Roger’s Rules

The recalcitrance of facts, or Barney Frank as Doctor Who

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”–George Santayana

What would Santayana (1863-1952) say were he with us today? Although born in Madrid, Santayana lived and taught in the United States for decades, an amused, slightly detached observer of the human panoply and its addiction to folly. Recalling the disater of the Carter years–the economic dégringolade (remember the “misery index“?), the foreign policy disasters (remember the Iran hostage crisis?), recalling above all the hang-dog, defeatist attitude of the Carter years (remember the “malaise” speech?)–Santayana would doubtless have shaken his head as so many Americans (and even more, so many Europeans) are loosing their heads over Barack Obama.

Here, after all, is a man who is a distillation of Jimmy Carter, George McGovern, and Bill “the bomber” Ayres. On taxes. On foreign policy. On free speech. On government entitlements. On all this and more Obama is the most left-wing candidate in the history of the Republic. And yet he is greeted with open arms not only by self-confessed revolutionaries like Bill Ayres but by Mom and Pop Democrat in a taxing district near you.

How do you explain it? Bush Derangement Syndrome (exacerbated by Palin Hysteria Syndrome)? In part. There is also a large quantum of liberal guilt operating, an emotion that Team Obama has been quick to capitalize on.

Ask yourself this: What is the thing a good liberals feel most guilty about? Racism. Yes, they feel guilty being American, especially if they are well to do; the men among them feel guilty about being men, just as the heterosexuals feel guilty about their sexual orientation. But in the great sweepstakes of guilt, race trumps everything. Obama comes wielding all the usual left-wing nostrums about “fairness” (i.e., what’s yours is his, or at least the government’s) and “sharing” and getting along with and talking to our enemies. But what he offers above all is expiation for the imagined taint of racism.

The liberal says: “We have sinned. We are guilty. Please absolve us of our wrong.”

Team Obama says, “Sure, but it’s going to cost you.”

Part of the cost seems to be a simple recognition of historical truth. Thomas Sowell touched on this yesterday when he wondered, not without exasperation, whether facts still mattered in our political life. The current economic crisis seems to have benefitted Obama in the polls. But how could that be? Sowell reminds us of some forgotten facts:

Fact Number One: It was liberal Democrats, led by Senator Christopher Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank, who for years– including the present year– denied that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taking big risks that could lead to a financial crisis.

It was Senator Dodd, Congressman Frank and other liberal Democrats who for years refused requests from the Bush administration to set up an agency to regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

It was liberal Democrats, again led by Dodd and Frank, who for years pushed for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to go even further in promoting subprime mortgage loans, which are at the heart of today’s financial crisis.

Alan Greenspan warned them four years ago. So did the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers to the President. So did Bush’s Secretary of the Treasury, five years ago.

Yet, today, what are we hearing? That it was the Bush administration “right-wing ideology” of “de-regulation” that set the stage for the financial crisis. Do facts matter?

Yes, they matter alright, because without them we might actually believe that, as Sowell puts it, it was “it was the Bush administration ‘right-wing ideology’ of ‘de-regulation’ that set the stage for the financial crisis.”

Ultimately, the question is not whether facts matter but whether we can get people to face up to them before it is too late. Ideology is like a field of snow on a sunny day: it can produce temporary blindness; ideology supplemented by liberal guilt is like a field of snow on a sunny day after a powerful draught of opium: it produces temporary blindness along with soporific insensibility.

Sooner or later, the mists will dissipate, the intoxication will give way to something harder and more unpleasant. And when that happens–let us pray that it is not too late–people will begin asking questions.

Mr. Sowell mentions Congressman Barney Frank. One of the questions that people will likely begin asking concerns Frank’s romantic relationship with Herb Moses, a “Fannie Mae executive at the forefront of the agency’s push to relax lending restrictions.” According to Fox News (h/t to Mark Steyn on The Corner for this story),

Now that Fannie Mae is at the epicenter of a financial meltdown that threatens the U.S. economy, some are raising new questions about Frank’s relationship with Herb Moses, who was Fannie’s assistant director for product initiatives. Moses worked at the government-sponsored enterprise from 1991 to 1998, while Frank was on the House Banking Committee, which had jurisdiction over Fannie Mae.

See, “Impropriety, the appearance of.” And there’s more:

The two lived together in a Washington home until they broke up in 1998, a few months after Moses ended his seven-year tenure at Fannie Mae, where he was the assistant director of product initiatives. According to National Mortgage News, Moses “helped develop many of Fannie Mae’s affordable housing and home improvement lending programs.”

Critics say such programs led to the mortgage meltdown that prompted last month’s government takeover of Fannie Mae and its financial cousin, Freddie Mac. The giant firms are blamed for spreading bad mortgages throughout the private financial sector.

Although Frank now blames Republicans for the failure of Fannie and Freddie, he spent years blocking GOP lawmakers from imposing tougher regulations on the mortgage giants. In 1991, the year Moses was hired by Fannie, the Boston Globe reported that Frank pushed the agency to loosen regulations on mortgages for two- and three-family homes, even though they were defaulting at twice and five times the rate of single homes, respectively.

The last time I checked, there wasn’t a syllable about this in The New York Times. Just imagine if the story featured a different cast of characters: John McCain, for example, and some fictional romantic interest. Just imagine what you’d be reading in our former paper of record, the AP wire, and seeing on the establishment news programs.

Barney Frank, Barney Frank, Barney Frank. Let’s see, wasn’t he the Congressman who was having sex with a chap who ran a gay prostitution ring out of Frank’s Capitol Hill apartment? Er, yes. And wasn’t he the Congressman who just this last spring was was busying supporting legislation to decriminalize marijuana? Right again! I suppose it’s understandable why Congressman Franks would prefer that his public were as stoned as possible: less chance then for them to notice or to care what else he was up to. If you’re a gay Democrat (don’t try it if you’re a Republican), your private life is your own. But there are still one or two busybodies out there who will notice when policies you supported lead to the evaporation of a trillion dollars and the destruction of a large swathe of the American banking industry. Mark Steyn, as usual, has the rapier-like anecdote that brings a smile to one’s lips even as it chills the blood. Citing the revelation of Frank’s relationship with the “Fannie male,” Mark mentions an email he’d had from a reader proposing a new Hollywood adaptation: Broke Bank Mountain. Mark quotes his correspondent thus:

In defense of the BBC (words I never thought I’d type), Doctor Who has been turned into a multi-million dollar cash cow for the government-run Corporation. If the US Government put gays like that in charge of Fannie and Freddie, we might not be in this pickle.

Mark goes on to note, with his customary judiciousness, that “In fairness to Barney and his pal, they did manage to give Lehman Bros, Wachovia et al the amazing powers of Doctor Who’s Tardis. One minute the bank’s standing there, the next it’s vanished. If only we knew where to. But somewhere out there is a distant galaxy that’s suddenly acquired an amazing new ATM network.”