Today the Congress debates a proposal, introduced by Barney Frank, D-Mass, to let FHA insure new loans to cover lenders willing to reduce the mortgage principal for homeowners in crisis. The proposal is designed to gain bipartisan support, including elements, such as additional tax-free municipal bonds, supported by the Bush administration.
Republicans who oppose the proposal have largely argued that it covers not only innocent victims of deceptive lending practices but also speculators and get-rich-quick schemers who fully realized the risks they were taking in mortgaging new property.
Here's my point.
The proposal is one more illustration of the fundamental difference between America's chief political parties.
Democrats see problems in the system and seek systemic solutions for them. Such wide-ranging solutions can and often do benefit "unworthy" individuals, while more generally trying to straighten out a messed-up system.
Republicans oppose these measures by identifying the cheats who may profit from them. This morning on NPR a Republican congressman, whose name I missed, expressed a desire to solve the challenges faced by "innocent" homeowners, but only with the implementation of a process by which the worthy can be segregated from the unworthy.
Such caution is ultimately stultifying to systemic change. This is why AIDS relief was so slow in arriving: Republicans wanted to save the "innocent victims" of AIDS and only the "innocent."
Similar moral discriminations have played into Republican responses to Hurricane Katrina, immigration, and health-care reform.
The quest for the "innocent," though noble sounding, slows down needed changes in society. Can politicians effectively distinguish who does and does not deserve relief and help in times of crisis? Is the distinction even necessary?
Interestingly, Republicans tend not to have the same qualms about acts of war. Most Republicans accept that "collateral damage" is part of military conflicts. In wartime, the innocent are punished along with the guilty--sometimes in greater numbers than the guilty. Republicans state that such losses are "regrettable" but "unavoidable."
Some conservatives make a similar argument about the death penalty and the detention of "terror suspects"--injustices towards the innocent are here acceptable in the broader effort to root out and destroy the guilty.
I wonder why then Republicans can accept the suffering of the innocent to ensure the punishment of the guilty, but cannot accept that some undeserving people may prosper from proposals designed to help the deserving.
More importantly, I question the sincerity of their moral reservations about proposed remedies for social ills and wonder whether their righteous outcries--against ruthless speculators, sinners, and victims of "lifestyle" choices--are deliberate, cynical attempts to shirk their political responsibility to find effective, speedy solutions to society's problems.