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TEXAS ON THE POTOMAC The Press and Phil Gramm PHIL GRAMM FIXED THE DATE of his official presidential campaign announcement months ago, provid ing editors adequate time to publish timely stories. The New York Times assigned its national correspondent Richard Berke to a Sunday magazine profile of Gramm. Berke’s profile ran on February 19, the Sunday before Gramm announced his candidacy in College Station and a number of other Texas cities. The Atlantic Monthly assigned David Frum, a former Wall Street Journal and Forbes editor who last year published Dead Right, something of a conservative how-to guide for the 1996 elections and beyond. Two major magazine pieces published in the same week provide some insight into how the press will treat Gramm during his campaign for the presidency. Both writers begin by describing Gramm as an unlikely candidate. Berke sees him as as “a two-term Senator from Texas who is known more as a bully than charmer, who looks more like a round-faced, stoop-shouldered Muppet than a stately public servant.” Frum writes that “Gramm’s hair doesn’t shine, and his Georgia accent is as thick as gumbo. He is neither cheerful or humble. He makes fewer political compromises than almost anyone in public life ” Both writers provide the reader with enough biographical information to create a sense of familiarity with the subject and both discuss an attribute for which Gramm is widely known: meanness. “Gramm’s snarling facade masks a man who loves dogs, who in the divorce settlement with his first wife kept their two Saint Bernards,” Berke writes. “In fact, though,” Frum writes, “Gramm in person is anything but angry or harsh. He may lack the anemic quality we call niceness, but he’s a witty and polite man. His friends do seem to like him: He and Senator John McCain, of Arizonathe gallant ex-POWspent more than a week last October hopping about the Southwest together in a tiny aircraft, shared a case of flu, and by day eight were still swapping jokes with warmth and kindliness. Gramm’s marriage has lasted twentyfive years and is, insofar as outsiders can or ought to judge, a close one; his two college age sons seem to be well-adjusted young men….” BUT KINDNESS toward domestic animals, friends and family do not a kind man make. Gramm’s public comments, reported in these pages and made before the Senator was seasoned by years of experience with the capital press corps, suggest something other than kindness. Speaking at the Cleburne Civic Center in 1981, Gramm said: “Did you see the picture [in the Dallas Morning News]? Here are these people who are skimping to avoid hunger. And they are all fat! In fact, in an unguarded moment, this picture induced me to point out that because of the perverse impact of food stamps, where we force people to buy food when, given a choice, they would choose to spend the aid we give them on other things, that we’re the only nation in the world where all our poor people are fat.” In a 1982 interview with the Woodlands Villager, Gramm mentioned a debate with Congressman Claude Pepper, who over a long career representing Florida in the Senate, and then in the House, established a reputation as an advocate for the elderly. “Then Claude Pepper got up and said, `There are 80-year-old people who are going to be denied this $110 a month.’ I got up and said ‘They are 80 years old. Most people don’t have the luxury of living to be 80 years old so it’s hard for me to feel sorry for them.’ ” After a speech at the Corsicana public library, “an elderly black woman,” according to the September 28, 1984 Observer, said to Gramm, “It’s easier to tell an old person, `Well, why don’t you go to a convalescent home?’ If you are able to look after yourself, if you just could get somewhere to live until you die, that’s better than people putting you in a home and people forgetting about you.” “You haven’t thought about a new husband, have you?” Gramm asks, smiling. “My husband hasn’t been here for four years,” the woman says. “I’m just kidding,” the Congressman assures her and moves on to the next question. SENATOR’S voting record, con sistent with comments he made more than a decade ago, goes almost untouched by both Berke and Frum. Not even Gramm’s most egregious votes are mentioned. During his first term, for example, a vote Gramm cast against a 1987 supplemental appropriation for Meals on Wheels, the volunteer-administered program that delivers hot meals to the homes of poor, elderly Americans, placed him among an isolated minority that defined the extreme right of the Senate. The $1.4 million supplemental appropriation was intended to provide almost one million additional meals during the summer of 1987. “I urge my colleagues not to succumb to, again, this new version of the old siren song,” Gramm said during floor debate. The amendment passed, 70-5. In floor debate a year earlier, the state Gramm represents was used as a benchmark for hunger among the elderly. A 1986 statewide survey of Texas participants in Meals on Wheels had found that 34 percent of those surveyed said they would go hungry without the home-delivered meals. And 58 percent said the program provided them with the only hot meal they ate each day. Berke finds his way to Dickie Flatt, whom residents of Texas know as Gramm’s taxpaying Everyman, the printer from Mexia \(that’s meh-HAY-ah, network gles for a living and never gets the ink off the ends of his fingers.” Before voting for a spending program, he continues, Gramm asks himself “if it’s worth taking money away from Dickie Flatt?” But Berke fails to mention Gramm’s votes on Sematech, the government-private industry microchip consortium domiciled in Gramm’s home state; the defunct Superconducting Super Collider in Waxahachie; the high-dollar U.S. Navy Home Port at Ingleside; and the much-ridiculed mohair subsidy, established during the First World War to ensure a supply of wool for military uniforms and now providing welfare for Hill Country sheep ranchers. In voting for these programs, it might be argued, Gramm stuck his hands so deep into Dickie Flatt’s pockets that the Senator might have violated the Texas Sodomy Statute. 10 MARCH 10, 1995