It’s always awkward when presidents and candidates are embarrassed by the words and behavior of their own friends.
And such was the case when McCain supporter and surrogate speaker Phil Gramm stated earlier this week that America has become a nation of “whiners.”
Speaking with a small group of media professionals, the former U.S. Senator (and former Presidential Candidate) from Texas spoke about current economic conditions, saying "you've heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession."
He went on to note that, despite all the rhetoric about hard times in America, our economy still produced a growth rate of approximately 1 percent last quarter. In the face of all the gloom about losing jobs to India and China, illegal immigrants taking jobs away from U.S. citizens, housing and credit problems, and record oil prices, Gramm pointed out that America is still enjoying a major boom in export business. "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…"
Now arguably, one could say that Gramm’s comments point towards the profound reality of the psychological underpinning to people’s economic behavior. If people “think” and “feel” as though times are bad, then they’ll behave, economically and otherwise, as though times are bad.
But that’s not how Gramm’s comments were received. More accurately, he was perceived as being insensitive and “out of touch” about the real hardship and pain that many Americans are facing, and was believed to have been speaking pejoratively about the American people.
McCain himself quickly rebuked Gramm, his longtime friend and the man that he supported for the presidency back in 1996. “Phil Gramm doesn’t speak for me, I speak for me” McCain said sternly. He went on to explain that a laid-off worker or a mother struggling to pay for a child's education "isn't suffering from a mental recession" - - in other words, the suffering is real, and so are our nation’s economic woes.
But lost in the midst of this little fiasco was a question that begs an answer: is Phil Gramm right? Has the United States of America, on some level, become a nation of whiners?
An examination of the rhetoric from this entire presidential campaign cycle would suggest that, to some degree, America is, in some collective sense, inclined toward whining right now. The candidates aren’t whining themselves, so much, but their ideas and proposals suggest that they are playing to an audience of whiners. And that’s not good for anybody - - not the whiners, nor for the rest of us.
Austin Hill is an Author, Consultant, and Host of "Austin Hill's Big World of Small Business," a syndicated talk show about small business ownership and entrepreneurship. He is Co-Author of the new release "The Virtues Of Capitalism: A Moral Case For Free Markets." , Author of "White House Confidential: The Little Book Of Weird Presidential History," and a frequent guest host for Washington, DC's 105.9 WMAL Talk Radio.