During the last two days, the McCain campaign has gone into damage control over top economic adviser Phil Gramm’s belief that America has “become a nation of whiners” and is only “in a mental recession.” McCain tried to disavow the remarks by saying that “Phil Gramm does not speak for me.” But McCain’s distancing doesn’t change the fact that Gramm is considered his “econ brain.” McCain thinks so highly of Gramm that he was even the chairman of his failed 1996 presidential bid.
As it turns out, this is not the first time that Gramm, a self-styled “foot soldier of the Reagan revolution,” has advocated controversial views on the economy. In the past, he has criticized public works projects, the existence of a minimum wage, and the federal welfare program. Here are some highlights from McCain’s “econ brain,” as compiled by the Houston Chronicle [2/20/95]:
- “Until we are on a pay-as-you-go budget, until we have stopped inflation, I do not intend to support any public works project in the United States.” — Gramm, 10/9/75
– “Minimum wage laws tend to cut the bottom rung off the economic ladder. The plain truth is there should be no minimum wage law in this great land of free enterprise.” — Gramm, 5/17/89
“We’re the only nation in the world where all our poor people are fat.” — Gramm, 9/6/81
In addition, Gramm is an advocate of the flat tax and wants to cut taxes on capital gains. [Concord Monitor, 9/26/96] As the Wonk Room has noted, such capital gains cuts would mostly benefit millionaires. Joe Conason writes on Salon that Gramm’s deregulation policies “helped spur the mortage crisis.”
But it is not only on the economy that Gramm is out of touch. During a 1984 Senate debate, he criticized his opponent’s stance on gay rights by saying, “I do not want homosexuals teaching my third-grade boy.” [Houston Chronicle, 2/20/95] He also reveled in the defeat of Hillary Clinton’s health care bill by saying that it would pass only over his “cold, dead, political body.” He then called it “deader than Elvis.”
This is all from a man that John McCain said has a “rare intellect that grasps complex issues and explains them to others in plain language [Washington Times, 2/27/95].”
Over on the Wonk Room, University of Texas professor James Galbraith reviews Gramm’s economics dissertation and finds it lacking. “It contains no advanced mathematics, no data or analysis of data, no archival or otherwise original research.” Galbraith warns Gramm could be the Secretary of Treasury in a McCain administration.