Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Armando Falcon, Jr.: An Enemy of the People?

Armando Falcon, Jr. (pictured above) was the director of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) who brought to light problems at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac several years ago. For his service as a diligent regulator, he received something less than gratitude from certain Members of Congress, as the video below (which got a lot of hits on YouTube last fall) shows1. For some reason, the connection between that and the Ibsen play "An Enemy of the People" (which I last read when it was assigned in one of my high school English classes) just came to me yesterday. For those who aren't familiar with the play, here is the summary of it from Wikipedia:

Dr. Thomas Stockmann is the popular citizen of a small coastal town in Norway. The town has recently invested a large amount of public and private money towards the development of baths, a project led by Dr. Stockmann and his brother, the Mayor. The town is expecting a surge in tourism and prosperity from the new baths, said to be of great medicinal value, and as such, the baths are the pride of the town. However, as the baths are starting to succeed, Dr. Stockmann discovers that waste products from the town's tannery are contaminating the baths, causing serious illness among the tourists. He expects this important discovery to be his greatest achievement, and promptly sends a detailed report to the Mayor, which includes a proposed solution, which would come at a considerable cost to the town.

But to his surprise, Stockmann finds it difficult to get through to the authorities. They seem unable to appreciate the seriousness of the issue and unwilling to publicly acknowledge and address the problem because it could mean financial ruin for the town. As the conflict ensues, the Mayor warns his brother that he should "acquiesce in subordinating himself to the community." Stockmann refuses to accept this, and holds a town meeting at Captain Horster's house in order to convince the people to close the baths.

The townspeople - eagerly awaiting the prosperity that the baths are believed will bring - refuse to accept Stockmann's claims, as his friends and allies, who had explicitly given support for his campaign, turn against him en masse. He is taunted and denounced as a lunatic, an "Enemy of the People." In a scathing rebuke of both the Victorian notion of community and the principles of democracy, Dr. Stockmann proclaims that in matters of right and wrong, the individual is superior to the multitude, which is easily led by self-advancing demagogues. Stockmann sums up Ibsen's denunciation of the masses, with the memorable quote "...the strongest man in the world is the man who stands most alone."

And here is that video1 showing how Falcon's warnings were resented by come Congressional Reps:

1The creators of this video overstate their case slightly when they claim that Democrats opposed tighter regulation of the GSEs while Republicans advocated tighter regulation. Falcon mentioned to Real Clear Politics that one Democrat, Rep. Maurice Hinchey of New York, was supportive of his efforts. Also, although Republicans in Congress and the Bush Administration advocated stronger regulation of the GSEs, President Bush shared the zeal of most of the Democrats for encouraging the extension of credit to marginal borrowers, in order to increase home ownership levels, particularly among minorities.

The photo of Falcon above comes from this New York Times article, and is credited to Chris Kleponis/Bloomberg News.

1 comment:

DaveinHackensack said...

I should add, too, since I neglected to mention this in the post, that Mr. Falcon happens to be a Democrat. He was appointed by President Clinton.