The Limits of Green Lanternism As an Excuse

A popular theme among the technobratacy is ‘Green Lanternism’, the mocking of the argument that Obama could have done more on a variety of issues. That is, if Obama had only exerted more will (how the comic book hero the Green Lantern uses his powers), he could have accomplished more, even though structural realities prevented him from doing so.

While Obama does (and did) face significant impediments, have no doubt that his greatest econonic failure, the failure to resolve Big Shitpile on behalf of homeowners, can be laid entirely at his feet (boldface mine):

President Obama will carry several legacies into his final two years in office: a long-sought health care reform, a fiscal stimulus that limited the impact of the Great Recession, a rapid civil rights advance for gay and lesbian Americans. But if Obama owns those triumphs, he must also own this tragedy: the dispossession of at least 5.2 million U.S. homeowner families, the explosion of inequality, and the largest ruination of middle-class wealth in nearly a century. Though some policy failures can be blamed on Republican obstruction, it was within Obama’s power to remedy this one—to ensure that a foreclosure crisis now in its eighth year would actually end, with relief for homeowners to rebuild wealth, and to preserve Americans’ faith that their government will aid them in times of economic struggle.

Faced with numerous options to limit the foreclosure damage, the administration settled on a policy called HAMP, the Home Affordable Modification Program, which was entirely voluntary. Under HAMP, mortgage companies were given financial inducements to modify loans for at-risk borrowers, but the companies alone, not the government, made the decisions on whom to aid and whom to cast off.

In the end, HAMP helped only about one million homeowners in five years, when ten million were at risk. The program arguably created more foreclosures than it stopped, as it put homeowners through a maze of deception designed mainly to maximize mortgage industry profits. More about how HAMP worked, or didn’t, in a moment.

HAMP cannot be justified by the usual Obama-era logic, that it represented the best possible outcome in a captured Washington with Republican obstruction and supermajority hurdles. Before Obama’s election, Congress specifically authorized the executive branch, through the $700 billion bank bailout known as TARP, to “prevent avoidable foreclosures.” And Congress pointedly left the details up to the next president. Swing senators like Olympia Snowe (Maine), Ben Nelson (Nebraska), and Susan Collins (Maine) played no role in HAMP’s design. It was entirely a product of the administration’s economic team, working with the financial industry, so it represents the purest indication of how they prioritized the health of financial institutions over the lives of homeowners.

Obama and his administration must live with the consequences of that original sin, which contrasts with so many of the goals they claim to hold dear. “It’s a terrible irony,” said Damon Silvers, policy director and special counsel for the AFL-CIO, who served as deputy chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for TARP. “This man who represents so much to people of color has presided over more wealth destruction of people of color than anyone in American history.”

Then again, most technobrat pundits probably aren’t sweating bullets about how they’re going to make the mortgage, so it’s not really an important issue, is it?

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3 Responses to The Limits of Green Lanternism As an Excuse

  1. onkelbob
    onkelbob says:

    The thing that many overlook is that Obama is first and foremost a Chicago Machine Politician. Daly, Emmanuel, et al were his shock troops, and he quickly added allies from the old guard (Ted) to insure his nomination and election. He learned from GWB that if you say little, and if what you do say is ambiguous enough, then the electorate will project on to the candidate that what they want to hear. The idea the Obama was some sort of populist reformer is not borne by facts or actions.
    I suspect that the USA had 2 bottom tier presidents in succession and for 8 years each will be in the future pointed to by historians as “der Anfang vom Ende.”

    • starskeptic
      starskeptic says:

      Nicely said…

    • Jon says:

      That seems a bit too negative. Obama is a great disappointment, but he’s no GWB or Andrew Jackson, or even a Coolidge or Hoover (yet—I admit he still has time for a proper disaster in Ukraine or Syria/Iraq). Barring further large missteps, I think the ACA alone lifts him to the general morass of middling Presidents (but not further—see “better vs. good”).

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