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Hullabaloo


Thursday, August 10, 2017

 

De-personalizing politics

by Tom Sullivan


Barbara Jordan delivering the keynote address before the 1976 Democratic National Convention (Public domain)

"Let’s recognize that no public official in this country, from Barack Obama on down, covered themselves in glory during the foreclosure crisis," David Dayen writes at New Republic. Sen. Kamala Harris is catching special grief over her failure to prosecute bankers during the foreclosure crisis, and Dayen finds it dismaying that his January coverage of Steven Mnuchin's OneWest bank is now a weapon to thwart a possible presidential run by the freshman California senator.

That's not to say he's a fan. But singling out Harris for not prosecuting Mnuchin is like singling out Hillary Clinton for her Iraq War vote. They both had lots of company.

While the left is arguing who's more tainted than whom, the victims of the crisis remain out of public view. Dayen writes:

From the late Bush years through most of Obama’s presidency, at least 9.3 million American families lost their properties, whether to foreclosure or forced sale. The original sin of faulty loan originations, inflated appraisals, doctored underwriting, and improper placement into subprime loans led to fraudulent misconduct in securitization, loan servicing, loan modifications, and foreclosures, with millions of faked and forged documents used as evidence for the final indignity of eviction. There’s not a single step of the mortgage process that wasn’t suffused with illegal fraud during the housing bubble and its collapse.

The crisis resulted in a punishing recession and countless destroyed lives, not to mention what has been credibly described as an “extinction event” for the black and Latino middle class. Yet from New York to California, Arizona to Florida, Washington state to Washington, D.C., the political class and law enforcement elite responded largely with indifference. Powerful bankers with armies of lawyers were allowed to get away with the crime of the century (thus far).
If we are judging law enforcement officials on their performance during the foreclosure crisis, "everyone would be tied for last," Dayen writes. The bailouts and wrist-slapping fines (at best) helped further erode faith in American justice. As further proof that the economy is organized for and advantages the elite, failure to crack down as millions lost their homes led in part to the rise of Trump. Moreover,
Every day in America, somebody gets tossed out of a home based on false documents. Their elected officials surely know this; if I get a steady stream of letters from people with consistent stories about mortgage fraud, then senators and congressmen surely do as well. So instead of debating who was “tough” on corporate criminals and who wasn’t—since no one was—we should implore these would-be leaders to speak the hell up about the perversion of justice happening every day in courtrooms and foreclosure auctions across the country.

Senator Harris represents California, where the unconscionable treatment of foreclosure victims continues to terrorize families. Senator Cory Booker styles himself a leader in New Jersey, home to the highest foreclosure rate in the nation. The last time Senator Bernie Sanders said a word about foreclosures was when he was trying to win a primary election in hard-hit Nevada. There are activist groups all over Massachusetts fighting foreclosures that could use some high-profile support from Senator Elizabeth Warren.
That's the problem with the "politics of personality," Dayen writes. The focus remains on high-profile politicians rather than on the people we expect them to serve. The victims remain out of sight until they can be made props in a political soap opera, not real people to be understood on their own.

Brittney Cooper's complaints about the Harris dust-up at Cosmopolitan come from having a black woman's perspective:
It’s not right to expect us to fix what white Americans are so committed to breaking. This debate, then, isn’t about Harris, but about the emotional and political labor that black women are expected to do to save America’s soul.
Women like Barbara Jordan and Maxine Waters have served as the conscience of the Democratic Party for decades, Cooper writes, citing their stands for holding America to its principles. "And then those on the far left use this same labor that we do to save democracy to argue that we are too deeply invested in the establishment." They approach politics from another angle.

"Black women typically believe in a brighter future but that they also believe in keeping the lights on and in maintaining a solid foundation upon which to build the future they want to see." It comes from having more to lose, something white activists miss. Black women "who have been called to take the scraps handed to us by the nation and painstakingly build communities, families, and institutions" are loathe to take a sledgehammer to what they've built just to satisfy others' thirst for revolution. They've seen extinction events. With voting rights and not dying in random traffic stops on their minds, addressing financial crimes is not their top campaign issue.

What would make us all stronger is to accept that if others in the big tent adhere to the same major goals, they are not our enemies.

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Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.