“I suggest, you know, obviously, maybe they (AIG executives) ought to be removed. I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better toward them if they’d follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, I’m sorry, and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide. And in the case of the Japanese, they usually commit suicide before they make an apology.”
That’s what Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said in an attention-grabbing way Monday night on an Iowa radio station as a way of illustrating Americans’ outrage at the news that more than 70 executives of federal bailout recipient AIG had been paid a total of $165 million in bonuses.
It wasn’t surprising that news headlines and sound bites in the last 24 hours have highlighted the suggestion that AIG executives should kill themselves. The Senator’s comments were a huge hit on the Internet thanks to viral and social media sharing. Grassley spokesman Casey Mills issued a statement on Tuesday: “Senator Grassley has said for some time now that generally speaking, executives who make a mess of their companies should apologize, as Japanese executives do,” Mills said. “He says the Japanese might even go so far as to commit suicide but he doesn’t want U.S. executives to do that.”
Not surprisingly, Mills’ “clarification” did not make headlines or rack up big viewership numbers on social media sites; Grassley’s analogy did, which, we presume, was the whole point from a savvy old pol like the Senator. Or was it? Did he actually shoot from the hip when he could have been more artful?
In general, we counsel our clients to find an analogy that will make the sound bite memorable. Some analogies can go a little too far. What do you think? Did Grassley’s remarks help a rising tide of popular indignation crest by capturing the national anger? Was it an effective tactic? Or did he go overboard by intimating that executives ought to commit suicide, even if he didn’t “mean it” literally? And what of his characterization of Japanese business practices? Was it stereotypical and borderline racist, or an apt comparison?