President Obama has a weakness for thinking in categories. For someone who provokes swoons among liberals for his great intellect, he has repeatedly evidenced an unsophisticated, one might even say simple-minded, view of the world: Workers good; bosses exploitative. Borrowers good; lenders bad. Patients good; insurance companies bad. Again and again, the president and his spokesmen have justified their expansions of government power as efforts to help those who "through no fault of their own" find themselves in difficulties.
Many politicians traffic in this kind rhetoric during campaigns, but Obama has institutionalized it in policy.
One of those reifications -- the Home Affordable Modification Program -- now stands revealed as a failure.
Recall that in February 2009, President Obama proposed to solve a "crisis unlike we've ever known." It wasn't, the president insisted, that anyone had made poor decisions. "It begins with a young family ... They save up ... They choose a home that feels like the perfect place to start a life. They secure a fixed-rate mortgage at a reasonable rate, and they make a down payment, and they make their mortgage payments each month. They are as responsible as anyone could ask them to be." But then someone loses a job, a spouse has his or her hours cut, or a child becomes sick.
The president's $75 billion program guaranteed that homeowners with Fannie or Freddie mortgages would be eligible for refinancing to lower rates if their mortgages were between 80 and 105 percent of the home's worth. Other borrowers facing foreclosure would be able to refinance their mortgages down to 31 percent of their monthly income.
Didn't this mean that taxpayers who didn't buy too much house or who paid their mortgage bills on time would be subsidizing those who did not? No, the president insisted. "I want to be very clear about what this plan will not do: It will not rescue the unscrupulous or irresponsible by throwing good taxpayer money after bad loans. It will not help speculators ... It will not help dishonest lenders who acted irresponsibly, distorting the facts and dismissing the fine print at the expense of buyers who didn't know better. And it will not reward folks who bought homes they knew from the beginning they would never be able to afford."
The president never explained how the Treasury Department would differentiate "responsible" borrowers from "speculators" because in fact, it could not. Tea party protesters were not fooled. They carried placards saying "Honk if I'm paying your mortgage."