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"I have more guuuns than I need, but less guuuns than I want."

With this one soundbite, the liberals in the mainstream media swarmed all over Phil Gramm and ended his Presidential aspirations in 1996. It was partly Gramm's fault. He had let his campaign fall into the hands of consultants who were real good at paying attention to details, but weren't worth a damn at seeing the big picture. The Big Picture in Gramm's case was this: He needed to attract the Reagan conservatives, and they just weren't seeing him as a viable candidate. Then there was that godawful down home Southern drawl . . .

Back in his day, however; Gramm helped take the face of the Northeastern and Midwestern Bluebloods off of the GOP. These were the Republicans who were just a tad less liberal than Democrats. Think Henry Cabot Lodge. Gramm had as much influence as any one man in shaping the GOP into what it is today.

Economics was his first career. He was born a military brat, son of high-school dropouts. He flunked repeatedly in elementary school, but pure stubbornness got him into college, graduate school, and a damn good teaching position. Working in the Texas A&M Economics Department, he learned, taught, and published studies in monetarism and free markets. But it was Gramm's critique of energy controls that brought him to politics.

In the 1970s, Texas was the front lines for the fuel caps of the Nixon, Ford, and especially Carter era. It was a place where the big money oil and gas guys wanted an intelligent voice for their position, and Gramm turned out to be the guy. He was first elected in Texas' Sixth District in 1978. Like everyone else where he lived, he was a Democrat. However, his first speech (delivered on Republican time in the House) called for a debt ceiling and a balanced budget amendment. Thus began his war with his conscience and his lifelong party affiliation.

Gramm became one of the head honchos in the "Boll Weevil Democrat" lineup. These were the thirty to forty-five folks without whom Ronald Reagan could never have gotten that 25% across-the-board tax cut back then (which is the single greatest reason economic expansion has been a given for what is probably most of you folks' whole lives), nor could Reagan have gotten the military build-up that turned the Cold War. Gramm worked his ass off to keep these Boll Weevil Democrats in line, and that didn't win him any points with the Majority Leader at the time, Jim Wright. Wright, you might remember, is the one who inadvertently led Newt Gingrich into the spotlight, since Newt got Wright's ass in a crack over an exposé of a book deal which was so illegal that it was laughable. But that's another story.

At the time, in 1981, Big Jim Wright was trying to appease Phil Gramm by sticking him on the powerful House Budget Committee. He hoped this would curb his conservative tendencies by enhancing his influence within the Democratic party. But Gramm didn't kowtow to Wright's agenda and made public statements about the wastefulness of his fellow Democrats. Soon afterwards, Wright stripped him of his Budget Committee position. Two days later, Jan. 5, 1983, Gramm resigned his seat in the House and announced that he'd run for the Senate as a Republican. You see, he didn't "swap parties" just after he'd been elected, like some pompous Senator from Vermont would do. He actually quit and asked the voters to reelect him under this new party label. It's the only honest thing to do. He was only the second Republican to win a Senate seat from Texas since Reconstruction.

During the Clinton years, Gramm was the heart and brains of the GOP counterattack against Hillary's health-care scheme. In fact, Gramm is one of the first Republicans to intellectually understand the political incentives the liberals have for overspending. I suppose that's because he saw it so clearly from the other side of the aisle. But his trademark slogan (for those who were not brainwashed by the "I have more guuuuns than I need" quote) is his Dicky Flatt Test.

Dicky Flatt is a printer he knows in Mexia, Texas, who works as hard as anyone he's ever met, according to Gramm. To him, Dicky Flatt symbolizes the average American taxpayer. Every time he'd look at some new idea for a government program, Gramm says he asks a simple question: "Will the benefits to be derived by spending money on this program be worth taking money away from Dicky Flatt to pay for it?"

Phil Gramm has said that he will not run for reelection in 2002. I know I'll miss him, and I'm sure the Republican party will, too. I guess he's tired of having to fight his own party as well as the real enemy. Goddamn the interior of that Beltway for what it does to folks who used to be real.

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