One way to react to the news, reported Tuesday night by MSNBC, that Phil Gramm, the former Republican Senator and current economic advisor to John McCain, was employed as a lobbyist by the Swiss bank UBS to work specifically on legislation regarding the mortgage crisis, is to shrug. What's so shocking about a Republican presidential candidate representing the interests of the banking industry?
Sure, there's some minor irony to be mined in the fact that McCain, who earlier this year summed up his position on the credit crunch by saying "there are some greedy people on Wall Street who need to be punished," is being advised by a man working for a bank that was neck-deep in subprime avarice. But as my colleague at Salon's War Room, Alex Koppelman, observed to me this morning, why would we think that McCain's current position -- that more deregulation is the answer to Wall Street's woes -- would be any different without Phil Gramm's help? This is what Republicans do.
It's a valid point, and yet How the World Works is still outraged. Maybe I've just been paying attention to this particular thread of the American narrative of politics and the economy for too long, but it still strikes me as shocking that the same man who spearheaded legislation deregulating energy futures trading (which facilitated Enron's misdeeds), and the repeal of e Glass-Steagal's separation of investment and commercial banking, is a major influence on John McCain's economic agenda, and has simultaneously been working for the banking industry to prevent Congress from passing legislation that would give ordinary Americans a leg up in dealing with the mess that Wall Street has caused.
In a campaign where we have been endlessly obsessed by such trivia as what John Hagee or Jeremiah Wright might think about Jews or AIDS when neither man is going to have any influence at all on how McCain or Obama would govern, Phil Gramm's opposition to allowing judges to rewrite mortgage terms for Americans facing foreclosure seems far more relevant to the real lives of Americans than just about anything else the candidates are saying or doing. I don't care whether Obama's grand-uncle really helped to liberate Buchenwald instead of Auschwitz or whether Hillary Clinton's reference to Bobby Kennedy's assassination was pure evil or just dumb. But I do care about evidence that demolishes the fantasy that John McCain is some kind of maverick independent who might represent a change in direction from the economic policies pursued by Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes. In an election year where everyone is putting "the economy" at the top of the priority list, the employment priorities of McCain's longtime buddy and top advisor could hardly be more relevant.