January 30, 2012
… two passages had me rubbing my eyes in disbelief.
The first came when, to applause, the President spoke about the banking crash which coincided with his barnstorming 2008 election campaign. “The house of cards collapsed,” he recalled. “We learned that mortgages had been sold to people who couldn’t afford or understand them.” He excoriated the banks which had “made huge bets and bonuses with other people’s money”, while “regulators looked the other way and didn’t have the authority to stop the bad behaviour”. This, said Obama, “was wrong. It was irresponsible. And it plunged our economy into a crisis that put millions out of work.”
I recalled a piece I wrote in this column on January 29, 2009, just after Obama took office. It was headlined: “This is the sub-prime house that Barack Obama built”. As a rising young Chicago politician in 1995, no one campaigned more actively than Mr Obama for an amendment to the US Community Reinvestment Act, legally requiring banks to lend huge sums to millions of poor, mainly black Americans, guaranteed by the two giant mortgage associations, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
It was this Act, above all, which let the US housing bubble blow up, far beyond the point where it was obvious that hundreds of thousands of homeowners would be likely to default. Yet, in 2005, no one more actively opposed moves to halt these reckless guarantees than Senator Obama, who received more donations from Fannie Mae than any other US politician (although Senator Hillary Clinton ran him close).
A later passage in Obama’s speech, when he hailed the way his country’s energy future has been transformed by the miracle of shale gas, met with a storm of applause. Not only would this give the US energy security for decades, creating 600,000 jobs, but it could now go all out to exploit its gas and oil reserves (more applause). Yet this was the man who in 2008 couldn’t stop talking about the threat of global warming, and was elected on a pledge to make the US only the second country in the world, after Britain, to commit to cutting its CO2 emissions from fossil fuels by 80 per cent within 40 years.
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