The economic recession finally has a uniter, not a divider.
Given the breadth of the economic meltdown of the last seven months or so, there has been remarkably little consensus on finding one major villain. Until now.
Yes, the banks came under a lot of criticism because of the sub-prime mortgage collapse. But so too did borrowers. Indeed, there was the famous "Tea Party" movement launched when a CNBC reporter voiced outrage over "losers" who couldn't fulfill their obligations. There is scorn over both sides on the housing issue.
Though Republicans protested TARP payouts -- and many average people didn't like them -- there was still enough general agreement that they were a necessary evil to keep the economy stabilized.
Even the uproar over AIG bonuses -- demonstrated by a visceral two-thirds vote in the House seeking a 90 percent tax on recipients -- faded within a couple of weeks. The Senate never even took up the bill.
Everyone was ticked off at the auto industry and demanded a halt on bailouts -- but it could hardly be said that there was much anger, as such. GM and Chrysler's woes had been known for a long time and their passing into de facto bankruptcy had little consequence beyond the companies and employees themselves.
Regardless, there was no vote in Congress showing a clear-cut will of the people on behalf of what could be considered "the little guy."
Can't say that about Tuesday's vote on credit card rates. Nope, not at all. We've found our villain -- and it's Lex Luthor, the Joker and Dr. No all rolled into one: It's the credit-card industry -- and there's no one left to defend it.
It's pretty hard to get a 90-5 vote out of the Senate on a significant financial-related measure. Even the now-controversial bankruptcy bill, seen as having broad consensus just four years ago, had 25 "nay" votes. Nope, the credit card industry could only find five -- five -- senators willing to leave the status quo. Keep in mind that the Senate is the body that is supposed to be the "cooling" agent, tamping down the passions that arise out of the House.
Not this time. The consensus is clear: Yeah, consumers were irresponsible, becoming addicted to easy credit, but the "drug-dealers" -- the credit card companies -- aren't getting away with this. They were the ones dumping credit card offer after credit card offer on consumers. They've been the ones jacking up interest rates after a day's late payment -- imperiling their ability to pay other bills even more. This differs from the housing situation in one significant way: The "fine print" on mortgages -- even sub-prime ones -- can't change every other month on the whim of the bank.
Credit card companies have reached a point where it's perceived that, they, more than consumers have violated an aspect of the social contract. Down the road, the public may grow to regret this legislative action placing restrictions on the power of companies to move around interest rates willy-nilly and add various penalties: It may mean a growing restriction on credit in general.
But, for now, the consumer feels it has gained a wee bit of leverage on the credit equation. And, even more so than the stimulus package, this legislation might be the most meaningful bit of "change" that the Obama administration has produced.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.