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Required Reading

5:52 PM, Jul 10, 2008 • By DEAN BARNETT
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1) From Daily Kos, "McCain Aide Says U.S. is ‘Nation of Whiners' in a ‘Mental Recession'" by "Dansac"

That sound you've been hearing all day is me hitting my head in Boston with a baseball bat, trying to forget all the silly things the McCain campaign has done this week. First, McCain surrogate Carly Fiorina engaged in some freelance idiocy as she riffed on abortion. Next the candidate himself made some intemperate remarks about social security and killing Iranians. The former will almost surely come back in the form of an Obama advertisement in the fall, and may even surpass "100 years" as McCain's biggest misstatement of 2008. Now, ranking McCain economic advisor Phil Gramm has told America to stop whining about the economy while pronouncing the country in the throes of a "mental recession." Brilliant.

Mind you, all these hijinks came on the heels of Monday's planned stupidity of putting Team McCain's economic focus on balancing the budget. At the time, I declared the McCain economic plan a car-wreck featuring the Concord Coalition and the Jack Kemp/Phil Gramm wing of the party. So I guess it's only fitting that if the Warren Rudman types gave the campaign a black eye at the start of the week, Phil Gramm had his own sort of fun towards the end of the week. For a taste of the kind of mirth the left will have with this misstep, I encourage you to check out the Daily Kos diary linked above.

What makes this situation especially galling is that the Kos Kid is right. Contra Gramm, there are fundamental problems with the economy that have given the American people a serious case of agita. Many Americans have seen the value of their homes depreciate dramatically in recent times. They've also seen a huge increase in fuel prices. Both of these situations are beyond the typical American's power to address. Unlike the late 1990's when a market player could respond to the diminishing value of his PimentoLoaf.com stock by dumping it, most Americans can't simply unload their houses. Nor can they, contrary to the wish of many a lefty blogger, move to an urban area and begin bicycling to work in order to reduce their fuel consumption. Refraining from heating their homes this coming winter is also unlikely to be a well-received option.

The causes of the insecurity are real, and the diminishment of the typical American's economic situation is equally real. What makes the McCain camp's antics this week all the more mysterious is there's no reason why McCain has to reflexively defend the status quo. What's more, doing so goes against all of his principles. Remember back in the primary season when McCain commented that some people on Wall Street had to go to jail and demonized the pharmaceuticals? That's the real McCain, and while not a particularly attractive McCain to these eyes, it's also likely to be a more successful McCain.

So where does this week of living foolishly leave the McCain campaign? I say the following as someone who very much wants to see McCain win - he and his team have to do better. That means no more wisecracking, no more undisciplined surrogates, and a fresh cognizance on the candidate's part that he's playing a bigger room than he has in the past and to professionalize his act accordingly. The world now watches Senator McCain's every move - the stuff that tickled the ribs of eager reporters on the Straight Talk Express in 2000 doesn't necessarily remain appropriate.

At least to McCain's credit, he has wisely thrown Phil Gramm under the bus. Asked about Gramm's possible future in a McCain administration, McCain said, "I think Senator Gramm would be in serious consideration for ambassador to Belarus, although I'm not sure the citizens of Minsk would welcome that."

2) From the New York Times, "The Audacity of Listening" by Gail Collins.

Yes, I'm recommending a Gail Collins column, but only to show the contortions Obama-philes are having to go through to stand by their Messiah.

Whenever you do an extremely positive review of a book or a movie or some other entertainment vehicle (like a gaffe-prone political candidacy), you have to offer a "yeah but" paragraph near the end, usually in the penultimate paragraph, to let the reader know that even though you're kvelling about something, you're still aware of its flaws. So a "yeah but" paragraph in a review calling "The Godfather" the best movie ever, you might acknowledge weaknesses in the film like James Caan being in fact Jewish and not Italian.