It isn't often that public outrage peaks so close to an election, but this is a rare moment in history when "we the people" can exact a price from the political leadership that has duped, scammed and lied to them, contributing mightily to the current financial mess.
At the Senate Banking Committee hearings Tuesday, Democrats, led by Chairman Chris Dodd of Connecticut, seemed to think the mortgage crisis, aided and abetted by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, AIG, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and other disasters, occurred on someone else's watch. Dodd, joined by ranking Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama, criticized what he said was the ad hoc nature of the government's response to the financial crisis and complained that the Bush administration's proposals lack detail.
Some history is important. It was pressure from the Carter and Clinton administrations that forced Fannie and Freddie to grant more high-risk loans to people who otherwise would never qualify. They mostly wanted to promote not only new home ownership numbers, but also more home ownership in the minority community. That was a noble goal, but the cost turned out to be too high.
Democrats would love to blame the Bush administration for a disaster they mostly helped to create. But, according to the White House, as early as April 2001, the administration warned that the size of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was "a potential problem," because "financial trouble of a large (government-sponsored enterprise) could cause strong repercussions in financial markets, affecting federally insured entities and economic activity." As recently as June of this year, President Bush asked Congress to take the necessary measures to address growing foreclosures. "We need to pass legislation to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac," he said. In July, Congress passed reform legislation, but it was too late.
It is an affront to the nation that some of the people who brought on the crisis (and financially and politically benefited from the status quo) were asking the questions at the Banking Committee hearing. They should have been in the witness chair. Dodd said the crisis was "entirely foreseeable and preventable." Then why didn't he try to prevent it? He should have been answering questions about the PAC contributions he received from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, (according to opensecrets.org, he's the Senate's no. 1 recipient of campaign contributions, $133,900, Barack Obama is no. 3, $105,849), his sweetheart Countrywide Financial mortgage rate and whether they influenced his inattentiveness to the growing mortgage crisis.
If the public wants real reform, it will penalize the people and the party that failed to provide it. Voters can do more than "throw the bums out." They can throw these bums out and replace them with freshmen Republicans who will take office with a reformer's zeal and rebuild the government's financial house before the Potomac fever virus infects them. With John McCain and Sarah Palin already committed to reform (as opposed to Barack Obama's nonspecific "change"), the combination of a new Republican administration and a Republican Congress that has been chastened by its defeat in the 2006 election and imbued with a new zeal to change the way Washington works, could produce a revolution that would have made our Founders proud.
Polls show many congressional races are tightening. But while Democrats are bragging about increasing their numbers and producing a "veto-proof" majority, can the public trust that those who gave us the problem can provide the solution?
McCain and Palin ought to do more than ask voters to elect them. They should call for a complete house cleaning in Washington and ask voters to give them the mop. Real reform won't come with a Republican White House and a Democratic Congress. And it surely won't come with an all-Democratic government. While Republicans could have done much more when they held a congressional majority under a Republican president, they now swear they have learned their lesson. With the public engaged as never before, even Republicans wouldn't be able to get away with business as usual this time.
Let the revolution begin! Judgment Day should come on Nov. 4.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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