Before the debates, I advised the John McCain campaign that they needed to make an issue of Barack Obama’s repeated bragging about writing a letter as a response to the pending subprime market collapse. “McCain sponsored legislation; Obama wrote a letter,” I wrote. “McCain took action; Obama did nothing but talk, and far too late. That has to be the message — and it’s a winner.”
The Wall Street Journal picks up the theme today:
Mr. Obama replied that he “never promoted Fannie Mae” and that “two years ago I said that we’ve got a subprime lending crisis that has to be dealt with.” And that’s not all. “I wrote to Secretary Paulson, I wrote to Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke, and told them this is something we have to deal with, and nobody did anything about it,” said the Illinois Senator.
There’s more. Mr. Obama’s March 2007 letter included a stirring call to “assess options” and boldly suggested that the two men “facilitate a serious conversation” about housing. He was even brave enough to suggest that “the relevant private sector entities and regulators” might be able to provide “targeted responses.” Then in paragraph four, the Harvard-trained lawyer dropped his bombshell: a suggestion that various interest groups get together to “consider” best practices in mortgage lending.
Some may find it hard to believe that Mr. Obama had nothing to show for this herculean effort to shake up Washington. They may be shocked as well that such passionate language didn’t move the Fed and Treasury to action. For our part, we note that nowhere in his letter did Mr. Obama suggest that the government should stop subsidizing loans to people who can’t repay them.
Perhaps writing a letter would have shown some remarkable effort, had Barack Obama merely been John Q. Public, private citizen, or even still in the Illinois state legislature. However, Obama at the time served in the US Senate, where taking action means more than just writing a letter and allowing a matter to drop. The Senate has a formal role in overseeing the actions of the Treasury and the two GSEs that bought bad subprime paper like they were on a Nordstrom’s sidewalk sale. Obama didn’t take that role seriously enough to take real action — like introducing legislation or sponsoring another Senator’s bill that attempted to stop the meltdown before it occurred.
John McCain, on the other hand, did take action. He co-sponsored Chuck Hagel’s bill that would have required Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to adhere to responsible lending practices and loan-to-value standards. Obama, after writing his magnum opus to Henry Paulson, never bothered to support Hagel’s bill or introduce another for the purpose of reforming the GSEs. Instead, Obama took their money, becoming the second-highest recipient of Fannie/Freddie contributions in the Senate in the last 20 years — having only served less than four of those.
In a crisis, some show leadership, and some show up, and some … write letters. Barack Obama hasn’t shown the courage of leadership on any significant, controversial issue in the US Senate — not even once. Now he wants to run the country after almost literally mailing in his performance in half a term in national office. That’s judgment we cannot trust.