Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
One of my favorite excuses in public life is the distraction excuse. It's used when someone is caught doing something he or she ought not to have done but does not want to admit the screw-up. So the wrongdoer says he or she is resigning, quitting, or running away to not become a "distraction" that diverts attention from a greater cause.
Thus, when former Senator Phil Gramm quit as cochairman of the McCain campaign, he did not acknowledge that his headline-making comments (Americans worried about the economy are "whiners" and there is nothing but a "mental recession" under way) were worthy of dismissal or that his past as a lobbyist for a Swiss bank and a Senate committee chairman who committed a backroom maneuver that led to the subprime crisis made him (or should have made him) radioactive for McCain. No, he took the faux noble route of purported self-sacrifice. Here is his statement:
It is clear to me that Democrats want to attack me rather than debate Senator McCain on important economic issues facing the country. That kind of distraction hurts not only Senator McCain's ability to present concrete programs to deal with the country's problems, it hurts the country. To end this distraction and get on with the real debate, I hereby step down as Co-Chair of the McCain Campaign and join the growing number of rank-and-file McCain supporters.
Yep, the only problem is those awful Democrats who want to turn Gramm into a pinata-for-McCain. It does seem that McCain's foes will no longer have Gramm to kick around. But it sure won't be a distraction for Democrats to remind voters that when McCain was seeking economic advice he turned to a Swiss bank lobbyist who previously had helped steer the nation into the subprime debacle, for while Gramm may be gone, the consequences of his actions are still very much present.
Robert Novak reports--and his reporting is not always spot-on--that John McCain has forgiven Phil Gramm after Gramm called America a "nation of whiners" and dismissed current economic troubles as nothing more than a "mental recession." According to Novak, "Gramm will continue as an adviser and surrogate" for McCain. Gramm is still cochairman of McCain's presidential campaign.
This reporting counters recent news stories that Gramm has been nudged aside within McCainland. If it is true, Democrats can only respond this way: good! Gramm is a wonderful--and deserving--target for Dems and the Obama campaign. But not only because his out-of-touch remarks seemed to reflect the inner thinking of McCain and his advisers. Gramm represents much of what has gone wrong with the economy. As chairman of the Senate banking committee, he championed relentless deregulation that led in part to the subprime mess and to the Enron debacle. After leaving the Senate, he then became a lobbyist and executive for Swiss bank giant UBS. (Remember when McCain used to blast lobbyists?) These days UBS is in the news for allowing wealthy American clients to park money off-shore (perhaps illegally) to avoid taxes.
So McCain was happy to recruit Gramm for his campaign--despite his past record, ideas, policies, and lobbying activity--and look to him for economic advice. He saw nothing wrong with Grammonomics. That's the issue, more so than Gramm's impolitic comments. And if Novak is right--and that may be a nice-sized if--the Gramm issue remains, for Phil Gramm remains within the warm embrace of John McCain.
UPDATE: On Friday, Gramm quit as cochairman of the McCain campaign. Maybe Novak got it wrong. But Gramm did not say he would no longer be advising McCain.
On Wednesday, Senator Joe Lieberman went on Fox News (where else?) to blast Barack Obama for sticking to what Lieberman called a policy of surrender in Iraq. And he slammed the presumptive Democratic nominee for his upcoming trip to Iraq:
He's already decided his position. He's not going to listen to Petraeus. He's not going to listen to our troops. He's not going to listen to his own eyes with what he sees there. I think that's not the kind of leadership we need in the Oval Office.
Listen to his own eyes? It's as if Lieberman was channeling George W. Bush. But put that aside. Lieberman was trotting out again his I-know-Iraq-best stance, as he continues to be a leading surrogate for John McCain on the war and terrorism. But why should Lieberman have any standing on these matters? He can be as uninformed about national security as McCain (who several times confused Shia and Sunni). Two weeks ago, Lieberman appeared on Face the Nation and said,
But we need a president who's ready to be commander in chief on day one. Senator McCain is....Why? Because our enemies will test the new president early. Remember that the truck bombing of the World Trade Center happened in the first year of the Clinton administration. Nine-eleven happened in the first year of the Bush administration. John McCain is ready to take the reins on January 20th, 2009. He doesn't need any training.
Was Lieberman right in his history? Do the evildoers really mount terrorist operations to test new presidents early in their terms? I put this question to Peter Bergen, a journalist who is an expert on al Qaeda and terrorism. (He's written two good books on al Qaeda.) Bergen replies:
I was asked to appear on Hardball on Friday to discuss John McCain's week--that is, his very bad week. It's been tough to keep track of all that's gone wrong for him--all the self-inflicted wounds--in recent days. So I made a cheat sheet. Here it is.
* McCain adviser Phil Gramm remark: Americans who worry about the economy are "whiners" and there's no problem with the economy, just a "mental recession." McCain response: Gramm doesn't speak for me. But, um, that day Gramm was speaking for McCain, explaining McCain's economic policies to the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
* Called the fundamental funding mechanism of Social Security a "disgrace," essentially attacking the whole program.
* Released list of 300 economists who supposedly support his economic plan. Guess what? Not all of them do.
* Became visibly uncomfortable when asked whether health plans that cover Viagara should also cover birth control for women (after McCain surrogate/adviser Carly Fiorina raised this issue).
* Joked about killing Iranians with cigarette imports.
Phil Gramm is in the headlines today--being slammed by Democrats and disavowed by the McCain campaign--for complaining to The Washington Times that "we have sort of become a nation of whiners." Gramm, who chairs John McCain's campaign and who advises the presumptive Republican nominee on economic matters, pooh-poohed talk of a recession: "You've heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession." The former Republican Senator and current vice president of Swiss bank UBS dismissed talk of US economic woes and declared, "We've never been more dominant; we've never had more natural advantages than we have today. We have benefited greatly" from globalization.
Predictably, liberal bloggers and Democrats blasted Gramm for being out of touch with the real world. The McCain camp initially stood by their man but then distanced itself from Gramm's remarks, with a McCain spokesman saying, "Gramm's comments are not representative of John McCain's views."
But as this tempest was under way, another Gramm story went little noticed: a top McCain aide indirectly implicated Gramm in the current economic mess.
On Thursday, Portfolio magazine released an interview with Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO who is now a top adviser and surrogate for McCain. In that article interviewer Lloyd Grove asked Fiorina "who and/or what is to blame for the souring economy?" Her answer: