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Published: Tuesday, 7/15/2008

Foot in mouth

IN THIS extraordinary election season, contested by two ground-breaking candidates, another oddity keeps recurring in both presidential camps. We might call it "Aides Say the Darndest Things." But what former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, a top adviser to Republican Sen. John McCain on the economy, said last week was particularly stupid and arrogant.

In an interview with the Washington Times, Mr. Gramm sought to be a cheerleader on the economy. That should be understood as the context, but it is not a context that redeems the speaker. These are the relevant excerpts as reported by the paper:

"You've heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession," he said, noting that growth has held up at about 1 percent despite all the publicity over losing jobs to India, China, illegal immigration, housing and credit problems, and record oil prices. "We may have a recession; we haven't had one yet."

Despite a major export boom that is the primary reason that growth continues in the economy. Mr. Gramm asserted, "We have sort of become a nation of whiners. You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America in decline."

"We've never been more dominant; we've never had more natural advantages than we have today," he added.

The story went on to report how Mr. Gramm, now a vice chairman of UBS, the huge Swiss bank, talked up the benefits of globalization and blamed the media for harping on the economy's problems. "Misery sells newspapers," he said. "Thank God the economy is not as bad as you read in the newspaper every day."

Yes, there is something called consumer confidence and the economy is affected by perceptions, good and bad. But there are words to make the case for confidence without insulting the American people. In the midst of the Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt looked reality in the face and declared: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

No such grace devolved to Pollyanna Phil. He recklessly ignored the plain fact that ordinary Americans don't have to buy a newspaper to sense trouble. They only have to fill up their car with gas at more than $4 a gallon, put pricey food in a supermarket cart, or go down to the courthouse and see the foreclosure filings.

Or as Senator McCain said, quickly repudiating the explosive recklessness of his adviser's stop-your-whining remarks, a person who just lost a job "isn't suffering from a mental recession."

Absolutely right.

That mental recession is the personal property of Mr. Gramm, who did no favors to his candidate by offering proof that the elitist conservative mindset is out of touch with the lives of ordinary Americans.



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