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Paul Kiesel
Paul Kiesel
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Who’s to Blame for the Economic & Housing Crisis?

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Who deserves the blame for the economic and housing crisis? It’s difficult to point the finger at one individual for instigating this mess, because many people were involved. In fact, the blame could easily be placed on one entire group, several cabals or the deregulated system: The failure to regulate banks by the Bush Administration and/or blaming Wall Street for such hubristic lending practices, to give two examples. However, politicians will often find it more convenient to identify a specific villain (who is probably closely linked to the problem, but is not the only enabler of the problem) and place the spotlight on him or her.

Take for example John McCain’s statements today from Cedar Rapids, Iowa: “The chairman of the S.E.C. serves at the appointment of the president and in my view, has betrayed the public’s trust. If I were president today, I would fire him.” The SEC chairman is Chris Cox. And Chris Cox was appointed by President George W. Bush, although McCain avoided mentioning the particular president who put Cox into office, and even avoided naming Cox.

Okay, so McCain, as of today, believes Cox, a Republican, is to blame for Wall Street’s meltdown. According to that logic, Bush is also to blame, even though he isn’t explicitly mentioned by McCain, because Bush is the one who appointed Cox. But if we’re going to play the “John McCain Blame Game,” then let’s really get down to brass tacks.

McCain neglected to tell his audience and reporters a lot when blaming the SEC chairman for the economic/mortgage meltdown — omissions aplenty. First, McCain doesn’t even name Cox. He doesn’t name Bush. He doesn’t talk about how Cox whet his political chops as a one-time legal aide in Ronald Reagan’s White House. McCain omits the fact that Cox was a major player in formulating GOP policy, including, as The Los Angeles Times puts it, “a generally hands-off regulatory approach to business that McCain also advocated.”

Hmmm…

It took Cox only three years to complete his undergraduate program at the University of Southern California. After that he earned both a master’s degree (in business administration) and a law degree from Harvard. The Almanac of American Politics wrote, while Cox was still in the House of Representatives, that his “intellect and range of interests are impressive.” According to the logic of the McCain campaign, that would make him an elitist, right?

Anyway, Cox was confirmed for the SEC post on a voice vote by the Senate — a chamber that included John McCain as a member. John McCain would have had to thoroughly consider Cox’s qualifications in order to find him fit for the post of SEC chairman and then subsequently vote for him. So would that mean McCain is really the one to be blamed for the financial crisis because he voted, instead of voicing opposition to Bush’s appointment, for Cox to chair the SEC? No. Was he complicit? Yes, sort of. But more importantly, for McCain to single out Cox is just wrong and distorts the truth (and avoids McCain having to field questions about his relationship with Phil Gramm). Cox is part of the problem, but the turmoil surrounding Wall Street and the housing market is greater and has more players than it appears.