Who had displayed political leadership in 2004? Who was telling the difficult truths that needed to be said? Who paid the political price, and who were the media darlings?
The aftermath of the 2004 hearings tanked Armando Falcon’s career, despite the fact that history ultimately proved him right. Falcon was making $158,000 a year as the head of OFHEO; Franklin Raines escaped criminal liability for the massive fraud that occurred under his watch, taking home over $90 million during his tenure as Fannie Mae CEO. Congressman Barney Frank – on the committee charged with financial oversight of Fannie Mae - had been in a romantic relationship with a high-ranking Fannie Mae executive in a clear conflict of interest. Frank retired in 2011 with a nice pension and plaudits.
Should Republicans have taken a harder line in 2004? Should they have – heaven forbid - shut down the government until the Democrats listened and agreed to better regulate and oversee Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? If they had, would the media have been truthful about the need for regulation, the burgeoning risks, and the impending collapse?
No. It would have been, "Republicans don't want poor people to have homes." Because political hyperbole is easier than telling the truth.
It is no different today. What risks are we facing as a nation right now? What would political leadership look like in this climate? Who has the courage to speak the truth? And what are the consequences when they do?
Last week, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz dared to point out in a 21-hour “filibuster”-style speech what is apparently not painfully obvious enough to some -- that (Nancy Pelosi notwithstanding) we still don't know everything about Obamacare; that what we are discovering, the American public doesn't like; that it will cost orders of magnitude more than what we were told (read: "lied to about"); that it is putting people out of work; that even if we like our doctors and our insurance, we won’t be able to keep them, because the economic consequences of the law are forcing companies to toss their employees into the “exchanges” (which some of have been saying all along).
What is the public’s reaction? “Political theater!” “Upstart!” “GrandstandingI” Pundits are publicly asking whether Cruz has shot himself in the foot or craftily launched a presidential campaign. Virtually no one is asking whether he was telling the truth.
This week, House Republicans are taking a hard line, insisting that Obamacare be defunded or delayed until it can be properly implemented, or better legislation can be drafted to take its place. What is the reaction? Google “Republicans” and “government shutdown” and see for yourself.
What we are seeing is the same blinkered, short-sighted, hysterical deceit that got us into this financial mess in the first place. People are panicking about a temporary – and partial - government shutdown. Where is the panic over a leviathan government that cannot operate within its means?
Obamacare is a disaster in the making. Our government is hurtling headlong toward fiscal collapse. Social Security is broke, as are Medicare and Medicaid. We borrow 43 cents of every dollar we spend. When the consequences of our present course become clear, it will make 2008 look like a hiccup. And those wailing about this pitifully ineffective shutdown will look back and say, "Where was the leadership??"
Busy giving you exactly what you say you want, that's where.
The President loves to rewrite history to suit his purposes. When he was a United States senator, Barack Obama railed against the fiscal irresponsibility of continuing to raise the debt ceiling. Now that he’s President, it’s suddenly unpatriotic and irresponsible not to give him all the money he wants? Where are the media voices calling the President out on this hypocrisy?
Congressional Democrats seem to think it’s a big joke. Just another P.R. opportunity. They refuse to negotiate. They refuse to cut spending. They subject us peons to their legislative fiascos, while carving out exemptions for themselves and powerful corporations. And just as they did in 2004, they refuse to acknowledge financial reality, while pointing the fingers at the very people who are trying to bring these matters to the public’s attention. Contrary to Harry Reid's snide slander, it isn't a call for "anarchy" to insist that our government confine itself to its constitutional limits and stay within its budget. The fact that he can say such a thing is proof of how desperately stupid, amoral, and self-serving our political leaders have become. The fact that our media lets them get away with it demonstrates how complicit they have become in the ongoing rape of our country.
It’s not the shutdowns we should worry about, but the “shut ups” – those voices in the political class and the media who do not want anyone to tell the American public what is really happening, and what is really at stake. Real political leadership involves telling people things that entrenched special interests and certain members of the ruling class do not want them to know. It means saying "we cannot afford it" when we cannot afford it, even if lots of people want it because they've been lied to and told it's cheap or free.
It used to be that people in this country understood that a leader is someone who stands out from the pack, not one who mindlessly follows it.
Apparently, we don’t want leaders, we want lemmings. And everyone knows where you end up when you follow those creatures.
Laura Hollis is an Associate Professional Specialist and Concurrent Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches entrepreneurship and business law. She is the author of the forthcoming publication, “Start Up, Screw Up, Scale Up: What Government Can Learn From the Best Entrepreneurs,” © 2014. Her opinions are her own, and do not reflect the position of the university. Follow her on Twitter: @LauraHollis61.