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It’s a long way from whining to suicide

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Posted: July 26, 2008 11:56 p.m.
Updated: September 27, 2008 5:03 a.m.
Have we become a nation of whiners, as Phil Gramm opined in an interview with the Washington Times published July 10, discussing the mortgage meltdown?

At the time, the former Texas senator and current vice chairman of UBS, the giant Swiss bank, was campaign co-chairman and top economic adviser to presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Gramm said Americans who think the economy is the most pressing issue of the campaign were wrong, that we have become “sort of a nation of whiners” in a “mental recession.”

Public outcry followed. Gramm stood by his remarks, but McCain distanced himself. “Phil Gramm does not speak for me,” the senator said, adding that people who just lost their jobs or can’t afford to educate their kids aren’t in a mental recession.

Sen. Barack Obama, R-Ill., the Democratic presidential candidate, jumped on Gramm’s comments, saying, “America already has one Dr. Phil. We don’t need another one when it comes to the economy.”

Eight days later, under pressure, Gramm resigned from the McCain campaign.

The question remains: Have we become a nation of whiners? Or is the pain legitimate?

Whining about a problem is one thing. Freedom of speech is one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. There’s little doubt whining is a form of speech, albeit an annoying one.

But figuring out a solution, and then solving the problem, is another thing altogether. The right to petition the government to provide redress of grievances is also one of the five freedoms.

We think the solution to the financial crisis combines personal and public responsibility.

As individuals, we Americans — whiners included — need to take responsibility for our own actions. That includes becoming more savvy about personal finance. (How most people make it to adulthood without knowing how to balance a checkbook — that’s a topic for another editorial.)

At the same time, our elected officials need to step up and work with fiscal experts to solve the immediate crisis, as well as protect the public from predatory loan practices in the future.

The mortgage bailout bill passed by Congress this week — designed to save and reconstruct Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae at a cost of about $25 billion, according to a rough estimate by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office — is a step in that direction.

President Bush, who previously stated he would veto such a bill, saying homeowners who make bad decisions and predatory lenders should pay for their own mistakes, on Thursday made a 180-degree turn and said he would sign it.

Without his signature on the bill, the nation’s two biggest mortgage loan providers could collapse, pulling many other financial institutions into the same black hole, causing chaos throughout the national and international economies.

Bush knew when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.

Maybe now, as millions around the country try to deal with the fear, anxiety and pain of losing their homes in foreclosure — exemplified by the Massachusetts woman who killed herself Tuesday afternoon, 90 minutes before her home was to be auctioned — is not the time to call these people whiners.

But now also presents a golden opportunity for our elected officials and government agencies to be responsible to the public they serve.

Immediate crisis apparently averted, the hard work remains ahead. It is not whining for the public to insist our leaders follow through with the reforms and oversight necessary to avert such crises in the future — as long as the public is also willing to learn how to make better-informed financial decisions.


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