Barney Frank? Really, David Brooks? The leading villain in the global economic collapse was ... Barney Frank?
I don’t think so.
Brooks today calls the Fannie and Freddie scandal — in which Fannie May contributed to the housing bubble by writing bad mortages — the worst scandal since Watergate, and assigns it a leading role in tanking the economy. Brooks singles out Barney Frank as singularly immoral in the saga of Fannie and Freddie and the housing collapse.
And of course, because Fannie bought the support of ACORN, too, ACORN is also one of the leading villains in this tale.
Here, for David Brooks, is American Politics 101. Presidents have plenty of influence in Washington. So does the leadership of the House majority party. Senators, too, are important – each individual Senator can sway policy all by herself, and while majorities in that body can do some things, Senators in the minority party matter too.
After that…well, a lot of other people in and out of Washington have quite a lot of say over public policy. Bureaucrats, judges, and lobbyists all have their influence. Eventually, as you go down the chain of influence, you get way down to the level of cab drivers with their indispensable folk wisdom and headwaiters who legend has it give the best tables to the powerful. And just below them, just above intern coordinators at think tanks, that’s where you find Members of the House who belong to the minority party.
And yet David Brooks today singles out Barney Frank. The same Barney Frank whose Democrats were the minority party in the House from 1995 through 2006. Hey, for all I know Frank was incredibly evil during those years (I haven’t read the book Brooks is working from), but it just couldn’t have mattered very much, at least in the twelve years leading up to the crisis.
Meanwhile, where in the Brooks account is, say, Tom DeLay? Or George W. Bush? Or Alan Greenspan?
Really, the tip-off is that Brooks manages to fit ACORN into his story; ACORN looms large within the conservative mind, but in fact there’s not much evidence that anyone in Washington ever cared about ACORN at all until very, very recently.
If you want a more reality-based approach, Dean Baker has a substantive response to Brooks. It finds fault with a wide variety of players, Democrats and Republicans. But in Brooks’ fairy tale, you can blame it all on the House minority party, ACORN, and other bystanders like the Congressional Black Caucus. Surely as influential a commentator as Brooks knows that Washington just doesn’t work this way. Brooks knows better.