Last Thursday, McCain campaign economic advisor Phil Gramm received a lot of flak for saying the following:
“We have sort of become a nation of whiners. You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America in decline,” said the former Texas senator. “You’ve heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession.”
Later, Gramm clarified his comments by saying he was referring to the leaders, not the people. Yet, I think his true meaning was that of the people. Certainly, leaders can be whiners, but what about the people?
Consider what we’ve seen. Rising gas and food prices, an unpopular war, loss of jobs, and leaders who don’t seem too intent on doing much about it; just rhetoric. I think, under such conditions, the people are damned right to complain.
There are things for which government is directly responsible. Starting and planning wars, running any socialized healthcare institutions, gathering intelligence, and keeping the country safe, to name a few. If the citizens feel that the government is doing a bad job at any of these things, they certainly have a right to express their concerns.
Yet, there are situations where government cannot help. For instance, despite all the claims of job creation by every president in recent history, they can not be directly responsible for doing that. They can try and push an agenda that creates an environment where companies feel more comfortable opening up new positions. Also, rising gas and food prices are (mostly) unrelated to government action or inaction, as is most of the economy.
I think Gramm refers to the second set of scenarios, or those things government can’t really control. For example, take gas prices. Day in and day out, I see people say, “Why isn’t the government doing anything about gas prices?!” without realizing it really can’t do anything. The economic system in this country is still more-or-less a private sector thing. Under these conditions, the anger people are displaying is very misplaced. Instead, they should be asking why the gas prices are so high, of which the Iraq war is only a small part of the question.
Is Gramm’s statement politically smart? Of course not; nobody wants to be told they’re a whiner. But is it true? Maybe.