Bad Grammar
During my years as a political science professor, I often regaled my students with the story of the worst public appearance by a major presidential candidate that I had ever witnessed firsthand. This politician displayed a tin ear for politics on that particular day that was truly breathtaking in scope. The event occurred during the 1996 presidential primaries, and the occasion was a town hall meeting between then-Texas Senator Phil Gramm and a large group of students at Dartmouth College. Remember, there was a brief period of time in the mid-1990s, when Gramm was actually considered a serious contender for the Republican nomination. He even tied Bob Dole for first place in the summer 1995 Iowa Straw Poll, but ended up dropping out of the race just before the New Hampshire Primary. My main recollection of this disastrous campaign stop is Gramm’s visible irritation at being asked tough (but fair) questions by a succession of well-prepared students, who quickly pulled the increasingly testy Senator off of his talking points.
That same tin ear was on full display yesterday, as Gramm refused to retract any of his recent comments that the United States is a nation of whiners, suffering through a mental recession. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Gramm’s take on the economy is tough, but accurate. One would still think that his 24 years of service in the U.S. House and Senate would give him sufficient political instincts to realize that his comments would put John McCain in a terrible position. As McCain’s top economic adviser, Gramm was considered a possible future Treasury Secretary. But McCain is already struggling with the perception that his grasp of economic policy is shaky, so he moved aggressively yesterday to distance himself from Gramm. A glimpse of that Dartmouth town hall meeting just might have saved McCain the trouble.

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