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On the Trail: DR. PHIL GRAMM IS IN

Diagnosis? Excessive whining

July 11, 2008|Peter Nicholas

Here are a few permissible ways a presidential campaign can describe American voters: hardworking, decent, caring.

And here's one that won't cut it: whiners.

John McCain found himself in a difficult spot Thursday, confronted with a mini-tempest involving one of his economic advisors, former Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas. In an interview with the Washington Times, Gramm said: "We have sort of become a nation of whiners."

He also downplayed concerns about the economy. "You've heard of a mental depression; this is a mental recession," he said.

Barack Obama, who has had his own troubles with incautious campaign surrogates, seized on the remarks. Speaking at a school in Fairfax, Va., he said the nation needed a candidate who accepted that the country was in a downturn.

"Phil Gramm said we're merely in a 'mental recession' -- that's what he said," Obama noted as the audience booed. "I guess what he meant was [the economic crisis] is a figment of your imagination."

He mentioned Gramm's "nation of whiners" line -- a comment that made the crowd hiss. "Now, I want you to know, America already has one Dr. Phil. We don't need another one."

At a news conference in Belleville, Mich., McCain distanced himself from Gramm.

"I don't agree with Sen. Gramm," he said. "I believe that the person here in Michigan that just lost his job isn't suffering a mental recession. . . . America is in great difficulty and we are experiencing enormous economic challenges, as well as others. Phil Gramm does not speak for me. I speak for me. So I strongly disagree."

An Obama aide noted that as McCain said Gramm didn't speak for him, Gramm was, in fact, speaking for him. The former Texas senator spoke about McCain's economic policies to the Wall Street Journal's editorial board.

-- Peter Nicholas

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