The real leader of the opposition.
Measured against Gramm's past fulminations, Clinton has gotten off easy. A veteran practitioner of the sharp-elbowed, shin-kicking politics of the Lone Star State, Gramm is unabashed about his penchant for hardball. "I didn't come to Washington to be loved," he's fond of saying, "and I haven't been disappointed." During the Bork hearings back in 1987, the Texas senator referred to Judiciary Committee members Edward Kennedy and Joe Biden as "the people who cheated in college." U.S. News & World Report reported that last year, when Senators Dave Durenberger and James Jeffords voted in favor of a campaign finance reform bill, Gramm entered the headquarters of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which he heads, looked at the portraits of the 44 Republican senators in the lobby, and ripped the photographs of Durenberger and Jeffords off the wall. "They're not Republicans anymore," he told onlookers.
As a member of the opposition these days, Gramm's snarling style is winning attention. Other Republicans have struggled to make their mark under a president skilled at usurping traditionally conservative positions on social issues and straddling the center on nearly everything else. Not Gramm. Beginning with the budget battle last March, the former economics professor has been a one man pocket of legislative resistance with a two step strategy: draft an alternative, then get nasty. Without even a committee chairmanship to his name, he has parlayed his unique mixture of smarts and venom into a profile that at times rivals Robert Dole's. Gramm's reflexive intransigence and his facility in the policy fray have made him the unofficial leader of the GOP's just-say-nopack. And in that role, he's already having an effect. By consistently outflanking Dole on the right, Gramm has become known in COP circles as the person who makes the Minority Leader think twice about accommodating overtures from the White House. "They keep their eye on one another," says Dan Cuss, of the Project for the Republican Future, a think tank. "Gramm is not one of the guys waiting for Dole to pass out the talking points before he speaks his mind."
Gramm isn't quiet about his presidential aspirations, either. His vast war chest alone---rumored to be nearly $4 million strong---assures he'll be a serious candidate. Detractors say he's not telegenic, and has a weird accent and a style that won't sell outside of Texas. Note, they say, that Gramm's first brush with the national limelight--his droning '92 Republican National Convention keynote---was a disaster. His supporters point out that the last person to bomb a big convention speech was Bill Clinton; Carter's accent was no less regional; and as for looks, remember Nixon? They also point out that judging by his poll numbers, Gramm is the most popular politician in the country's second largest state, a state composed of the very sorts of Southern, sun belt, and suburban voters that the COP will need in order to have a prayer in '96.
He is already campaigning hard. Gramm now leads his likely rivals in visits to New Hampshire, having been there six times since Clinton's election. And heading up the National Republican Senatorial Committee allows him to do favors and supply funds to Republicans around the country, all of whom will provide a ready network come campaign time. "You have to ask, concretely, who can really get 25 percent of the vote in Iowa, who can do well in New Hampshire, who can go South and do respectably," says Republican guru Bill Kristol. "Gramm will be formidable."
And in the meantime, he will be ubiquitous. An acknowledged master of the art of visibility, Gramm runs the most effective public relations office in town and has an unparalleled thirst for press. "The most dangerous place to be standing in Washington," goes the Hill adage, "is between Phil Gramm and a TV camera." More importantly, Gramm long ago learned one of the immutable laws of life on Capitol Hill: The quiet, often tedious work of legislating is rarely enough to land you on "Meet the Press." Ambitious congressmen need a knack for the soundbite and a gift for the partisan snipe. "He's good at playing the game," says a White House official. "The press know they can go to him for the biting quip."
Congressmen need, also, to know how to answer questions with a subtext that says, "I stand with normal people on this one, and I reject the perverse values of inside-the-beltway Washington which caused this problem in the first place." Gramm has that skill in spades and unlike, say, Newt Gingrich, who is quotable but usually comes off like a lightweight with a grudge, the Texas senator shows up with charts and facts to buttress his one-liners with hard evidence. He is mean enough to be entertaining and smart enough to be credible. On any number of issues--health care and crime come to mind--he pulls in more headlines and talk show spots than colleagues who' ve been toiling on the topic for years.
With Republicans struggling to define themselves in the age of Clinton, the state of the opposition in coming months and years could look more and more like Gramm. He is suited to the moment; with fewer substantive differences dividing the administration from the GOP, he's good at making the remaining differences seem mortally significant, and good at arguing that Clinton is faking. it when the president overlaps with Republicans.
Moreover, no one is better at pushing a major thrust of the GOP's message: anti-government populism. "I have a philosophy of free enterprise," Gramm told me in an interview. "I believe that government is the problem." The party's ornery apostle of freer markets and lower taxes, Gramm's sermons invariably conclude that government should be scaled back--not because it doesn't do anything right, but because it can't do anything right. This irredeemable incompetence means there are no ways to improve government, so the more we dismantle, the better, and the sooner we choke off its supply of funds--the sooner, in other words, that we cut spending and reduce taxes--the better. With characteristic lack of subtlety, this message is often animated by class resentments. Gramm likes to say he's for "the people who pull the wagon," while the Democrats keep piling the wagon with more freeloaders. "We're the only nation in the world where all our poor people are fat," he said in a speech about recipients of federal aid.
When should government spend money? Use the Dickey Flatt test, Gramm suggests, something he introduced to the world during his keynote speech at the last Republican National Convention. Flatt, you might remember, is the stationery store owner from Mexia, Texas, whom Gramm described as the breathing emblem of the hard-working, tax-paying bedrock of this country. "Whether you see Dickey Flatt at the PTA or the Boy Scouts or at his church," Gramm said, "try as he may he never quite gets that blue ink off the end of his fingers." Lawmakers should keep Flatt in mind when wondering whether to vote for a program and ask if the expenditure is "worth taking money away from Dickey Flatt." That, Gramm explained, is unlikely: "Let me tell you something, there aren't a lot of programs that will stand up to that test."
It's not surprising to hear a Republican in high dudgeon about government incompetence, but having Phil Gramm lead this particular cause is, shall we say, ironic. Why? For one, Gramm is a living rebuke to the notion that government is merely in the way. The government helped bring him into this world (he was born in a military hospital), funded his upbringing (his father was an Army master sergeant), paid for him to attend private school (with the GI insurance money Gramm's mother received when her husband died), and even picked up the tab for graduate school (thanks to a National Defense Fellowship). After getting his Ph.D., Gramm got a job at Texas A&M, which is state-run, was elected to the House of Representatives, and then to the Senate. In sum, Phil Gramm joined the government's rolls the first day of his life and has never left.
Then there's his paper trail. You'd think Gramm would be waging a guerrilla war to scale back government spending. He isn't. What's typical is his sponsorship of Orrin Hatch's bill to create an Office of Dietary Supplements in the National Institutes of Health to test vitamins, herbs, and minerals.
Regardless of the bill's merits, this didn't sound to me like the sort of program that would pass the Dickey Flatt test. But there was only one way I could be sure: call up information in Texas and then ask the man himself.
"No, that would not pass the test," says Dickey Flail, from his store in Mexia, forty miles east of Waco. "I bet that idea came from some private organization that's giving the Democratic Party something like 16 zillion dollars so the government will do the job and they won't have to."
When you turn down the volume, parse his plans and check his votes, you realize that much of what Gramm wants would expand the government, sometimes in ways that are worth considering, and invariably in ways that contradict what he claims are his fundamental beliefs. The key, it turns out, is to watch what he does rather than listen to what he says, and to understand that Gramm's overriding ethos has little to do with Dickey Flatt or fiscal conservatism or any principle larger or more dignified than his own political ascendance.
Phil Gramm: Old Democrat?
Take deficit reduction. Thanks to the GrammRudman law and his "cut spending first" mantra, Gramm has earned a reputation as an honest-togoodness deficit hawk. G-R established a series of incremental spending reduction targets over a period of years and set up an axe that would hack across-the-board cuts if legislators were unable to meet those targets. This made for good press, but it's a witless way to reduce deficits and this particular effort was unserious. It's witless because, as Michael Kinsley argues, there's no reason to cut everything equally if some programs could take a hit more readily than others (why cut Head Start the same as the sugar subsidy?). And it was unserious because it didn't include the largest government program of all, Social Security. In 1990, once Congress realized it couldn't keep pace with G-R's schedule--and realized how ugly across the board cuts would be--it voted itself out of the Gramm-Rudman noose.
Since then, Gramm has posed as a kind of budget martyr--I tried, dammit, but my colleagues wouldn't make the tough decisions. "Shortly after the 271 representatives and 63 senators patted each other on the back for passing G-R in 1985," Gramm wrote in a Washington Times op-ed, "the slippage began. Some challenged it in court. Other tried to exempt favorite programs from its consequences." At other occasions he moaned, "Balancing the budget is like going to heaven: everybody wants to do it. They just don't want to do what you have to do to make the trip."
Had Gramm offered up his own favorite programs? Quite the opposite. Gramm may be the guy with the gun to Congress' head screaming "Diet!" but there aren't many lawmakers in either chamber better than he is at raiding the fridge. The National Taxpayers Union Foundation's survey of all bills sponsored by members during an 18 month period starting in January of 1991 found that there were only three representatives in either chamber who had failed to sponsor a single bill which cut spending. Gramm was one of them, and the only Republican (Bob Kerrey and Robert Byrd were the other two). The bills he did back, if enacted, would have added a total of $8.3 billion to the deficit. (These facts so clearly gave the lie to Gramm's public posings that the senator's staff summoned the authors of the study up to the Hill for a stern chat and suggested they never publish anything like that again--advice they ignored.)
"I'm carrying so much pork, I'm beginning to get trichinosis," he told a local paper in a more candid moment. He has backed billion-dollar Texas pork projects like the Superconducting Supercollider and the Space Station. This past session he fought three bills that would have ended the government's million-dollar mohair subsidy, and has supported the Gulf of Mexico Preservation Act, which would cost $200 million in the next five years. He pushed for the plant stress lab at Texas Tech ($100 million a year), and netted $500 million for the National College of D.A.s in Houston. Those expenditures are hypocritical given his rhetoric, but they at least make pork barrel sense. "I' m going to work for tight budgets, I' m going to reduce spending," Gramm says. "But once spending levels are set, I'm going to fight to see that Texas gets its share."
Then how to explain all the bills with specific cuts that Gramm dodged? He didn't support a repeal of the Helium Act, for instance, which would have ended the government's $34 million a year helium extraction and reserve program (a holdover from the twenties when helium sources were scarce and the government thought it might need the stuff for blimps). He wasn't on the bill to cut foreign assistance, and passed on repealing the Davis-Bacon Act, a move which would allow open bidding and competition for federal contracts and save the government $2.5 billion over the next five years. Last session there were 77 bills in the Senate which contained specific cuts to the budget. Gramm was on just two.
He stuck instead with the faux-courage of across-the-board cuts and caps by backing no fewer than six G-R-style bills. "There's nothing in the federal budget that doesn't look good to somebody," says Bowman Cutter, a special assistant to the president at the Office of Management and Budget. "The easiest thing to do is legislate caps and avoid all the heat for specific reductions. But it's a pure symbol vote. It simply puts you on record as being against big deficits."
Judged by ardor alone, Gramm must truly want a balanced budget, but he's simply unwilling to pay any political price to achieve it. Which leads him to a position masterfully calibrated to an enduring truth about many American voters: namely, that their fervor about the need to reduce the deficit is matched only by their belief that their own programs should not be touched.
Phil Gramm: Demagogue?
Gramm's deficit demagoguery isn't surprising to anyone familiar with his career. His first race in 1976 was a quixotic run against then-Senator Lloyd Bentsen when Gramm was 33, a Democrat, and an unknown economics professor. A dogged and combative campaigner, he poured $50,000 of his own money into his campaign and crisscrossed the state charging that Bentsen "has no principles and no business representing the people of Texas in the U.S. Senate." He also peddled an alarmism about foreign policy that seems vintage 1960: "We have lost Asia. Spain and Portugal could fall to the communists at any moment. And two mainstays of the Atlantic Alliance, Italy and France, could become communist satellites through free elections."
He was resoundingly defeated. The following day he announced he would run again, this time for the 6th Congressional District seat which would soon be vacated. Gramm's main competition in the primary was one of his former students, 25-year-old Chet Edwards. The race heated up when Gramin accused the Edwards camp of floating the rumor that Gramm's first child was conceived out of wedlock (Edwards has long denied the charge). Gramm told crowds that his opponent was a lousy economics student; Edwards then showed reporters the "A" Gramm had given him. A pivotal moment came when "Tiger" Teague, the conservative Democrat who was stepping down from the seat, became irked that Gramm was implying that he and Teague were close. "I am not pleased that Phil Gramm said he worked for me," Teague said, and later called a press conference to mount an attack on Gramm's integrity so vicious that it actually won voters to Gramm's side. Edwards came up 115 votes shy in the primary and Gramm went on to win the general election with 65 percent of the vote.
In Washington, Gramm seemed hell-bent on alienating everyone. His first speech in the House was made on Republican time to attack a Democrat-supported bill and included a belittling assault on an argument offered by Jim Wright, who was then the head of the Texas delegation as well as the majority leader. He drafted an alternative budget soon after the House Budget Committee passed its own. Later, Gramm shmoozed his way back into Wright's good graces and then used Wright to land a seat on the Budget Committee, reassuring all concerned that he could be a team player. As Wright recently told The Texas Observer, "Phil Gramm told me and others that if he were favored by a Budget Committee assignment he would make his arguments within the committee and then would close ranks and back whatever budget resolution the majority crafted." Instead, Gramm perpetrated a now notorious double-cross. Sitting in on Democratic caucus budget meetings Gramm reported the party's budget strategy to David Stockman, then Reagan's budget director. He also collaborated with Stockman on Reagan's first budget, soon to be christened Gramm-Latta, and helped line up conservative Democrats behind it. The Budget Committee declined to renew Gramm's membership at the end of 1982.
Gramm decided to switch parties and instead of simply announcing the shift and retaining his seat he resigned and ran in a special election. He has made no small amount of political hay about the guts required to take this kind of chance, and he has a point. But then again, at the time of the election, his district, like much of Texas, had been swept into the GOP by Reagan. Moreover, Texas' governor made the timing especially felicitous for Gramm by calling for an election a scant six weeks after the announcement, not enough time for an opponent to launch a genuine challenge. The move also made savvy political sense. As Robert Draper wrote in the Texas Monthly, it allowed "Gramm to recast himself as a political martyr who had been driven out of the Democratic party, rather than be seen as a traitor to the party." Gramm won without a run-off, taking 55 percent of the vote.
When John Tower stepped down from his Senate seat in 1984, Gramm pounced. His opponent in that race was Lloyd Dogget, a liberal Democrat in the state senate. The campaign revolved around one issue: Dogget, who had the support of the gay community, had received an unsolicited $500 contribution from a gay group which had held a fund-raiser featuring a male stripper. "Gramm learned about this in June," says a former Dogget staffer, Kate Fein, "and that's all he talked about until November." Gramm's radio ads didn't demure: "Lloyd Dogget actively sought and received the endorsement of gay and lesbian groups... Homosexual groups in San Antonio even had the poor taste to hold an all-male strip show to raise money for Dogget. Their magazine ran his picture taking their money." The tag line read: "Friends of Phil Gramm paid for this because Phil Gramm supports traditional family values."
There were also TV ads of the Gramm family on a fishing outing enjoying family values, but the Ozzie and Harriett imagery came with a strange twist: Hardett was hidden. Gramm's wife, Wendy, is of Korean descent and the most you could see of her in these spots was the back of her head. "We'd watch these ads," says another former Dogget staffer, David McKenna, "and we'd be wondering, 'Hey Phil, where's Wendy?'"
Even after Dogget returned the $500 contribution, the gay stripper issue would not go away. Between the withering attacks and Reagan's coattails, Gramm beat Dogget by 18 points.
Gramm's ties to the Reagan administration helped to make him a prominent player in budget deals and the best known member of the Texas delegation. His most renowned handiwork was Gramm-Rudman, but he also spent tremendous energy at home converting Texas Democrats to Republicans and pushing GOP candidates. His advocacy was often hard to distinguish from self-puffery; a common line was that "a vote for [insert name] is a vote for me." When his long-ago rival, Chet Edwards, sought Texas' 11th Congressional District seat, Gramm said in a commercial, "The bottom line is this: I can and will work with Hugh Shine. I cannot and will not work with Chet Edwards." Edwards won, and Gramm's presence proved a mixed blessing for many of those he supported--in 1990, for instance, 13 of the 16 state and national candidates he campaigned for lost.
Phil Gramm: New Democrat?
A central facet of Gramm's career--from spying for Stockman to securing two consecutive terms as head of the Republican Senatorial Com| mittee--is a genius for making himself a player. Under Reagan, when tax cuts were the only game in town, Gramm helped engineer the seminal 1981 tax-cutting budget. Through the late eighties and early nineties when deficit reduction was the hot problem, Gramm's name became synonymous with the solution. Clinton's arrival has revealed how good Gramm is at updating his genius to the times. Now that welfare and health care reform seem imminent, Gramm has emerged with some interesting plans. On welfare, for instance, he has come up with an idea that is so filled with a liberal, let's-try-something spirit that it is hard to believe he actually thinks it would work. In a speech which included, naturally, plenty of snipes about the evils of greater government, he laid it out at a meeting of the GOP faithful in January:
We are capable today with our computer
technology to have every welfare mother in
America come in and take a one-hour test,
and we can design a home study, computer-
generated, computer-proctored study pro-
gram for her, tailored to her needs and we
can make her check contingent on her com-
pleting that course work and developing the
skills at home with her children that will
make it possible for her to break the welfare
cycle, and I want that provision to be the
law of the land.
Is Gramm suggesting that we give welfare mothers computers and modems? Or that we hire more social service bureaucrats and give them computers and modems? Either way, would this pass the Dickey Flatt test?
"That is just an awful idea," says Dickey Flatt. "Absolutely awful. You need more bureaucrats. Then you need operators to teach these bureaucrats how to use the computers. That just means more government."
Mr. Flatt would no doubt also flunk Gramm's original health care plan. "People would be hunting Democrats with dogs by the end of the century" if Clinton's health plan passes, Gramm warned at a September press conference unveiling an alternative of his own. The problem, as he sees it, is that the plan would entail an explosion of regulations and the loss of consumer choice.
Oddly enough, Gramm's plan is wide open to similar charges. By trumpeting competition and consumer choice to keep costs down, Gramm gives it the patina of free market conservatism. But look what's underneath. Gramm would require that insurers provide employee policies that are "guaranteed renewable" with "premiums that could not be raised based on the occurrence of illness." Because Congress has steadfastly refused to regulate the insurance industry in the past, that means not just new laws, but new bureaucrats to oversee those new laws. Additional regulations await employers.
"When my momma gets sick, I want her to see a doctor, not a bureaucrat," Gramm drawls in town meetings around the country. But if Gramm's momma is like millions of other Americans and has a pre-existing condition, her son's plan would acquaint her with quite a number of bureaucrats. Gramm would place those with pre-existing conditions in a high risk pool, then allow insurance companies to bid for their business. These individuals would be required to pony up one-and-a-half times the average premium charged to healthy persons in the area. What if an insurance company charges someone seven times the area average? The government picks up the difference.
Of course, that could get expensive because Gramm hasn't given insurance companies any incentive not to gouge customers (and by extension, the government). Worse, insurers have a great reason to broadly define what constitutes a pre-existing condition and send as many people as possible to the high risk pool. This is a little like telling the defense industry that they get to decide how many fighter planes we need, then allowing them to charge whatever they want to build them.
Hence, the scheme would occasion either a vast transfer of wealth from Washington to the insurance industry, or, as is far more likely, it would occasion tough federal oversight and more regulations. In fact, this high risk pool would have to look a lot like a single payer system because it would result in people paying identical sums for coverage and would require government intervention to control costs. All of which explains why conservatives hate Gramm's plan. "He would create a new national health care system for high risk people," says Stuart Butler, director of policy studies at the Heritage Foundation. "It would have far less choice and far deeper federal involvement than Clinton's plan. This is not what you' d expect from Phil Gramm."
Indeed, other elements of the plan entail intrusion on a scale that makes Clinton seem positively liberiatian. "Financially capable" persons (200 percent of the poverty level) who choose not to purchase at least catastrophic insurance and end up needing care will have their wages garnisheed by the government over the course of seven years. Also, anyone getting federal assistance who smokes, drinks excessively, or is overweight will have to pay more for insurance. Without checking dumpsters for empties and fingers for nicotine stains, it's unclear how the government would know.
Given his alarms about the Clinton plan, it's hard to figure what Gramm had in mind when he drafted his own. Whatever it was, he's forgotten it. Latching on to the current GOP vogue, Gramm has scaled his plan back to minor tinkerings and add-ons to the present system and joined the "there is no health care crisis" chorus.
This shift is extremely revealing. It suggests that the point of his original plan was not so much to expand health care coverage to the country's 37 million uninsured but to abrade the administration and win some headlines. After all, if back in November Gramm was focused on the health care system enough to draft a plan to revamp it, he should have noticed then that the system wasn't in crisis. It's not as though there was a crisis five months ago and now it's over. There is a more likely explanation: Gramm's original plan--which had laudable ambition--was generating few cosponsors and little press. He saw an opportunity when Bill Kristol quickened some administration pulses in early January with a Wall Street Journal op-ed outlining the "there is no health care crisis" thesis. Shortly after the piece was published, Gramm met with Kristol and soon dumped his first plan in favor of Kristol's tiny bag of reforms (like malpractice legislation). Sure enough, miniGramm, as the plan is now known, has made its author a player on health care. Dole, who also used to agree that something had to be done on health care, boarded the no-crisis train in late January.
Phil Gramm: Salesman
Mini-Gramm may turn out to be a rare miscalculation for its creator, primarily because Clinton's State of the Union speech devastated the no-crisis line. 'That speech reinforced the hand of moderate Republicans," says Senator Dave Durenberger. "These are Republicans who've been involved with health care reform since the seventies, who believe we've got a real problem." It now looks as if John Chafee will be the GOP's point man in the coming legislative debate.
But once again, Gramm is trying to sell himself as the party's conservative big thinker on the day's hottest issue. It's a line that is often hard to buy. His ideas may come cloaked in the gravitas befitting a Ph.D. in economics, but the underpinning doctrine is usually nothing more esoteric than Tell Dickey Flatt What He Wants to Hear. For instance, on the country's two thorniest economic problems-deficit reduction and the sayings and loan collapse--Gramm's diagnoses resurrect that cheery and dubious motto of the eighties, "We can grow our way out of the problem." Asked how President Gramm would reduce the deficit, he recites Republican boilerplate about the need for a line item veto and a balanced budget amendment and adds, "I always begin by pointing out that the economy is growing and that growth is generating between $60 and $90 billion in new revenues. The key, if you're going to deal with the deficit, is that you'll benefit from these new revenues." And here he is in an interview with John McLaughlin in January of 1989, one year after optimistic estimates of S&L losses were at $100 billion and a federal ballout looked absolutely inevitable:
There is a hole out there. How big it is, $30 billion, $50 billion, somebody has to pay for it. And the person that I am committed to seeing not paying for it is the taxpayer.
How is that possible? asked an incredulous John McLaughlin.
If we can get private investors to come in and invest private capital, if we can see the recovery in the Southwest which has started continue--that is, we don't have a national recession that nips our recovery in the bud--then I think we've got a fighting chance... of working through this without the taxpayer having to pay for it.
History has not been kind to that Disneylandish forecast, and Gramre, without question, knew better. "By 1989, there wasn't a sane person on earth who thought taxpayers were going to dodge this bullet," says Steve Pizzo, author of Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans. "And every day the Phil Gramms of Congress denied the size of the problem and refused to close down the thrifts, we lost millions. At one point, $30 million a day."
One of Gramm' s gifts is repackaging this kind of pandering as heroism. On the Hill, where he's notorious for stealing credit for bills and ideas he didn't think of, there's a word for it: Grammstanding. Last year, the Dallas Morning News gave Texans a behind-the-curtain look at some of his methods when nine former Gramm staffers supplied the newspaper with internal memos from the senator's office. One concerned Gramm's visit to the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. The memo stated that "We have tried to create a 'BAMC funding scare' while feeling comfortable that BAMC is safe from the budget knife." The funding scare was designed to cast Gramm as the knight who rescued BAMC from oblivion but Gramm knew that the hospital would not have its funding slashed because Pentagon officials had told him so privately a few days before his visit. The senator's press office later told the Morning News that the word "not" had been omitted from the memo: 'The sentence should read 'We have not tried to create a BAMC funding scare..."'
Even by Washington's jaded standards this is cynical stuff. Another memo contained instructions on how to capitalize on the senator's wife, the same wife who had been hidden in those family values commercials: "The Asians are our natural constituents, philosophically and because of Wendy. This should be an easy sell; we need to continue to activate them, especially financially."
The key phrase here is "easy sell." Gramm likes Democrats to believe he's dangerous because he is an ideologue, but the real problem is that beyond hucksterism and ambition, he is devoid of ideology. Eyeing a run for the White House in '96, he's virtually required to lob shots at the administration; anyway, lobbing shots is now part of the GOP's job. But another part of the job is offering the public viable alternatives to Democrat ideas. For Gramm, that work is inseparable from self-promotion and leads him to sell plans that will score him points--or contradict his core philosophy--rather than move the debate forward or actually improve people's lives. It's telling that Clinton's real trouble on health care has come from a Democrat, Jim Cooper. It's also telling that these days Gramm isn't sure if he's the guy who wants to reduce spending or pay for a Dietary Supplement Department at NIH, shrink the government or wire the inner city for Internet, solve the health care crisis or disavow it. The shame is that there are few politicians today who are as smart as Gramm or as good at connecting with the kind of voters the country will need to accomplish real reform. Understanding how to "activate" Dickey Flatt, however, is not the same thing as leadership.
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|Title Annotation:||Republican Party leader Phil Gramm|
|Article Type:||Cover Story|
|Date:||Mar 1, 1994|
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