Obama's housing plan: The Michelle Malkin critique

For the hardcore right, every little thing the president does is socialism.

By Andrew Leonard

Published February 18, 2009 10:20PM (EST)

Just a few days ago, Republican politicians were criticizing Obama's stimulus plan by observing that the root problem facing the economy was the housing crisis. But on Wednesday, they smoothly switched to criticizing Obama's housing plan because any relief for homeowners runs the risk of rewarding people who don't deserve help. Republicans, reported the Wall Street Journal Wednesday afternoon, are "wary that the plan would benefit homeowners who made rash decisions or committed fraud to obtain their mortgage."

Michelle Malkin, who seems to believe that she can win any argument by calling whatever the Democrats do an "entitlement," echoes such sentiments with a set of questions about the new program:

How is this fair to renters and home owners who had the foresight to take on loans they could afford?

Will illegal aliens be eligible for the program?

Why is it government's role to take my money to fund someone else's property value preservation?

Malkin illustrates her post with a cute little cartoon of a blue man pointing a gun at the head of a red man holding a bag of money. The word "socialism" is written underneath.

And there you have it: The best evidence yet of the travesty that is modern American politics. Right-wing talking heads are comfortable using the word "socialism" to describe a housing plan that is laden with incentives designed to urge private actors to behave in a particular way by making it financially worth their while. One can argue, with some justice, that the incentives aren't big enough to get the job done. But one cannot say, with any shred of intellectual responsibility, that we are witnessing government expropriation of private property. Left-wing critics have far more grounds for accusing the White House of not moving forcefully enough to confront the economic ills facing the United States than do right-wing critics in imagining that they are hearing the trumpet blasts of L'Internationale every time President Obama appears on national television.

Malkin's prescription is the so-called suck-it-up strategy. Do nothing, and housing prices will eventually fall to their proper floor. Only then can a true recovery get under way. She doesn't appear to entertain the possibility that inaction could lead to a disastrous "overshoot" in which housing prices fall far below whatever the "appropriate" price should be, leading to vast financial misfortune for millions of people who never took out a dodgy subprime loan or attempted to flip a house or mislead a mortgage lender as to their finances. But to people like Malkin and the House Republicans with whom she is currently so enamored, the idea that the economy could possibly be in a liquidity trap in which a sharp collapse in spending incites a further downward spiral for which there is no fundamental economic necessity is rank heresy. They cannot allow themselves to accept that possibility, because it provides a rationale for government action. And government action is socialism.

It might seem ridiculous to take a bomb thrower like Michelle Malkin seriously, but go ahead, turn on Fox News and start counting the number of times you hear the word "socialism" in a single day. That's their story, and they are sticking to it.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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