Jonah Goldberg
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That's because Raines was transforming Fannie Mae from a boring but stable financial institution dedicated to making homes more affordable into a risky venture that abused its special status as a "Government Sponsored Enterprise" (GSE) for Raines' personal profit. Fannie bought the bad loans and bundled them together with good ones. Wall Street was glad to buy up these mortgage securities because Fannie Mae was deemed a government-insured behemoth "too big to fail." And others followed Fannie's lead.

The current financial crisis stems in large part from the fact that people who shouldn't have been buying a home, or who bought more home than they could afford, now can't pay their bills. Their bad mortgages are mixed up with the good mortgages. And thanks in part to new accounting rules set up after Enron, the bad mortgages have contaminated the whole pile, reducing the value of even stable mortgages.

Of course, there are other important factors at work here, having to do with changing technology among other things. And even if the bad mortgages weren't in the system, we'd still have the hangover from the end of the housing boom. But the financial system could have handled that with the usual corrections. The biggest dose of poison entered the financial bloodstream through Washington. And some people warned us. In 2003, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac revealed they cooked their books to overstate their earnings and that they didn't really know what was going on. The Bush administration pushed for reforms, but those efforts were rebuffed by Congress, with Democrats Barney Frank and Christopher Dodd taking point, because Fannie and Freddie have spent millions in campaign contributions.

In 2005, McCain sponsored legislation to thwart what he later called "the enormous risk that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pose to the housing market, the overall financial system and the economy as a whole."

Obama, the Senate's second-greatest recipient of donations from Fannie and Freddie after Dodd, did nothing.

Meanwhile, Raines, the head of a government-supported institution, made $52 million of his $90 million compensation package thanks in part to fraudulent earnings statements.

But, ah yes, the greedy criminals responsible for this mess must be somewhere on Wall Street.

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Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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