I was disappointed today to see all the Republicans in the United States Senate and two Democrats vote to block debate on financial regulatory reform.
President Obama last week scolded Wall Street for the way greedy investors and hedge fund managers lied, cheated, and stole their way to billions in profits and billions more in our tax dollars. He’s asking Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill to come together to paint lines on Wall Street.
Lines on a street, you see, are regulations. When I am in a crosswalk near downtown Dallas and the “walk” light comes on, I have the ability to cross the street safely without worrying that one of the two-ton machines on the street might kill me. The line painted on the street prevents it. The government just saved my ass.
What happened in our financial services sector leading up to the meltdown and taxpayer bailouts of AIG, Citigroup, and others was big hulking financial machines were able to run over people without any threat of government intervention. This is the equivalent of the president and congressional Democrats asking Republicans to make it illegal for a car company to sell you a vehicle with brake lines that have been cut. Any partisan divide on that would be manufactured controversy.
One of the chief arguments against reform has been that those to blame for the financial meltdown are the low income and middle class folks who got into loans that it turned out they could not afford. Right-wing commentators ask “Where is the personal responsibility?” Whenever those same right-wingers defend corporate money in politics, their first point is usually that corporations are made up of individuals who have a right and responsibility to speak out on public policy issues. Ok, well then where is their personal responsibility for cheating and gaming the system to enrich themselves and leave the poor and middle class homeless?
Too often the conversation about these matters is structured in such a way that the only people responsible for their actions are people who were lied to by folks who make billions of dollars while destroying our economy. Do people really want a system that rewards financial institutions for sinking our boat?
There will be a legitimate debate over how far regulations should go. But, there is no legitimate debate over whether to get out the paint brushes.