There are a lot of people who would agree with the former senator. If you look at all the various indicators and juggled statistics, our economy's great! Why, unemployment is low, stock prices are still doing well, and there's so much opportunity out there, right?
I recently spoke with a TAC contributor from Maine. The sun is high, the days are long, and the population is enjoying its usual summer boost. But in his hometown, conversations keep circling back to an unseasonable subject: kerosene. In the middle of July, people are worried about winter. Even with demand low, heating oil prices are setting new records—topping $5/gallon in parts of a state where winter doesn’t loosen its grip until May. Nervous Mainers have done the math, and this year they can’t afford to keep the cold out.
Thankfully, John McCain’s top economic adviser has an answer. Former Sen. Phil Gramm tells the Washington Times that this “nation of whiners” is imagining its difficulties. Disregard all those downturned arrows: “this is a mental recession.”
Now as the vice chair of Swiss banking giant UBS, Mr. Gramm is probably too busy to shop for groceries or fill up his own gas tank. Maybe he hasn’t tried to sell a house in a stalled real-estate market or checked on his retirement account lately. He does, however, manage to watch the news and is convinced that grim reports are a media concoction. “Misery sells newspapers,” he says. “Thank God the economy is not as bad as you read in the newspaper every day.”
The problem with hedge-fund conservatives, Rush Limbaugh entrepreneurial types, and the smiling faces of many of the GOP's favorite board-of-directors-level sons, is that they often think that economic success really is just a matter of carpe diem, pull up your bootstraps, find a need and fill it, and too bad for you if you didn't have the foresight to be born into the right sort of family, go to the right Ivy-league school, or amass a private fortune before being silly enough to marry and start a family. Those were your bad economic choices, so now if heating fuel at $5/gallon and up is a bit of a pinch, you have no one but yourself to blame for lacking the kind of accounting expertise and savvy financial skills to make sure that you could easily weather all such blips in the economic radar.
But out in the real world, real people with real families and real lives are facing a totally different economic reality. Many of us worked our way through school, brought college debt into our marriages, and struggle to survive on one income in a world where our husbands may very well be punished for not being "diverse" enough to win the company points should they ever be promoted, removing all incentives for their employers to do so. Salaries have been flat for some time out here in Reality, America, and the cost of living keeps going up; providing for the needs of children gets more expensive all the time, too. Add rising fuel costs to the mix and you start to get a recipe for penury for many American families.
The supercilious Marie Antoinette-Republicans shrug and say, in effect, "So?" Because they really do think that it's our fault, for not remaining single long enough to get on career-success tracks, for wanting to stay at home and raise our own children instead of maximizing the economic potential of two incomes, for not joining them in their worship of Mammon instead of believing that there's more to life than a pair of Lexi in every McMansion.
For these people, economic woes reported on the evening news are likely to produced a raised eyebrow at cocktail hour: after all, nobody they know is suffering, so the media must be making the whole thing up. Still, if everybody thinks the economy is hurting, perhaps they can benefit from it all, they think, as they leave a scant ten percent tip on the restaurant table; nobody will expect a good tip when the TV news keeps telling everybody that times are so hard.