There were other notable speeches last night, though not as many as Tuesday. I thought Sandra Fluke, the amazing Sister Simone Campbell, Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards, and preacher/Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, who actually started marching in his speech, did a great job.
But I have to call attention to California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who drew the short straw of having to defend this Administration’s housing policy. And she delivered in all its disingenuousness. Maybe she knew the lie at the heart of her claims, because she gave as flat a speech as I’ve ever seen her give. I saw Harris give a surrogate speech for Obama in 2008 at the California Democratic Party convention, going up against Bill Clinton, and give the better speech than the former President. She knows how to do this. Yesterday, she didn’t. And maybe she just couldn’t put her back into these words:
“President Obama stood with me and 48 other attorneys general in taking on the banks and winning $25 billion for struggling homeowners,” Harris said, noting that Obama also supported credit card and Wall Street reform.
The saddest part of that exchange is that it was practically the only part in Harris’ speech that drew applause from the crowd. That the foreclosure fraud settlement would lead to applause by anyone represents complete public ignorance on housing issues. And I have to label this a total failure of the media to understand exactly what happened in that fight.
At the risk of repeating myself for the umpteenth time, nobody “took on the banks” in the foreclosure fraud settlement. It was designed to deliver immunity for the crimes that created the Great Recession, the largest consumer fraud in history. You should not describe a penalty for documented crimes as “winning $25 billion for struggling homeowners.” And homeowners will never see the bulk of that money. Dozens of states have stolen the hard dollars out of that settlement to plug their budget holes, and that includes Harris’ home state of California. The money designated for homeowners in “credits” has not materialized into principal reduction thus far, but has almost entirely gone to short sales, which banks were engaged in for at least a year prior to the settlement. A short sale is just a kinder, gentler foreclosure which ends with the homeowner out of the home. At the root, it’s a waiver of a deficiency judgment on a home sale (where the sale price is less than the price of the mortgage, a “deficiency judgment” allows banks to go after the individual homeowner for the balance), and in a dozen states – including Harris’ home state of California – banks can’t sue for a deficiency judgment anyway.
And the key thing you have to understand about housing is that nothing has fundamentally changed in the relationship between homeowner and loan servicer. I just got an email yesterday from someone being abused by HAMP, waiting months upon months for a loan modification, spending hours on the phone with his servicer trying to get an answer. The broken servicing market has not been fixed, and given the fact that there were no consequences the first time around, it’s pretty clear that it will never be fixed.
Mitt Romney has no answers on housing. His new housing section on his website consists of vague imitations of what the current Administration is already doing. But Obama is indefensible on this issue. Completely. Totally. Utterly. Harris praises him for “leadership,” but generating a foreclosure mitigation system that was nothing more than “foaming the runway” for the banks, so they could absorb foreclosures more slowly, was anything but leadership.
Eric Schneiderman had the right idea by just not going to this convention, where he would have to defend the indefensible. Harris couldn’t help herself.