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As we near the fifth anniversary of the financial crisis, we’re still cleaning up the wreckage that destroyed millions of jobs and trillions in wealth. And while the Justice Department has been able to make a case against a Real Housewife of New Jersey and some low-level employees at JPMorgan, no executives from the nation’s largest banks have been prosecuted for crimes that led to the market meltdown.

It’s true that deregulation made much of what led to the crisis legal. But even if it hadn’t, it would be impossible for a banker to commit a crime, according to Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA).

“Well first of all, for a criminal practice there has to be a gun,” McClintock told a constituent at a recent town hall. “It’s pretty simple.”

He then went on to list the worst generalizations conservatives have ever offered in response to the financial crisis.

“When I hear about predatory lending, for example, my first question is, well that’s just terrible,” he said. “You shouldn’t be allowed to force somebody to take out a loan they don’t want.”

The problem, of course, isn’t that loans were forced on people. The problem was that the terms were often obscured or deceptive and people were given loans with variable rates that they could only pay if the housing market grew at a ridiculous rate.

McClintock defended the repeal of Glass-Steagall, saying that government should be less involved in market regulation. He then blasted the bank bailouts, which were made necessary by deregulation and likely prevented a greater depression.

The congressman conjured memories of an era when if a bank made a bad loan, they ate the loan and “went away sadder but wiser but left the rest of us alone.”

This era was before the Great Depression, before the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. And the problem is, when a bank goes under, it takes a lot of people’s money with it, which led to the Great Depression. So if the big banks — which are bigger now than before the financial crisis — go under, they take the whole world with them.

McClintock’s populist rhetoric sounds as if it’s on the side of the little guy, but it just makes more misery inevitable. If this is what the GOP learned from the last financial crisis, they’ve only learned that we didn’t suffer enough to give people without guns the freedom to do whatever they want.

Tom McClintock and a delegate of the California Youth & Government program in 2009.


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