July 10, 2008 -- Sen. Barack Obama blasted his Republican rival today after one of Sen. John McCain's top economic advisors said the nation was in a "mental recession" and complained America is "a nation of whiners."
Although McCain attempted to distance himself from the comments of his economic advisor, former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, Obama pounced, quipping that the nation already has one "Dr. Phil."
"Today, one of [McCain's] top economic advisors, former Sen. Phil Gramm, said that we're merely in a 'mental recession,'" Obama told a crowd of about 2,800 today at a town hall meeting in Fairfax, Va.
"He didn't say this but I guess what he meant was that it's a figment of your imagination, these high gas prices. Sen. Gramm then deemed the United States, and I quote, 'a nation of whiners.' Ho! A nation of whiners. This comes after Sen. McCain recently admitted that his energy proposals for the gas tax holiday and the drilling will have mainly, quote, 'psychological benefits,'" Obama said.
"I want all of you to know that America already has one Dr. Phil. We don't need another one when it comes to the economy," he said. "We need somebody to actually solve the economy. It's not just a figment of your imagination, it's not all in your head."
Gramm was quoted in the Washington Times Wednesday as saying the economy is bad because people believe it's bad. "You've heard of a mental depression; this is a mental recession," Gramm said during the interview, arguing that America has become a nation of constant "whiners."
After the report circulated on the Internet today, the Obama campaign added a response to Gramm's comments at the last minute during a campaign speech originally slated to be about women's economic security.
Keying off Gramm's remarks, Obama argued McCain doesn't understand the economic difficulties that Americans are experiencing.
"When people are out there losing their homes and property values are declining, that's not a figment of your imagination and it isn't whining to ask government to step in and give families some relief," Obama said.
During a news conference following a town hall campaign event in Belleville, Mich., today, McCain distanced himself from Gramm, who is also the vice chairman of Swiss banking giant UBS.
"I don't agree with Sen. Gramm," McCain said. "I believe that the person here in Michigan that just lost his job isn't suffering from a 'mental recession.' I believe that the mother here in Michigan or around America who is trying to get enough money here to educate her children isn't whining. America is in great difficulty, and we are experiencing enormous economic challenges as well as others," he said, adding, "Phil Gramm does not speak for me, I speak for me. So I strongly disagree."
Asked whether Gramm could secure a cabinet position in a McCain administration, McCain said sarcastically, "I think Sen. Gramm would be in serious consideration for ambassador of Belarus, although I'm not sure the citizens of Minsk would welcome that."
In an interview with the Washington Post today, Gramm stood by his recession comments.
"I'm not going to retract any of it," he said. "Every word I said was true.
"Look, the economy is bad. It is far below what we Americans have a right to expect, but we are not in a recession," Gramm said. "We may or may not have one in the future, but based on the data, we are not in a recession. But that does not mean all this talk does not have a psychological impact."
Democrats on the Hill took advantage of Gramm's remarks to attack McCain.
"It takes a lot of nerve for someone to say this is 'a nation of whiners.' Americans are hard workers," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
"This is Exhibit A about a presidential candidate not in touch with the American people," McCaskill said. "Exhibit A!"
"I can tell you when I was filling up my Saturn in the Twin Cities, people at the pump were not hallucinating," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. "This is not mental delusion, this is real."
The back and forth between the campaigns comes as both candidates attempt to focus their messages on the economy. Campaigning in the swing state of Virginia today, Obama targeted his message to working women, proposing tax breaks and better maternity leave benefits.
Obama urged women voters to compare his economic plan with McCain's.
"When you look at our records, you look at plans on the economic issues that matter most to women, it becomes very clear that he will not bring change and I will," Obama said, "That starts with acknowledging the economic difficulties that so many families and so many women are experiencing right now. If you can't see the problem, you're not gonna solve it."
Reacting to Obama's "Dr. Phil" quip, McCain argued Obama should be labeled "Dr. No" because he opposes many of the economic and energy proposes McCain has put forth.
"He's Dr. No on energy," McCain said of Obama, "He's against nuclear power. He's against the storing of nuclear fuel, and he's against reprocessing it. He's against off-shore drilling. He's against offering a reward for the development of electric cars. He's against everything we need to do to make this nation energy independent."
Following a question about Gramm's comments, McCain added, "My response is, I speak for me, I've been speaking to the American people, and I've been leading us forward with plans of actions to address our economy and our need for energy independence."
With files from ABC News' Jake Tapper, Teddy Davis and Z. Byron Wolf.