It’s not just Phil Gramm who thinks it’s all in our head.

I sit on the board of the Chamber of Commerce in my little Ohio town and a few months ago, another board member, an owner of a Chevrolet car dealership, sputtered nonsense pretty much the same as Gramm.

"This is all in people’s heads," he said. "They’re listening to all the bad news in the media and that’s why they’re not buying anything."

To his credit, my Chamber seatmate didn’t go the extra mile and accuse his dwindling customer base of whining. But I could hear a faint whiff of disgust in his voice – and just a hint of desperation.

As pointed out by David Olive in The Toronto Star, this is the same Phil Gramm who still collects salary from his directorship at UBS AG, where his guidance helped the giant Swiss lender to become the world’s largest loser in the U.S. subprime debacle, and whose wife, Wendy, graced the board of Enron Corp. in its final years.

Gramm, of course, was also the principal 1980s champion as a Senator of "supply-side economics," the reverse-Robin Hood economic strategy that helped boost the U.S. national debt to its current record of $9 trillion, with a brief interlude of sanity during the tenure of President Bill Clinton.

Both Gramm and the Chevrolet dealer share an abundant faith in what George H. W. Bush once called "voodoo economics." Where they differ is that Gramm, light years removed from real life, will never have to worry about having a roof above his head or where his next meal will come from. Our Chevy dealer, on the other hand, could theoretically lose his dealership.

I would like to bring Mr. Gramm together with the local Chevy dealer and see if perhaps they could take a stroll down our Main Street and tell all the small businesses, which give the town its charm, to stop whining and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

They might find it a difficult sell. They might, at some point, have to make a run from missiles angrily hurled in their direction.

I could recite a small litany of people I know personally who are, constructively, losing their shirt right here on Main Street USA (and our Main Street does, if you squint a little, look like Disney’s in Orlando, right down to the architecture).

I know people in an eclectic mix of business endeavours including real estate, banking, mortgage lending, bus driving, antiques selling, art supplies, advertising and public relations and on and on who are either out of the game or hanging by a hair.

Phil Gramm doesn’t know these people or care how hard they worked to create their slice of what we may soon bitterly refer to as âeoeThe American Dream.âe In the modern conservative vernacular, there are winners (Wal-Mart, Halliburton, now Anheuser-Busch, InBev, etc) and losers (smaller businesses on rapidly dying Main Streets).

The other thing bootstrap enthusiasts (as Sinclair Lewis liked to call them) like Gramm don’t understand is how many of these small business owners and employees are rolling the dice on their health. With almost 54 million uninsured, one surgery or hospitalization could very well mean another "For Lease" sign on a Main Street store front.

Not that Gramm could fathom ever losing a minute’s sleep over his own personal health care costs.

But when has the American ruling caste every really given a flying fig for the masses anyway? Everyone down on our level, supposedly, has been told they can be replaced.

Even in this Republican bastion I live in, few wish to comprehend that as fuel costs continue to rise it will be the mom and pop stores that cater to the locals on Main Street, not the massive Wal-Mart on the edge of town, that will be this community’s salvation.

But by the time all the mom and pops have packed it in and the soaring fuel costs cripple Wal-Mart’s âeoewarehouse on wheels,âe who will serve the millions of people living in small towns and rural areas all over North America?

There is nothing wrong with the perception of the average American. They may not understand macroeconomics but they know that their dollars are buying less every day both in fuel and food. They know that the Federal bailouts of Bear Stearns, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and the sinking stock market will not bring glad tidings. They know that their employers are also hurting and that raises in their salaries to keep up with the soaring costs will not be coming.

There is a period where we are now âe" a twilight zone between disquiet and desperation. The people closest to the ground know something is going terribly wrong. They’re not sure who is telling them the truth but they hope, perhaps for the last time, for some salvation from the upcoming national elections.

The house of cards that is the U.S. economy is starting to wobble as the tsunami spreads from Wall Street to Main Street. Another spike in fuel costs, another round of layoffs, another sickening fall of the U.S. dollar and the serious pain begins.

I wonder what Phil Gramm will have to say then?

Keith Gottschalk

Keith Gottschalk

U.S. Keith Gottschalk has written for daily newspapers in Iowa, Illinois and Ohio. He also had a recent stint as a radio talk show host in Illinois. As a result of living in the high ground...