No Comment — December 22, 2008, 11:10 am

Bush and the Meltdown on Wall Street

To what extent is the Wall Street meltdown that started in September 2008 really a consequence of the policies and actions of George W. Bush? Jo Becker, Gay Stolberg and Stephen Labaton have at this question in Saturday’s New York Times. I put it aside to read until this morning, and after shoveling snow (well, you can’t really call it “shoveling” when you need a hammer and chisel) finally got to finish it:

There are plenty of culprits, like lenders who peddled easy credit, consumers who took on mortgages they could not afford and Wall Street chieftains who loaded up on mortgage-backed securities without regard to the risk. But the story of how we got here is partly one of Mr. Bush’s own making, according to a review of his tenure that included interviews with dozens of current and former administration officials. From his earliest days in office, Mr. Bush paired his belief that Americans do best when they own their own home with his conviction that markets do best when let alone.

He pushed hard to expand homeownership, especially among minorities, an initiative that dovetailed with his ambition to expand the Republican tent — and with the business interests of some of his biggest donors. But his housing policies and hands-off approach to regulation encouraged lax lending standards.

Even at 5,000 words this is not an in-depth examination, but it seems reasonable as a survey. Still, there is much, much more to be learned. And look at the White House’s response to the Times broadside. It’s so lame you could almost append it to the charge sheet as “Exhibit A.” In a 600-word rejoinder, the White House finds no actual mistakes and focuses its charge on the Times’s failure to hold Congress to blame—as if Congress were the source of economic policy. The response also ignores the fact that, as the recent bailout votes show, Congress has done Bush’s bidding for eight years.

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I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

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