkin' Donuts, but not for Democrats?

"All politics is local!" someone will say, meaning that voters really only care about local issues. Well (sorry, ghost of Tip O'Neill), that's not true. Democrats are having a tough time this year all over the country. This is not some bizarre coincidence; the fortunes of politicians of a particular party tend to rise and fall together. After all, some of the determinants of burger sales are local, too, but that doesn't mean a Hardee's franchise is worth as much as a McDonald's franchise. Even supposing that a Hardee's burger is better suited to local tastes, I'd rather own a McDonald's franchise, because it's a  brand name supported by a lot of advertising.

Clearly, Democrats have a brand-name problem. But before they decide that people don't like their product, they need to make sure people know what it is. And when misinformation is being spread nationally, why rely on locals to deal with it? In New Hampshire, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is running an ad accusing Paul Hodes, the Democratic candidate for Senate, of having voted for a "government takeover" of health care. Why should individual candidates be the ones to deal with this nonsense? (Especially since some of them don't seem to have the spine for it. Instead of hitting back, Hodes is running an ad which doesn't mention that he's a Democrat--the equivalent of running a burger ad and hoping people won't notice that you're a Hardee's. Coincidentally, the ad uses a hot-dog eating contest as a metaphor for those awful people in Congress.)

If we really are moving toward an increasingly polarized politics (which I think is, given the American constitutional system, not a good thing), let's have the parties duke it out one-on-one, with advertising and slogans and idiotic sound bites and the whole thing.  At least then people would know what they're voting for. More or less.

Why Californians Should Vote for Prop 19

In a nutshell, to keep us from destroying Mexico.

California's Proposition 19 would legalize possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana. The big argument people have been making in favor is that it would generate maybe $1 billion in tax revenue in a state with a huge budget crisis.

But I would say that the strongest argument is not fiscal but moral. You can't have missed the reports of the huge wave of drug-related violence in Mexico recently. It started after Mexico decided it had to take on the cartels, lest they end up controlling the government. As a result, hundreds of Mexican cops, soldiers, politicians, journalists, and bystanders have been killed.

What is rarely mentioned is that this violence is being funded by U.S. drug consumers. And so is the corruption of a nascent democracy. Americans near the border tend to think that Mexico is the problem. No, we are the problem, and it is Mexicans who are paying the price, a very high price.

It is our obligation to stop funding the cartels; unless you think you can successfully organize a boycott of marijuana, it appears that legalization (particularly of cultivation in small quantities) is the only way to do it. According to the RAND Corporation, legalization would lower the price by up to 80%. And there goes all the fun in smuggling pot. (The lower price would increase consumption by, well, who knows? Their guess is consumption might be equivalent to levels of the late '70s. Think Jimmy Carter, not Woodstock.)

True, the cartels' product line isn't limited to pot; it also includes cocaine, meth, and so on. But according to FBI testimony to Congress:

...marijuana is the top revenue generator for Mexican [cartels]—a cash crop that finances corruption and the carnage of violence year after year. The profits derived from marijuana trafficking—an industry with minimal overhead costs, controlled entirely by the traffickers—are used not only to finance other drug enterprises by Mexico’s poly-drug cartels, but also to pay recurring “business” expenses, purchase weapons, and bribe corrupt officials. 

Not all of this money comes from California, of course. Nor would eliminating all marijuana profits to the cartels make them disappear. But they would take a big hit to their wallets, and therefore their power. We owe it to Mexico.