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Thursday, July 10, 2008

McCain's Bitter-Gate

by dday

By now you may have heard that McCain's top economic adviser, former Senator Phil Gramm, thinks that all of you pathetic "hard-working people" who don't appreciate the value of concentrating money in the hands of the super-rich are just a bunch of whiners.

In an interview with the Washington Times, Phil Gramm, a former Texas senator who is now vice chairman of UBS, the giant Swiss bank, said he expects Mr. McCain to inherit a sluggish economy if he wins the presidency, weighed down above all by the conviction of many Americans that economic conditions are the worst in two or three decades and that America is in decline.

"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."

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

As S,N notes, this is the "let them eat cake" Antionette-ism that has been at the heart of the Republican Party since the Gilded Age. Their entire project is to view the federal Treasury as a bank holding the money for their wealthy contributors until they decide to dole it out to them. So they construct policies that benefit the top one-half of 1%. When you hear about The Wrecking Crew, this is their objective.

Fantastic misgovernment is not an accident; nor is it the work of a few bad individuals. It is the consequence of triumph by a particular philosophy of government, by a movement that understands the liberal state as a perversion and considers the market the ideal nexus of human society. [...] Its leaders laugh off the idea of the public interest as airy-fairy nonsense; they caution against bringing top-notch talent into government service; they declare war on public workers. [...] The ruination they have wrought has been thorough; it has been a professional job. [...] There is so much money in conservatism these days that Karl Rove rightly boasts, "We can now go to students at Harvard and say, 'There is now a secure retirement plan for Republican operatives.'" [...]

Like Bush and Reagan before him, John McCain is a self-proclaimed outsider, but should he win in November he will merely bring us more of the same: an executive branch fed by, if not actually made up of, lobbyists and other angry, righteous profiteers.

The McCain campaign, already rocked by the candidate calling the Social Security system as a concept a disgrace (and trying to backpedal furiously to little effect), has no idea what to do with this latest example of letting the economic royalist slip show. At first, and let us not forget this, they stood by the remarks.

The McCain campaign is working hard to distance itself from statements made by economic adviser Phil Gramm describing the current economic downturn as a "mental recession" and saying America had "sort of become a nation of whiners."

But in an initial statement published by Politico and then, seemingly, removed from its site, a McCain campaign aide actually stood by Gramm's remarks, saying the interview as a whole was merely meant as a preview of the Senator's economic agenda.

"Mr. Gramm was simply saying that we are laying out the economic plan this week," the piece quoted a "McCain official" as saying. "The plan is comprehensive, providing immediate near-term relief for Americans hurting today as well as longer-term solutions to get our economy back on track, secure our energy future and deliver jobs, prosperity and opportunity for the next generation. We're laying out that plan this week with an emphasis on the critical importance of job creation, and it's been a great success so far."

And Sen. Obama took McCain to task for these comments.

"One of Senator McCain’s top economic advisors may think that when people are struggling with lost jobs, stagnant wages, and the rising costs of everything from gas to groceries, it’s merely a ‘mental recession’. And Senator McCain may think it’s sufficient to offer energy proposals that he admits will have mainly ‘psychological’ benefits. But the American people know that our economic problems aren’t just in their heads. They don’t need psychological relief -- they need real relief -- and that’s what Barack Obama will provide as President," Obama spokesman Bill Burton writes.

I seem to remember a very large scandal played off of one Obama quote at a private fundraiser, about how "bitter" rural voters cling to God and guns. Gee, here we have the top economic adviser to the Republican nominee saying that any American facing the real costs of failed conservative economic policies, struggling to pay for gas or health care or food, trying to keep their job in an era of stagnant wages and rising costs, trying to keep their home in the midst of crisis, is a "whiner." The media might want to look up from their barbecue and cornbread and pay attention. This is a major Kinsley-esque gaffe, which is what happens when someone tells the truth about their objectives. McCain and his fellow travelers don't care about the economic problems of 99% of America.


As a somewhat long-ish aside, and a pre-buttal to the "Obama's just the same" crowd - As you all know I've been a major critic of Obama's FISA vote. I have been indirectly and, often, directly warned by his more aggressive supporters that I'm wasting energy and hurting efforts to elect him, which is ridiculous. At the same time, I can't believe that this wasn't a far bigger story, particularly in the blogosphere.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama proposed overhauling bankruptcy laws on Tuesday to ease the impact on people unable to pay their bills because of medical expenses or military service.

Obama, an Illinois senator, took aim at a 2005 overhaul of bankruptcy laws, which was strongly supported by credit card companies and other consumer lenders, that made it tougher for people facing personal bankruptcy to discharge debt.

"I'll reform our bankruptcy laws to give Americans who find themselves trapped in debt a second chance," Obama said at a town hall event in Powder Springs, Georgia, outside of Atlanta.

"While Americans should pay what they owe and we should be fair to those creditors who were fair to their borrowers, we also have to do more for the struggling families who need help the most," he added

I don't know if any of you remember, but the 2005 bankruptcy bill was kind of a big deal. Much like FISA, it had no public constituency, was written largely by lobbyists (this time in the credit card and banking industries), and was an unnecessary ripping of the social safety net at a time when rising health care costs were bankrupting increasing numbers of people. Now, with the mortgage crisis and higher prices on commodities, that number is increasing. Personal bankruptcy filings were up 30% in the first six months of 2007. Paul Krugman called it the beginnings of the debt peonage society, a major advance in the privatization of risk that has contributed to the stratification of income inequality. Joe Biden received the moniker (D-MBNA) for his efforts shepherding through the bill, and it's why he was hated throughout the blogosphere from 2005-2008. This was one of the major betrayals of the last decade, and it loomed large in the creation of the larger blogosphere.

Now Barack Obama becomes one of the only Senators ever to even talk about reforming the bill, and... CRICKETS?


FISA is terribly important, because core Constitutional rights cannot be trampled upon in a supposedly free society. But the heinous bankruptcy bill is also important, and while not diminishing the importance of the 4th Amendment, it's more immediately visceral to people's lives. People who are finding it impossible to pay their bills, whether because of a catastrophic health issue (1/2 of all personal bankruptcies) or a bad mortgage or an extended stop-loss in Iraq, have almost no recourse but to climb on an endless treadmill of payments to their creditors. We have locked in place a permanent underclass of people working for their debt. Now we have a Presidential candidate making the repeal of this nonsense a plank of his agenda.

I don't know if I'd go as far as Nathan Newman and call Obama a populist. And I think the dissent against some of his recent moves, particularly on FISA and his rhetorical sellout to the far right by bringing up mental illness and late-term abortion practices, is entirely warranted. But there has to be a balance. There's a tunnel vision in the blogs right now, with everyone wedded to the "betrayal" narrative with respect to Obama. I can understand why, in this age of Democratic betrayal, people would think that. But if you can recognize those places where Obama has fallen down, you can also recognize those where he stood up, in fact taller than any leading Democrat, on an issue that was part of the progressive core not but three years ago.

I'm not going to like everything Obama does, and I won't stop putting pressure on him to enact a progressive agenda that meets with my values. But I'm also not going to refuse to acknowledge those places where Obama is being bold, and I'm going to praise him for them.