Foreclosure Crisis: Rising and Falling Together

To let millions of homeowners lose their homes is not just a lack of compassion; it is just plain dumb economics.
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The debate over what to do about the foreclosure crisis is as classic an American political debate as there is. Throughout history, we have been organizing along these same competing worldviews, where progressive American values have been in opposition to conservative thinking.

Conservatives argue that it is each person for themselves, that hardworking people who are making it on their own shouldn't have their tax dollars going to people who are in trouble. They argue that if some people are making it because of their hard work and good habits, that the people who aren't making it must have brought their problems upon themselves, that they aren't worthy of being helped.

Beyond the lack of recognition that the plummeting housing prices and unscrupulous lenders have played a much bigger role in the foreclosure crisis that the laziness or irresponsibility of the people in trouble. And beyond the arrogance and lack of recognition than luck as well as their own virtue might have something to do with the fact that they are making it while others are falling short, there is a basic flaw in this conservative argument that progressives have always recognized: that our fates are linked, especially in hard times. It does not help the so-called virtuous man in the conservative's argument if his neighbors' properties are foreclosed on -- in fact, it hurts his property values if that happens. To let millions of homeowners lose their homes is not just a lack of compassion; it is just plain dumb economics. As President Obama has said, when your neighbor's house is on fire, it is not the time to worry about whether he was smoking in bed, because the fire might spread to your house pretty fast.

What progressives are arguing in the foreclosure crisis is what we have been arguing throughout American history, that Americans rise and fall together. The American family has to take care of each other, has to look out for each other, especially in the hard times, because the misery of our fellow citizens will spread to the rest of us. It's an argument based on at least as much on common sense as on compassion, and it is an argument that is built into the very idea of America. As Ben Franklin put it when he and the other brave Americans in 1776 bet everything on American freedom, "If we don't hang together, we will hang separately."

It was true in those dark days, and is true in these. Let's hang together in these troubled times, and reject the conservative argument that I've got mine, so I'm not going to worry about your misery.

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