Phil Angelides, the chairman of Congress's Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, former California state treasurer, former Calpers and Calstrs board member, and loyal Democrat, gave a serviceable speech today before Bard College's financial-reform conference (click here for audio).
Angelides explained -- accurately enough, if broadly -- that the financial crisis was preventable. He went through some of the crisis' causes, including Washington's failure to require financial-market participants to put up money behind their derivatives trades. (Such a requirement would have given the economy protection from the failures of some large financial firms.) He also explained how Fannie and Freddie contributed to the crisis, but didn't cause it.
And then he ruined it with one throwaway sentence: "The teachers of the United States did not cause this crisis."
An audience member who just dropped down from Mars might have found the comment puzzling: who on earth said that the teachers caused the crisis?
Answer: nobody. Remember, of the 10 commissioners whom Congress appointed to Angelides's commission, the four Republicans dissented from the final report. None of them offered a compelling arguing for doing so. Even so, none of them proffered the explanation that the teachers did it.
But Angelides seems to be using a loose commutative-property argument, one that worked well on the audience even as it insulted audience members' intelligence.
The reasoning behind Angelides's comment: Republicans don't like teachers, as proven by recent fights in Republican-led states over cutbacks to public-employee pension and healthcare benefits. Not liking teachers is bad. Republicans don't favor appropriate financial regulation, either. Because not liking teachers is bad, opposing appropriate financial regulation must be bad, too. No need to worry your little heads about the details.
It's a pity that Angelides wasted an opportunity to explain exactly how the Republicans have been wrong in largely opposing steps such as limiting borrowing behind derivatives trades.
But he chose to seize his chance to try out a blue-state campaign-style soundbite instead.
Though the teachers didn't cause the crisis, Angelides's lazy deployment of them as a straw-man argument is obscuring the explanation of the crisis.