Opinion: Phil Gramm’s ‘whiners’ comment causes John McCain a headache


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Lord save the presidential candidates from their allies, Chapter Two.

Last week, it was Barack Obama who saw his carefully crafted speech on patriotism overshadowed because backer Wesley Clark had made a controversial statement about John McCain getting shot down as a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War.

Today, it was McCain’s turn to watch as his recent effort to show he understands the economic hard times that many Americans are experiencing got stepped on by an old friend and top advisor.

In an interview with the Washington Times, former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm termed the current economic slowdown ‘a mental recession.’

He added: ‘We may have a recession; we haven’t had one yet.’

And then he showed why his own presidential bid in 1996 quickly crashed and burned, calling the United States ‘a nation of whiners.’


Obama, campaigning in Virginia, recognized the gift that had been handed him. Referencing the ‘mental recession’ remark, he said Gramm ‘didn’t say this, but I guess what he meant was, ‘It’s a figment of your imagination, these high gas prices.’ ‘

He continued: ‘Sen. Gramm then deemed the United States, and I quote ‘a nation of whiners.’ ‘

Milking the moment for all it was worth as his crowd both laughed and booed, Obama delivered a punch line that gave the cable networks one of the day’s prime sound-bites: ‘I want all of you to know that America already has one Dr. Phil, we don’t need another one.’

McCain distanced himself from his blunt-spoken supporter at a news conference in Michigan.

‘I don’t agree with Sen. Gramm,’ he said. ‘I believe the person in Michigan that just lost his job isn’t suffering from a mental recession. I believe the mother ... who is trying to get enough money to educate her children, isn’t whining. America is in great difficulty.

‘Phil Gramm does not speak for me,’ McCain said. ‘I speak for me. I strongly disagree.’

McCain later came up with his own sound-bite. Asked whether Gramm was a contender to head the Treasury Department in a McCain administration, he cracked: ‘I think that Sen. Gramm would be in serious consideration for ambassador to Belarus, although I’m not sure the citizens of Minsk would welcome that.’


Gramm apparently has no interest in another government job, because he ...

... stoutly stood by his analysis.

‘I’m not going to retract any of it. Every word I said was true,’ he told the Washington Post.

He then elaborated.

‘When I said we’ve become a nation of whiners, I’m talking about our leaders. I’m not talking about our people,’ he said. ‘We’ve got every kind of excuse in the world about oil prices -- we’ve got speculators, the oil companies to blame -- but too many people don’t have a program to get on with a job of producing.’

‘If you listen to our leaders, we can’t compete against Mexico, for God’s sake,’ Gramm added. ‘If they don’t think we can compete against Mexico, who can we compete against?’

About those GOP efforts to woo the Latino vote...

-- Michael Muskal and Don Frederick