Congressman Christopher Shays joined us by phone today...as we're almost done with our series of conversations with congressional candidates. He was to have been in studio, but had a financial services committee meeting to attend at 10 a.m., so he joined us by phone.
We spent most of the time talking about the economy, the bailout bill, and what congress should (or shouldn't) have known about risky Wall Street practices. Shays placed the blame on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, much as he did during our Fairfield University debate. My recurring question to the Congressman centered on what the Republican congress should have done to avert the crisis ahead of time. That's not just Fannie and Freddie, but hedge funds, credit default swaps, Bear Stearns, Alan Greenspan, etc. My repeated questioning drew this response from listener Ruth Stearns Pass of Canton:
"I was disappointed by your interview with Christopher Shays. Let me be clear; I am an Independent voter, my husband's work specialty is Financial Institutions Risk, his brother is a Bond's broker on the largest trading floor in the world (in ct.)Last Thanksgiving they sat down and talked about the storm coming. In detail; bad paper, credit default swaps... A Year ago, during a Democratic Congress...And yet, when you questioned Mr Shays you asked him 3 times about how the Republican Congress failed to regulate banks and Credit default swaps.
I am no Republican sir. But, your line of questioning is exactly the problem with politics in this country. I admire that Mr Shays clarified that de-regulation and lack of regulation/oversight was a chronic problem with both Republicans and Democrats. I seriously feel that there is no hope for an even handed political solution because people like you play into the partisan snipping. It is depressing. You have abdicated real discussion of the issues for political talking points....not unlike Sara Palin. And, in my mind it diminishes your credibility. I hope Mr. Shays gets re-elected, because he seems to have a good grasp at what did, in part, cause this crisis.Democrats did not ask to regulate credit default swaps because people where making money, the same reason that Republicans didn't regulate it. And Republicans didn't succeed in re-instituting the regulations of sub prime mortgages after a democratic president expanded their prevelance in our economy because PEOPLE WHERE MAKING MONEY. And they were accused of not wanting minorities to have 'a piece of the pie' when people like Mr Shays and John McCain did try to fight it. Why don't you get someone knowledgeable about the layers of the financial crisis to come on your show and drop the Partisan snipping? If you laid it out in detail; how regulations promoted bad loans, how already in the fiber of our banking system was a bundling of those loans that went into stocks and bonds and the assets of banks and where compounded all over the world....you would be doing the people of Ct a greater service. Maybe then, they would realize that there is bi-partisan blame to share. A lot of it."
I reprinted all of this letter, because she makes a good point about how we choose to question candidates for office. Here's part of my reply:
"The only reason I asked that same question three times is that Congressman Shays never answered it directly. Part of my job on this program is to get politicians on record, and to do that, it’s necessary for them to answer questions posed by the interviewer or listeners. We’ve had a few programs where we do lay these issues out, both produced here and by NPR, and we will continue to do so. I couldn’t agree more on “placing partisan blame,” but I do ask that you go back to listen to our earlier interviews with Democrats Jim Himes, Chris Murphy and Joe Courtney on the same issue.
Mr. Himes especially was uncomfortable with my repeated questioning of his 12 year service at Goldman Sachs, and whether he took steps at that company to raise warning signals about risky investments. Speaking for myself, it’s never about partisanship, it’s only about accountability, and we strive for that every day."
So, how does this ring to you? When a poltician doesn't answer a question directly, how often should we try for an answer? Does it even make sense to go back to Republicans and Democrats to find who's to blame for our financial mess?
I'd love to hear your opinion...leave comments below.