Sunday, July 13, 2008

Feeling No Pain

July 12, 2008

Op-Ed Columnist

Feeling No Pain


A pro basketball player named Micheal (yes, that’s the way he spells it) Ray Richardson once famously said of the New York Knicks franchise: “The ship be sinking.”

When a reporter asked him how far it could sink, Richardson reportedly replied: “Sky’s the limit.”

Something similar might be said about today’s economy, although Phil Gramm, a remarkably out-of-touch former senator from Micheal Ray’s home state of Texas , would beg to differ. You may have lost your job or the family home. Or maybe you’re behind in your car payment or your health insurance premium. Perhaps you can’t afford the gas to get to work.

Phil Gramm will have none of your complaints: Get over it! Stop whining and eat your gruel. This recession’s all in your head.

No one (not even John McCain, who tended toward the rapturous when describing Mr. Gramm’s economic bona fides) could mistake this sour-visaged investment banker for a populist.

“We’re the only nation in the world,” Mr. Gramm once said, “where all our poor people are fat.”

During one of the many Republican assaults on Social Security, the issue of cutting back benefits for the elderly came up in the Senate. “They are 80-year-olds,” howled Mr. Gramm. “Most people don’t have the luxury of living to be 80 years old, so it’s hard for me to feel sorry for them.”

John McCain, whose Straight Talk Express ran out of gas long ago, tried to paper over the implications of Mr. Gramm’s unseemly outburst this week about the very real suffering that has descended on millions of Americans. “Phil Gramm does not speak for me,” said Senator McCain. “I speak for me.”

But the truth is that Mr. Gramm, a close friend of Senator McCain’s for many years, has had a very loud say in the economic policies of the McCain presidential campaign. And those policies are an extension of the G.O.P. orthodoxy that is threatening to sink the ship of state, even as the very wealthy are dancing mindlessly to the music of another Gilded Age.

In the real world, somewhere outside of Phil Gramm’s field of vision, increasing numbers of Americans are working two and three jobs to make ends meet; struggling families are worried sick in July about what it will cost to heat their homes in January; food costs and home foreclosures are soaring; the job market has tanked; and the stock markets are running with the bears.

In that kind of atmosphere, it’s beyond obscene to have to listen to some platinum-card-carrying fat cat tell us, in a tone dripping with condescension: “You’ve heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession.”

What does it say about John McCain’s judgment that this guy was one of his top — and possibly his pre-eminent — economic adviser? What does it say about Mr. McCain’s judgment that in 1996, he believed Phil Gramm was the best choice to be president?

The biggest failing of both parties in this presidential campaign has been the unwillingness to be forthright with the public about the true extent of the crises facing the country. The federal government and ordinary Americans are up to their eyeballs in debt. Much of the financial sector is in deep trouble, with previously blue-chip companies wobbling along on legs as rubbery as a bad check.

Perpetual war in Iraq and oil prices spiking toward the moon are adding to a sense of national paralysis. Where is the money to invest in ventures that will create good new jobs, that will chart new directions in energy self-sufficiency, that will revitalize the public schools, rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, put New Orleans back on its feet?

Where are the grand ideas, the ideas worthy of a great nation?

Barack Obama got a lot of play with his clever response to the Phil Gramm madness. “You know, America already has one Dr. Phil,” said Mr. Obama. “When it comes to the economy, we don’t need another.”

Cute. But woefully inadequate. The Democrats, timid as always, should be pounding the populist pavement from one coast to another, explaining how the reckless and deliberately inequitable policies of the past several years have gotten the U.S. into this terrible fix.

We should be getting chapter and verse about how badly the war in Iraq is hurting us here at home. We should be seeing charts and graphs explaining how ordinary Americans, now the hardest-working people on the planet, have been cheated out of their share of the extraordinary productivity improvements they’ve racked up over the years.

There should be a sense of urgency coming from the Democrats in this campaign, a clarion call compelling enough to rally the legions who have been treated unfairly and badly hurt in the nation’s other undeclared war: the class war.

Phil Gramm was a general in that conflict, and there was nothing cute about it.


Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center , 325 E. 25th St. , Baltimore , MD 21218 . Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

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