I recently read David Dayen’s article “A Needless Default” which summarizes how the Obama Administration’s HAMP program was designed to save banks at the cost of forcing millions of middle class and working class Americans – particularly Americans of color – to lose homes, wealth, and economic prospects their could have otherwise kept. If are not familiar with how this happened, consider the article required reading.
Dave Dayen has spent years researching this, and in particular gathering and telling the stories of the people who have lost their homes and wealth because of the Obama administration’s choices. And yes, it was the Obama administration’s choices, not the choices of Congress, which made HAMP what it was – ‘foaming the runway’ for banks to dump the losses for their own recklessness on middle class and working class people who did not have nearly as much power as the big banks. Republicans cannot bear responsibility for this. It was Timothy Geithner himself – who was appointed by Obama – who said that HAMP’s purpose was to spread out foreclosures to soften the impact on banks, not to help homeowners.
Most of the people who I discuss American politics with belong to the ‘comfortable left’ – they have a secure source of income, whether it be a job which pays well above living wage, a good retirement situation, or some other arrangement which ensures they are food secure / shelter secure, they have college degrees, they have privileges such as not expecting to be harassed by police, almost all of them are white (at least the ones I talk politics with), and so forth. In other words, they don’t worry much about being evicted from their homes, or debate whether to buy food or pay their bills with limited money. They espouse ‘liberal’ causes such as rights for LGBT people (well, mainly the LGB people, they may be less friendly towards the T), environmental protection, increased funding for schools, opposition to most wars, etc.
I agree with many of the positions of the ‘comfortable left’, probably because I am one of them, at least according to (most of) the description above.
Nearly all of these ‘comfortable left’ people have been enthusiastic Obama supporters at some time. Some of their have lost their enthusiasm for Obama, but still think he is a good president and that anything bad he does (when they admit that he does bad things) can be attributed to Republican pressure.
Some of the most enthusiastic Obama supporters I’ve met after 2011 (after Obama had been in office for a few years) are Canadians who aren’t as directly affected by the Obama administration as people in the United States. Many are also San Franciscans. There have been wrongful foreclosures in San Francisco – by ‘wrongful’ I mean things like ‘the servicers lacked legal standing to foreclose’ and ‘they deceived borrowers with deceptive practices such as trial mods and dual-tracking’ (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should read the article), but there have been far fewer in San Francisco than in much of the United States. Most San Franciscans are renters, and most San Franciscan homeowners did not go underwater and were much less likely to have, say, lost their job. That means that the people I tend to talk politics with have not personally suffered the painful effects of HAMP. Nor have I – this is more a matter of luck than anything else.
I grew up in San Francisco, where among most people (at least at my schools, which is where I did a lot of socializing when I grew up) Republicans are considered awful by default, and Democrats are assumed to be good, or at least better than the Terrible Republicans. In other words, a lot of political discussion was about showing one’s allegiance to the tribe (Democrat or Green parties) and showing that you weren’t one of the bad tribe (Republicans). If this was simply children, that would be one thing … but I find adult discourse about American politics is not any more mature. To quote John Michael Greer:
Much of today’s political discourse serves exactly the same purpose: it signals readiness for social interaction and claims membership in a specific political subculture, and that’s basically all it does. The verbal noises that get used for phatic communication in that context vary even with fairly small shifts across the political landscape, but if you sit in on a discussion among people who more or less agree with each other’s politics, you can usually figure out pretty quickly what the relevant warm-fuzzy and cold-prickly phrases are, and once you’ve done that you can identify yourself either as a member of the community or as an outsider with a very few words.
When I talk to the ‘comfortable left’, and try to explain why I think Obama is a terrible president, and list the policies which his administration is responsible for which made me come to the conclusion that he is terrible, one of the first things most people say are ‘are you a Republican?’ and it often leads to things like ‘are you a birther?’ and ‘do you watch Fox News?’ and the like. Why, criticizing the policies of the Obama administration and stating that Obama is responsible for them automatically means I must be a Fox News-watching birther Republican? For the record, it’s probably been at least ten years since I’ve seen Fox News, I have never been a Republican (though I have voted for Republicans when I thought they were the least awful candidate running for that office), and I don’t care where Obama was born. However, the fact that so often people suggest these things about me means that they have trouble imagining anybody being opposed to Obama on the basis of, say, actual policy.
Now, even though I don’t talk to them on a personal basis, I think many of the people who have been cheated out of their homes thanks to HAMP and dual-tracking have been shaken of their support of Obama and the Democrats, if they were supporters in the first place (is there a map showing correlations of voting patterns and foreclosures of underwater homes? That might indicate whether I am right or wrong in this). Losing one’s home, wealth, and economic security often can change people’s political allegiances. It is the ‘comfortable left’ who can comfortably remain ignorant of such things, and continue to get ‘warm-fuzzy’ feelings from Obama and the Democrats because they aren’t the ‘cold-prickly’ Republicans.
If you are someone who has been threatened with the loss of your home / wealth because of HAMP, you understand that it was made to sacrifice homeowners’ well-being for the benefit of the big banks, and you still support Obama, I have nothing to say to you. I am, after all, one of the luckier ones, I do not know what it is like to go through what you did on a personal level, and I am not in a position to criticize your convictions.
If, however, like myself, you are in the ‘comfortable left’ and you still support Obama … please read that article, or even better, read Bailout by Neil Barofsky, and then ask yourself, can you support the president who appointed the people who caused this, and did not do anything to stop them?