Phil Gramm’s recent disparaging of “a nation of whiners” complaining about a “mental recession” did more than offend the sensibilities of economically struggling Americans. His gaffe also served as a reminder that McCain had appointed one of the most reactionary, venal, and destructive political figures in recent times as his top econ man. By Sunday, the damage to the McCain campaign had grown so severe it announced that Gramm’s role had been significantly reduced.
Gramm was an accident waiting to happen. Indeed, his gaffe represents little more than a scrap in the massive heap of wreckage he has left in his wake. Gramm’s own presidential campaign in 1996 was among his most high-profile casualties. In order to win a whopping total of 8 delegates, the charisma-challenged Gramm had to spend $20 million, or about $2.5 million per delegate. This experience curiously translated into a job as one of McCain’s key political advisors.
But first, Gramm returned to the Senate, where he was lobbied intensely by one of his major campaign contributors, Enron. Enron enjoyed easy access to Gramm’s office; the senator’s wife served on Enron’s board of directors and Ken Lay was his 1992 campaign co-chair. Gramm rewarded his financial angels in 2000, slipping the “Commodity Futures Modernization Act” into a omnibus spending bill just as Congress headed off for summer vacation. His amendment instantly enabled the creation of a shadow banking system — “weapons of financial destruction” in the words of Warren Buffet — that directly contributed to the current mortgage foreclosure crisis. Millions of Americans have suffered as a result of Gramm’s machinations.