Credit crunch

No, credit should not be a civil right -- nor should it be a corporate right, either.

Published September 23, 2008 8:33PM (EDT)

I'm perfectly happy to concede the point Mark Krikorian of the National Review is making about credit not being a constitutionalized civil right -- though he protests too much about the complaints from minorities and others regarding bias in access to credit and lending. (Maybe he has not heard about the redlining or racial convenants of the not-so-distant past.)

Funny how conservatives seem to complain louder when the unworthy recipients of government bailouts or lines of credit are average citizens than when they are avaricious corporations. As I argue in my Baltimore Sun column today, there is a glaring double standard at work here whenever the discussion turns to the glorious merits of free markets, competition, boot-strapping and "socialist" solutions:

Notice how those same chest-thumping capitalists of talk radio and at the corporate-funded think tanks often fall silent in the face of fixed markets, no-bid contracts, bailouts and subsidies for the very corporations that demand less government oversight when things are going well, then turn to Washington when things go horribly wrong.

The hypocrisies abound.

If unionized teachers were given 15 percent annual raises, regardless of performance, that would be socialist. But when easily repaired military equipment in Iraq is discarded so no-bid defense contractors can charge the automatic 15 percent overhead for replacements (watch Iraq for Sale, a documentary exposing Defense Department contracting), that's the cost of doing business during wartime.

If Congress proposes legislation to extend leniency to Americans who, because of unexpected medical expenses or a job recently shipped overseas, go bankrupt, Republicans fret about governmental dependency. But when Chrysler, insurance giant AIG or the airlines after 9/11 take Beltway bailouts, executives such as Lee A. Iacocca are still esteemed as corporate masters of the universe.

If affirmative action provides a minority or female applicant the inside track for a job or college admission, conservatives lecture us about the power of competition. But when the pharmaceutical companies and the Bush administration collude in passing a Medicare Part D prescription drug bill that expressly prohibits the government from using its competitive buying power to negotiate the best price for those taxpayer-funded drugs, Fox News cues the video for the latest Paris Hilton scandal.

Propose a national health care program to cover everyone, or invest a mere $7 billion per year over five years to expand the children's health insurance program? Sounds like "each according to need" Marxism. But spend several times that amount to bail out AIG, the nation's largest insurance company? That's, um, market stabilization.

Thanks to all this deregulation and blind-eye market oversight, we’re all credit-demanding socialists now, Mr. Krikorian.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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