Saturday, July 12, 2008

Phil Gramm and Whining Americans

Phil Gramm's recent comments about the toughness of John Q. Public were right on the mark, profoundly insightful, and just plain stupid.

Recently citing a "mental recession", Gramm referred to the US having become "...a nation of whiners." What Gramm was talking about here was the propensity of Americans to over-estimate the decline of their economy beyond that which actual "facts on the ground" would suggest. It is common to hear incredible gnashing of teeth about an economy which at last check, had historically low interest rates, unemployment, and inflation. Yes, there are problems, serious ones, which require serious solutions. But this is not the Great Depression, and it is not even technically a recession.

That said, Phil Gramm was unwise to say what he did. It doesn't matter how right a politician is, you don't get elected (or get your man elected) by criticizing the American electorate. Barack Obama found this in Pennsylvania with his "clinging to their guns and religion" riff. The American Public is a pouty, preening group who thinks that this country's "shining city on a hill" status somehow imbues them with perfect judgment and clarity. It doesn't. The genius of our founders was ensuring a system in which individual, group and class interests would clash with each other. They didn't devise a system for perfect people, they devised a good system for a nation of self-interested individuals of varying intelligence and civic virtue.

Phil Gramm's comments reflect that varying intelligence, both in their criticisms and in the flawed nature of their delivery.

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