July 15, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Do Americans whine too much?

That's what former Senator Phil Gramm thinks, and while most well-informed observers would probably agree, it's not the kind of thing you're supposed to say during an election year! Gramm was scorning the idea that the American people are enduring severe hardships right now, saying we are in a "mental recession," not a true recession. (Well, only an American could commute 30 miles to work every day in a gargantuan SUV and then get his nose bent out of shape when the price of gasoline inevitably goes up.) Gramm has a background as an economics professor, and always saw his job of legislator as a matter of applying cold, hard facts and logic than appealing to gut emotions or "grass-roots" sentiment. That's probably why he left his the Senate in 2002, which I thought was a big shame. In any case, the mere suggestion that Americans are whiners created such a big uproar that John McCain had to issue a stern disclaimer to minimize the damage. Gramm will probably get kicked off McCain's advisory team as punishment. Too bad.

In Saturday's Washington Post, Amity Shlaes (of the Council on Foreign Relations) dared to say what politicans fear to acknowledge in public: "Phil Gramm Is Right." She observes that garnering votes with "Campaign Econ" rhetoric about the alleged "hard times" we're in actually creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, as consumer confidence declines. And, as she rightly points out, Barack Obama is renowned for pandering on such issues as the "gas tax holiday."

Another retired Republican senator with a penchant for blunt talk and a grouchy personality, Bob Dole, would have had no hesitation in telling the whiners to shut up and tighten their belts. That's why I admired him so much, and that's probably why he lost the election to Bill Clinton in 1996. My idea of an ideal Republican presidential candidate would be someone like Wilford Brimley, the gruff, moustached character actor who did those TV ads for Quaker Instant Oatmeal, Grape Nuts, and geriatric medical supplies. No-nonsense, straight, blunt words of wisdom. I wasn't aware of this fact, but Mr. Brimley endorsed John McCain back in January, and the young punks at Daily KOS made fun of this. No respect for the elderly!

Global war and local politics

Controversy over the war in Iraq has resurfaced on the local political scene lately. Starke Smith*, from Fishersville, wrote a letter to the News Leader in response to a recent column by Lynn Mitchell, which was in response to a column by Iraq war veteran Seth Lovell, who is tired of seeing those "Win the War!" signs. Here is my comment:

The letter writer, Mr. Starke Smith, came close to making a good point about politicizing the war, but then he got tangled up in his own negative opinions about the war. I totally agree that all of us should "be willing listen to both sides of an issue," but expecting us to "admit that invading Iraq was a mistake" is begging the question. True, the Bush administration made serious mistakes before and after the war started, but that does NOT mean it is a lost cause. Far from it!

Mr. Smith seems to think that most of the folks with those yard signs aren't doing their part to help in other ways. Why does he think this? I would be the first to admit that some people -- note the word SOME -- may be bragging or exploiting the war for political advantage. ("By jingo!") But let's not assume the worst about other people we don't know.

As for the lessons from Vietnam, which Mr. Smith mentioned, I would hope we learn never again to get involved in a major war without an explicit declaration of war by Congress, as the Constitution requires. That way, you can't pin the blame for starting a difficult war on one top leader. For years, Democrats have been scoring points with impatient, war-weary voters by bashing Bush over the Iraq War, even though they voted to give Bush the authority. "We were misled!" Hogwash.

Likewise, many on the Republican side are now doing the same sort of thing, though from the opposite side: using the war as a "wedge issue" to scrounge for a few more votes as economic troubles mount. For example, Lynn Mitchell wrote in her column that politics and support for our troops "are inseparable." Hogwash. There are many politically neutral people who are sincere patriots, and we can't afford to alienate them with that "if you're not with us, you're against us" approach to politics that was popularized by the Bush-Rove team.

United we stand. Polarization means defeat.


Victory in Iraq GOP elephant logo

Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.
President G. W. Bush *

SOURCE: whitehouse.gov

* I should note that Mr. Smith is a member of the Augusta Bird Club, and alerted me to the Black Swan that was seen near Fishersville in November 2006.