I've written before about the GOP's politicization of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, most recently just yesterday in "As above, so below" where I touched on Darryl Issa's threatened investigation of the committee. I've talked before about some of the actual causes of the financial crises, all the way down to the failures of modern economic theory to have a sound foundation for understanding what they're getting themselves into. But I've paid far too little attention to something much more petty and mundane: The GOP's own role in actively creating the crisis, not just to support its get-rich-quick friends in the financial industry, but to build it's own political brand.
As is so often the case, Republican attempts to pin the blame on Democrats are a projection of their own guilty consciences. But in this case, it's such a doozy that most of us just can't seem to get our minds around it--even though no one less than historian Rick Perlstein put his finger on it all the way back in July 2007, as the bubble was already starting to burst, in "The Foreclosing of America (Part 1)". Here's what he had to say about the blatantly open political strategy the GOP had to use increased homeownership to build their ever-elusive "permanent Republican majority":
First, a demonstration of the sheer size of the political bet the Republicans placed on exhorting as many Americans as possible to own their own homes. Exhibit A: the March, 2005 special issue on the "Ownership Society" of the magazine of the American Enterprise Institute, one of the conservative movement's flagship think tanks. There are, American Enterprise lead author James Glassman wrote, three aims of Bush's dreamed-of Ownership Society: to "reform" Social Security, to "boost the economy by cutting taxes on dividends," and "to make home buying easier."
As we've said before, there's really no such thing as a conservative think tank. They only have propaganda and political strategy shops. Why did conservatives want every American to have, instead of a car in every garage and a chicken in every pot - or, say, health insurance for every child - a monthly mortgage bill in every mailbox? Reading American Enterprise, Not for reasons of national well-being. It was for the Republican's political well-being.
Here's Grover Norquist:
"Bush's vision also calls for efforts to increase home ownership. Here's a hint of what that could mean: in House Speaker Dennis Haster's Congressional district in Illinois, 75-80 percent of voters own their own homes. In Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi's district in San Francisco, the number is 35 percent.... A transition of great political importance is under way. Fifty years from now the move to an Ownership Society will be recognized as a change to America's political landscape as dramatic as the move from farms to factories."
Here's James Glassman, a Big Con-man par excellence:
"Bush wants more ownership because he wants to change the shape of America. He understands that people who own stocks and real estate--who possess wealth of their own--have a deeper commitment to their community, a more profound sense of family obligation and personal responsibility, a stronger identification with the national fortunes, and a personal interest in our capitalist economy. (They also have a greater propensity to vote Republican.)...
The only author to raise any sort of caveat - that home prices are skyrocketing out of control - is the neoconservative geographer Joel Kotkin. He blamed, you guessed it, liberals: "Environmental regulations and other growth-constraining factors have inflated housing prices."
As we'll see in the next post, that's absurd. But beyond that, it's rhapsodies all the way around - and especially homeownership's bounties for Republican electoral fortunes: "The places with the higehst levels of homeownership generally vote Republican.... "Our analysis shows that this connection between homeownership and voting Republican holds broadly at every level--from large regions all the way down to metro areas....more and more of the places offering new homes to young families following their dreams are in the heart of Red America." Not wanting to own your own home is revealed as downright European; Kotkin singles out Prague's homeownership rate at "about 12 percent." No Republicans there! He concludes by calling cities like Fresno, Orlando, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Atlanta "Our New Cities of Aspiration"--"the de facto headquarters of the American dream."
Needless to say, those "New Cities of Aspiration" became some of the most devastated places in America as the whole con unravelled. The GOP has far more to answer for than just ideological blindness in enabling this catastrophe. As Perlstein shows, there was a deliberate political plot. And it's on us if we don't do our damnedest to push this hidden history into the the spotlight as Republicans attempt once again to push all the blame onto Democrats, liberals and people of color.