Amity Shlaes comes to praise Phil Gramm but ends up burying him, and with him a lot of the spin on the economy.
Her arguments are that we're not technically in a recession; that things aren't as bad now as they were during the Great Depression or the worst of the stagflation years; and that talking too much about bad news can bring more bad news.
None of these points is without merit, but they are at best partial truths that obscure the larger picture and seem unlikely to convince many voters. (My view of the larger picture hasn't changed much over the months, although the oil market has made me gloomier.)
Let's look at the talking points:
*"Dude, where's my recession?." So many problems with this one. The vernacular and experiential definitions of "recession" don't line up precisely with the technical definition (which is not that technical in the first place), and lecturing people about two quarters of blah blah blah when times are tough comes across as pedantic and blinkered and indifferent to real pain. Also, the two-quarter definition looks backwards, so you can be in a recession and not know it yet, and none of the bogeymen (housing, credit, petroleum, war) seems likely to go away in the near future; Shlaes herself says "serious trouble may be closer than we think." Meanwhile, some of the folks who have used the R-word look a lot more reliable on the particulars than the ones who have been blowing sunshine.
*Things have been worse. Well, yes. Historical perspective is helpful, but it's not enough, and at some point the extreme comparisons are just straw men -- excuses not to talk about what's happening now. Shlaes dismisses a lot of the verbiage around the economy as campaign rhetoric, but how you talk about this stuff matters. For example, telling Americans that they are whiners is even less good than promising them that prosperity is around the corner; people respond better to "nothing to fear but fear itself."
*Discussing bad news brings bad news. Maybe so, but not discussing bad news is not an option, and there's plenty of actual bad news out there. Shlaes ends by calling for politicians to "dare to talk about problems in precise and even technical terms," an excellent idea with which she spends much of the rest of the column arguing.
McCain himself seems to recognize the problems with Gramm's point of view, or at least Gramm's presentation.