Saturday, July 19, 2008

Wheat, chaff, babies, and bath water

John McCain’s handling of the Phil Gramm comments drove me crazy. If Gramm was a great economic adviser yesterday he doesn’t suddenly become an economic dunce tomorrow. If your economic adviser says the recession is mental and there’s a lot of whining, don’t pack the guy off to Belarus. Say, “Phil Gramm is right about a lot of things. The economy is growing; we are in a great position globally; and fear of a recession can tip us over the edge into a real one. At the same time, however, we need a plan to be sure everyone participates in that growth and everyone can take advantage of our global economy. That’s the best way to make people stop fearing for their economic futures. As for whining, Phil’s right about that, too: there are people out there who took on more debt than they can handle and are whining about having to pay up and want the government - which really means all you taxpayers - to bail them out. But there are also a lot of people who work hard and live within their means and pay their debts but are hurting from problems like skyrocketing energy prices and we need a plan to help them out.” And when asked if you’re going to continue to use Gramm’s expertise, say, “Of course. I don’t always agree with him but he’s a valuable resource. I make the decisions but I listen to a lot of people before I do so. I can sort wheat from chaff with no trouble at all.”

And while I’m on the subject, could we also stop with the whole No Lobbyists As Advisers nonsense? Obama criticizes McCain for having advisers who are lobbyists for one cause or another - but Obama has lobbyist advisers himself. Now McCain requires all advisers to either resign or cut lobbying ties - as if those who cut their ties will magically forget the causes they once championed. For Heaven’s sake, grow up. When candidates are criticized for listening to advisers with ties to one group or another, they should say, “Sure, I know he sells widgets. But widgets are important and he knows everything there is to know about them. Why would I throw away a resource like that? It’d be like throwing out the baby with the bath water. I always remember he thinks widgets are great and will try to convince me that what the country needs is lots and lots of widgets. I’m smart enough to take what he says with a grain of salt and to listen to the anti-widget guys, too, before I make a decision.”

“I listen to a lot of people but I make the decisions” is a far more powerful statement than “I have to get rid of this guy because I’m so weak-minded he might convince me to do something wrong.” And acknowledging that even smart people with valuable knowledge have agendas and push pet projects is a lot more honest than trying to pretend everyone around you is - or must be - as pure as the driven snow.



McCain adviser talks of 'mental recession' - The Washington Times article that started the whole Phil Gramm brouhaha; you can read more of what he said than “whiners” and “mental”

While searching for a full transcript of Gramm’s remarks - which I didn’t find - I ran across a couple of posts that echo some of what I say here:

Phil Gramm post from The Corner on National Review Online

Phil Gramm is right - An interesting article from The Washington Post on “Campaign Econ”

Obama seizes on McCain lobbyist ties

No Ban on Lobbyists as Advisers for Obama


Bruce Sabin said...

Your ideas seem to be on the mark, but I'm sure you know the average TV news sound bite will come out as:

Headline: McCain Says Economy Great
"The economy is growing; we are in a great position globally.... As for whining, Phil’s right about that...."
Next Headline: Record Foreclosures Affecting Middle Class


Headline: Lobbyist Convinces Candidate Widgets are Great
"Sure, I know he sells widgets. But widgets are important and he knows everything.... Widgets are great...."
Next Headline: Widget Subsidies Cost $#billion

Since words can so easily be twisted, the easiest thing for a politician to do is let the person go.

Elise said...

But, Bruce, I thought this election was about change, about the electorate wanting politicians to tell it like it is.

Sorry, couldn't resist. You're probably right about how the resulting sound bites would sound but it seems to me that it's crucial for us (meaning the whole electoral system) to find some way to allow candidates to address complex issues complexly - and have their messages get out to the public.

The Internet seems like a great way for voters to hear the whole story rather than the sound bite quotes but I wonder how many people who use the Internet for political news actually read the source material even when it's so readily available. I suspect not many - and even fewer if the source material is from someone they dislike or disagree with.

So, yes, absolutely, the easiest thing for a politician to do is let the person go. I just hope that someday we'll have a politician who'll decide not to take that easier route either out of principle or just because he figures he's got nothing to lose.