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Jim Hightower
Jim Hightower
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Meet McCain's Economic Brain

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Tell me with whom you walk, goes an ancient adage, and I'll tell you who you are.

By this wisdom, John McCain is Phil Gramm, the sour old former Texas senator who leveraged his legislative power to land a lucrative position in 2002 as a Wall Street banker and lobbyist.

McCain is walking with Gramm on economic policy, having named him campaign co-chair last year and installed him as his top economics advisor. Of course, Phil still draws a paycheck from his Wall Street bank and, until May, even continued to lobby for it while going down the road with McCain, intermittently dispensing advice.

The candidate, who conceded earlier this year that he really doesn't understand much about economics, listens eagerly to his colleague from the Senate, whom Fortune magazine has dubbed "McCain's econ brain." The two say they confer every day, and, in a moment of exuberance in January, McCain gushed, "I respect no one more in America on issue(s) of economics than I do Phil Gramm."

However, his exuberance probably faded a shade on July 9, when it was reported in the Washington Times that Gramm had spewed some vitriol about the hoi polloi. Declaring that he had no patience with all these stories about people facing hard times, Gramm insisted that America has "sort of become a nation of whiners." The economy is rolling along just fine, he expounded, and people are merely wallowing in "a mental recession."

McCain quickly distanced himself from this unauthorized eruption by his econ brain, asserting that "Phil Gramm does not speak for me." This frantic bit of damage control, however, lacked punch for two reasons: first, McCain himself had adopted Gramm's not-to-worry position in April, remarking that a lot of America's economic problems "are psychological." Second, on the very day McCain was disowning Gramm as a spokesman, the grumpy advisor was in fact speaking for him in a meeting with the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

Pressure continued to mount, and Gramm was forced to resign as campaign co-chair.

As a Texan who lived under Gramm's senatorship, I can assure you that this will not be his only ill-considered utterance, for he's never had any appreciation for the real-life problems of the great unwashed, instead viewing the world through the doctrinaire lens of the extremist, laissez-faire economics professor he once was.

Among Gramm's past gems, for example, is this dismissive pronouncement about American poverty: "We're the only nation in the world where all our poor people are fat." As we used to say about this soulless ideologue, if you want to keep your beer real cold, put it next to Phil's heart.

One irony about Mr. Charm is that he holds a deep hatred for government assistance. This is strange, since there would be no Phil Gramm without the intrusive hand of government. His very birth was in a public hospital, with the tab covered by taxpayers. From grade school through his Ph.D., his education was in public schools (and his extended college days even gave him five deferments so he could avoid military service in the Vietnam era).

Until 2002, when Wall Street powerhouse UBS hired him from the Senate to be its top influence-peddler, Gramm spent his entire career drawing a government paycheck. Taxpayers are even down for the former-senator's burial expenses!

Yet, this is the fellow instructing McCain to slash the public role on everything from health care to Social Security. And if the Republican candidate wins the presidency, Gramm is widely believed to be his choice for treasury secretary — which would make him America's top economic official. Now wouldn't that be a scream?

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.



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