Saturday, July 12, 2008

Finding the other side

I set myself a challenge, one that turned out not to be very hard. By now, pretty much all of us have heard the comments by former senator, current Swiss banker, and McCain adviser Phil Gramm that the U.S. is in a "mental recession," that we have "become a nation of whiners," that "we've never been more dominant," that the media is largely responsible for the current mood ("Misery sells newspapers").

I'm not going to spend any time picking through the rubble that is the career of Phil Gramm. Suffice it to say that he is the very picture of the kind of politician that has made them the least trusted group of people in America, a back-slapping, deal-cutting, double-dealing, favor-mongering bundle of corruption and quasi-corruption. That this retread is anywhere near a modern presidential campaign is testimony to the disturbing old boys' club that passes for the McCain election apparatus.

As for my challenge, I decided to see how long it would take to find someone who contends Gramm's comments are spot on. It took no time at all (thanks, Google). A site called Chicago Boyz, written by writers who purport to be former classmates at the University of Chicago, features a post from a Jonathan that begins, "Phil Gramm spoke the truth." (To give you a sense of this site, there is a post from another writer who believes that the presidency of Barack Obama will fall somewhere between the leadership of Jimmy Carter and Robert Mugabe, so overwrought writing seems to be their thing.)

You can read the post for yourself, it's not worth quoting. The line of reasoning is, essentially, that the economy is doing fine, a little slow, but essentially is in good shape. But the media economy is in big trouble, so journalists are projecting their own fears onto the populace. Not only is the press working out its personal issues, but they want to get Obama elected, so have a big stake in making things look bad. OK, one quote: "Gramm was merely pointing out what was already obvious to serious observers."

The post says nothing more substantive than that about the actual economy, but does go on to criticize McCain and Obama. McCain is panicking, Obama is glib and arrogant.

I'm not going to go through the reality of today's economy and the risks and challenges that America faces. I've done it before, heck, almost everyone's done it, and it seems remarkably foolish to deny that the economy is in some trouble. The dialogue should be about what we can do to deal with our problems, not to slip into a state of total denial and let current trends continue.

But, even if you believe that strongly in laissez faire, Phil Gramm is almost certainly your worst champion. The man who while in office spearheaded the destruction of regulations that might have curbed the Enron disaster (but did wangle his wife a well-compensated seat on Enron's board) is not the poster child for counterintuitive beliefs. Even if he were right, and he's not, he's the last person any campaign should want out there, trying to convince the public of things they know are wrong.

And that's where you get real nervous about McCain. The Fiorinas, the Gramms, the Petersons, these are people with questionable track records and a huge lack of credibility. Does the maverick really believe that these are the horses to ride, or is he just so ill-informed that they seem OK? Either way, it bodes poorly for a McCain administration.

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