Opinion Columns & Blogs

July 19, 2008

Friends McCain doesn't need

John McCain needs no enemies so long as he has friends like Phil Gramm and Mark Sanford.

First, it was the former senator from Texas declaring that America was a "nation of whiners." That didn't go down well with millions of voters facing foreclosure, job losses or soaring gas prices.

That niffnaw hadn't faded when the South Carolina governor was asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer to cite any economic policy of McCain's that differed from George Bush's. Sanford mentioned NAFTA, only to have Blitzer point out that McCain's and Bush's stances on free trade were identical. Giving the wrong answer was bad enough, but our Guv rambled on as if he had just awakened, at one point declaring that he had lost his thought -- "something I hate to do, particularly on television."

His embarrassing performance comes a year after the reigning Miss Teen South Carolina uttered her infamous "U.S. Americans" answer to a question about why Americans couldn't locate their own country on a map. Half the nation already believed that South Carolinians are addled because of inbreeding and too much moonshine; the last thing we needed was Sanford on national TV, convincing the other half.

One silver lining of these recent gaffes is that Gramm and Sanford probably have taken themselves out of contention for the GOP's choice for vice president. Neither was considered better than a dark horse, but the thought that either could be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office is too terrifying to contemplate.

I never had the opportunity to meet Gramm, although I did meet his wife, Wendy, when she visited The Herald's editorial board in 1996, the year her husband ran for president.

While Mrs. Gramm was spouting off about the senator's opposition to big government, I glanced at the couple's curricula vitae, included in the press packet. Both Gramms had worked only for either government or public universities. They had the chutzpah to lecture Americans about the evils of government spending but had spent their entire lives with their snouts in the public trough!

Mrs. Gramm later achieved notoriety as a director of Enron, evidently oblivious to shenanigans that led to one of the biggest corporate collapses in history. Phil Gramm since has lobbied on behalf of the global investment firm UBS against tougher rules on predatory mortgage lending. Great Americans, no?

Mark Sanford has mooched off taxpayers a long time himself. Now in his sixth year as governor, Sanford served three terms in Congress before that. He claims to be a developer, but nobody I know can point to anything he's developed.

During his six years in Washington, D.C., Sanford was noted neither for his legislative prowess nor constituent service. Mostly, he bragged that he slept every night on a futon in his office.

In other words, he freeloaded off taxpayers instead of paying rent or a mortgage like other congressmen.

Does anyone think he declared this perk on his income tax returns?

This is the same guy who got his hand slapped for claiming his beach house was his permanent residence even though he and his family were ensconced in the Governor's Mansion in Columbia.

The scariest skeleton in the governor's political closet is his longstanding relationship with Howard Rich, the New York real estate tycoon who is the moola behind the school voucher movement in this state.

Rich has funneled tens of thousands of dollars into individual legislative races or to such front groups as South Carolinians for Responsible Government in an effort to siphon millions of dollars in state revenues to support private schools.

Sanford, who once appeared on a "20/20" segment entitled "Stupid In America" to explain why he wouldn't send his children to public school, had his fingerprints all over a "hit list" of legislators who opposed vouchers. Just last week, he appointed to the Education Oversight Committee a Greer woman who has pledged to abolish public education.

Just why our scalawag governor and his carpetbagger friend seized on this small state for their anti-public education agenda isn't clear.

I guess they think we're stupid.

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