07 June 2008

Not Getting It

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

The news today that Senator Hillary Clinton has postponed her campaign for president and endorsed Senator Barack Obama is certainly fascinating – almost as fascinating as the commentary that has inevitably sprouted up in the last few days, as the nature of Clinton’s announcement became clearer.

I respect the various voices who decry the misogynistic response to Clinton’s campaign. The New York Times, for example, carried two interesting commentaries, one by Gail Collins (“What Hillary Won,” June 7th) and one by Judith Warner (“Women in Charge, Women Who Charge,” June 5th). Both noted that where the campaigning was concerned, “mistakes were made” (Warner) and that “she [Clinton] lost because Obama ran a smarter, better-organized campaign” (Collins). Both are right, in my opinion.

Still: the bigger issue(s) in this whole campaign were not about mistakes being made, and not about either sexism or misogyny. The biggest issue, and the reason that Clinton lost, is that she comes with more negative baggage than anyone else. Yes, women voted for her in droves, and yes, there is much to be proud of in her accomplishments. That is not the story here. Clinton lost because she represents an era of politics that – with George W. Bush about to leave office – most Americans are eager and anxious to see brought to an end. Even better is that Democrats have rejected dynastic notions, have pushed back on a millionaire reluctant to release her tax returns, have failed to be bribed by intelligence-insulting pay-offs, have not fallen head-over-heels with problematic policy proposals, and best of all, might finally have gotten more clear-headed about that husband of hers.



In a related story that offers proof of just how much Senator Clinton does not understand the changed times, last week BET president Robert Johnson went public with a hustle for Obama to take Clinton as his vice presidential running mate. Johnson did this by appealing to the Congressional Black Caucus to put pressure on Obama. As I wrote back in March, this represents exactly the tribalism that Senator Obama has (rightly) resisted. Johnson claims Clinton supported his plan. If this is Johnson’s most effective strategy for pressuring Obama, then it is just another small indicator of how not-made-for-these-times is Senator Clinton and her gang. And, I would add, it is another reason why Senator Clinton would never have been able to win the general election in November.


I want to conclude with a story of someone who does “get it”: on Friday, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about Philadelphia sheriff John Green (subscription might be required) who has been using his position as a bully pulpit in the best sense of the term. In the face of a national housing and mortgage foreclosure crisis, Sheriff Green has pushed back on the laws he is normally required to enforce, to evict homeowners who have failed to meet their mortgage payments and to auction off their houses. Although it seems he has been on the edge of the law, he has nonetheless managed to get the courts to modify the process. As the Journal reported:

...Judges Jones and Rizzo worked out a streamlined process intended to make loans more affordable for delinquent borrowers who live in their houses.

Such homeowners are entitled to a free lawyer at court-supervised conciliation sessions with their loan-servicing company. Housing counselors are lined up to help assemble financial information to enable servicers and their lawyers to assess borrowers' ability to pay. The lenders are under no legal obligation to reduce principal or interest, but they face strong pressure to make allowances.”

The libertarian in me is on the fence about all this. On the one hand, the rule of law (business contracts included) form the basis of our society; when laws are flouted or contracts unenforced, everyone may suffer. On the other hand, the mortgage lenders and crazy investment banks are largely to blame – for creating and sustaining an environment of easy money, outrageous interest rates, and collateralized loans, as was so brilliantly explicated in a recent episode of This American Life called “The Giant Pool of Money – and many homeowners have been put in impossible positions. Moreover, the banks and investors are also stupid not to try to refinance these loans, since a steady payment at 7% is better than an unpaid mortgage at 14% and a foreclosed house in a flooded housing market.

Sheriff Green may have pushed the limits of the law. If the end result was not necessarily the breaking of the law but a forcible compromise that helps some Philadelphians save their homes, it might very well be worth it. And it’s better than a taxpayer-funded bailout that does not really address the underlying problem of poorly financed and unsustainable mortgages.


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