Airing on TV Now: Phil & Wendy Gramm!

The snapping turtle and his wife take to the Texas airwaves to lecture on "personal responsibility"


You just can’t keep an old snapping turtle down. Just when it seemed former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm had finally tucked his beak into his shell and crawled off the public stage for good, here he is again, lecturing us about “personal responsibility” and the need to pass a savage state budget. As a bonus, his wife, Wendy Gramm who played a pivotal role in the Enron scandal, makes an appearance too, talking about “our savings” and “our means.”

The TV ad is now running statewide along with six others paid for by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a “free-market” organization beloved by Gov. Rick Perry. Wendy Gramm is the chairman of the foundation’s board.

The Gramms are a perfect fit for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which seems to take its ideological cues from Ayn Rand and the Austrian School of Economics. TPPF, along with Astroturf outfits like Michael Quinn Sullivan’s Empower Texans and Americans for Prosperity, are engaged in a full-court press right now to pressure lawmakers into passing what they deem “a conservative budget.” And by “conservative,” they mean the House budget, which consists almost entirely of deep cuts and would dramatically shrink the size of state government.

The audacity of the Gramms calling on ordinary Texans to shoulder the burden of this economic crisis is stunning. As has been extensively documented, the two played key roles in the deregulation binge that helped usher in the era of Enron, and later, the subprime mortgage meltdown, the collapse of the financial industry and the incalculable suffering this economy has spawned.

As Patti Kilday Hart, now a Houston Chronicle columnist, wrote for the Observer in 2008:

Financial wizard Warren Buffett has labeled the risky new investment instruments [Phil] Gramm unleashed “financial weapons of mass destruction.” They have fed the subprime mortgage crisis like an accelerant. While his distracted peers probably finalized their Christmas gift lists, Gramm created what Wall Street analysts now refer to as the “shadow banking system,” an industry that operates outside any government oversight, but, as witnessed by the Bear Stearns debacle, requiring rescue by taxpayers to avert a national economic catastrophe.

While the nation’s investment bankers are paying a heavy price for their unbridled greed (in billions of dollars of write-offs), Gramm has fared quite nicely. He currently serves as a vice president at UBS AG, a colossal, Swiss-owned investment ban—the post, no doubt, a “thank you” for assiduously looking out for Wall Street interests during his 23 years in public office.

As writer Andrew Leonard has put it, “If there was any real justice in this world, Phil Gramm would be subject to a lifetime ban on ever uttering the words ‘regulatory burden’.”

But being a Gramm means never having to say you’re sorry. Especially when you have an extremely well-funded regional ‘think tank’ like the Texas Public Policy Foundation to burnish your image with bucolic scenes of Texas ranchland and soaring music.