Obama Hits a Home Run in Arizona

By Bob BeckelDemocratic Political Strategist

No one seriously disputes the fact that the housing crisis is at the heart of the world wide credit crisis. Even tone deaf Republicans who turned their collective backs on the stimulus plan recognize the importance of stemming the increase in housing foreclosures which are quickly approaching the 6 million mark. Until we deal with this crisis the credit freeze will persist and the economy will get even worse. President Obama released a plan in Arizona today to do just that. Good for him.

[caption id="attachment_7474" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="President Barack Obama delivers remarks about the home mortgage crisis, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009, at Dobson High School in Mesa, Wednesday, Ariz. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)"][/caption]

Obama chose Arizona, a state which voted against him, because the state leads much of the nation in foreclosures. Obama didn't just fly over the state on Air Force One and look down at the foreclosure signs for a photo-op. Instead he landed and exhibited the kind of leadership this country has not seen in the last 8 years. He came with a strong hand and he played it.

Much of the plan involves the quasi governmental mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These two companies hold or guarantee mortgages on millions of homes. Both showed an utter lack of judgment, if not complicity, in contributing to the sub prime mortgage debacle at the heart of this mess. Both bought and resold mortgages that represent half of the defaults behind the mortgage backed securities which are at the heart of the credit crunch.

Obama's plan allows Fannie and Freddie to renegotiate existing mortgage rates down to affordable levels and provides both with additional federal support to lower interest rates on future mortgages. Both will go along with the Obama plan because they have no choice. With billions in bad paper Fannie and Freddie went on bended knees for federal funds to bail them out. They got the help but now the government effectively owns both and they will do what they are told.

That Fannie and Freddie were allowed to use their federally chartered clout to encourage sub-prime mortgages was a disgrace to begin with. The congressional committees with oversight responsibility over both entities turned their backs on a problem after repeatedly being warned it was coming. Why? Stupidity and greed. Stupidity because they believed the housing bubble would not burst and greed because many committee members took large amounts of campaign contributions from both Fannie and Freddie.

Both major political parties and U.S. presidents stretching all the way back to Jimmy Carter are at fault for this mess. Each one encouraged Fannie and Freddie to accept loan requests from people who were in no position to pay. Each president wanted to show that home ownership went up during his term. Presidents Reagan and Bush, both aiming to lure Hispanics away from the Democratic Party, were among the worst offenders. What they and congressional Republicans and Democrats left behind was a massive mess for Obama to fix.

Obama's plan also calls for banks that receive federal bailout money to renegotiate terms on mortgages in default. The stimulus bill the president signed yesterday provides funds for communities to seek creative arrangements between lenders and borrowers so families can stay in their homes. Of course Republicans failed to acknowledge this provision in a bill they almost unanimously rejected. Why? Because they preferred to dwell on earmarks the GOP still cannot identify.

I once did a campaign commercial that sums up the reason Republicans lack sensitivity to those citizens at the middle or lower end of the income ladder. I was filming a conversation with farmers in North Carolina. One of them said it all: "If I were a rich man maybe I could be a Republican". Which brings me to a question that has perplexed me my entire political career; how can any working man or woman not in management ever vote for a Republican?