It is widely accepted that for the U.S. economy to recover, reducing the number of home foreclosures is essential. Last Wednesday, President Obama and his economic team unveiled a plan to do just that. Of course, the plan is expensive and has been a source of controversy, and rightly so. However, what struck me most about opposition to Obama’s housing plan was an obvious lack of empathy for those in danger of losing their homes.
GOP opposition to the plan was predictable, but Republicans were fortunate that someone else would vocalize their dissent for them this time. Obama’s plan to remedy the housing crisis was decried on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange by Rick Santelli of CNBC. Santelli’s “Chicago Tea Party” rant quickly turned viral, which largely absolved the GOP from having to make the argument for themselves.
If you haven’t seen his antics, you’ll find them here. Santelli totally reminded me of my one-year-old’s outrage whenever I give her three-year-old brother a cookie.
On the day following Santelli’s tantrum it became quite clear that his message found sympathizers. Talk radio listeners from both sides of the political spectrum kept the pundits’ phone lines busy. Their complaints mimicked those of the CNBC talking head (emphasis added):
The government is promoting bad behavior. Because we certainly don’t want to put stimulus forth and give people a whopping $8 or $10 in their check, and think that they ought to save it, and in terms of modifications… I’ll tell you what, I have an idea. You know, the new administration’s big on computers and technology– How about this, President and new administration? Why don’t you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages; or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a chance to actually prosper down the road, and reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water?
Aside from taking a many-shades-of-gray issue and presenting it in black & white, such a complaint betrays its maker as someone who is oblivious about the magnitude of the foreclosure crisis and totally misunderstands the Obama housing plan (.pdf). The plan’s final form will be determined by Congress. House Democrats are presently haggling over the details of the legislation, and the Senate is expected to address the matter in two weeks.
I eagerly await the debate, but in the mean time, allow me to get on my soapbox. Why is it so hard to believe that a significant segment of the estimated 9 million homeowners in danger of foreclosure aren’t “losers,” as Santelli so eloquently put it? Certainly, all of them weren’t speculators who got caught with their pants down when the bubble burst. Indeed, Time‘s David Von Drehle put it this way:
…it’s not just the subprime suckers going down. Trouble stretches beyond the province of liar loans, condo-flipping and the collateralized debt obligations that no one fully understands. A hard rain now falls on the just as well as the unjust. Consumers have stopped spending, factories have stopped operating, employers have stopped hiring — and home values continue to fall. For millions of people, the margin between getting by and getting buried is becoming as thin and as bloody as a razor blade.
I’d love to know what you think. Personally, I was disturbed by the complaints about the plan. Homeowners, ask yourselves this question the next time you hear someone complain that they’re, “having to foot the bill for someone else’s stupid mistake”. How long would you be able to pay your mortgage if you lost your job? David Von Drehle quoted a bankruptcy attorney, “I would bet a majority of people are only a few paychecks away from being in [his] office.” How can you not empathize?
As for Santelli, Mark Ames & Sasha Levine of Playboy.com (That’s right… I read it for the articles) reported that that Santelli was the trigger man for an “astroturf” campaign–an invented political grassroots effort–organized for the purpose of combating the Obama administration’s economic policy. Ames & Levine wrote:
What we discovered is that Santelli’s “rant” was not at all spontaneous as his alleged fans claim, but rather it was a carefully planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign. In PR terms, his February 19th call for a “Chicago Tea Party” was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, one in which Santelli served as a frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for the some of the craziest and sleaziest rightwing oligarch clans this country has ever produced. Namely, the Koch family, the multibillionaire owners of the largest private corporation in America, and funders of scores of rightwing think-tanks and advocacy groups, from the Cato Institute and Reason Magazine to FreedomWorks. The scion of the Koch family, Fred Koch, was a co-founder of the notorious extremist-rightwing John Birch Society.
Their post is a compelling piece of investigative journalism, and it has been burning up the web over the weekend. At least one of the sites implicated in the astroturfing campaign has already denied their involvement, but it will be very interesting to see if the story will gain traction in the mainstream media.