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What Biden had right about 'chains'

By Roland S. Martin, CNN Contributor
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon August 20, 2012
Roland Martin says Joe Biden's 'chains' comment referred to the banking industry and made sense when not taken out of context.
Roland Martin says Joe Biden's 'chains' comment referred to the banking industry and made sense when not taken out of context.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Roland Martin: In context Biden's "chains" comments make sense, are about banking industry
  • He says out-of-control banks caused housing collapse, took bailout money from taxpayers
  • He says Romney will continue business as usual with financial industry, opposes controls
  • Martin: Wall Street doesn't care about U.S. consumers, except to keep them shackled in debt

Editor's note: Roland Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for the TV One cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, "Washington Watch with Roland Martin."

(CNN) -- Vice President Joe Biden has been the topic of much discussion this past week as to whether he was playing racial politics in what has become the "chains speech" in Danville, Virginia.

Commentators, political pundits, politicians and academics have weighed in. But through all of the hoopla, it is important to probe the statement that preceded Biden saying to the audience at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research: "They're going to put y'all back in chains."

Here is Biden's full statement from the speech: "(Mitt) Romney wants to let -- he said in the first hundred days, he's going to let the big banks once again write their own rules. 'Unchain Wall Street.' They're going to put y'all back in chains."

Roland Martin
Roland Martin

Knock yourself out focusing on the racial implications of what Biden had to say. Because when I look at the number of Americans still underwater because of the dastardly things that took place in the housing market; when I look at the number of banks that took billions in federal funds supposedly to provide credit to Americans, only to use it to shore up their balance sheets; and when I look at the banking industry fighting tooth and nail to prevent future regulations, that to me is far more vital to determining who we should cast our vote for in November.

Neil Barofsky, The independent watchdog appointed to investigate the TARP program, wrote in his book, "Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street," that the federal government committed $23.7 trillion in various initiatives to save the financial industry.

Yes, $23.7 trillion. Not all was spent, but that figure begins to get at the depth at which Wall Street had devastated this country with its reckless behavior.

Mitt Romney, who made his millions in private equity, is most certainly the guy Wall Street is betting big on. Millions are flowing into his coffers from Wall Street because he has made it clear that he is going to pretty much say, "Gents, it's business as usual!"

We could have some faith in his vice presidential pick, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who has talked openly about reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act, which was enacted in 1933 to protect Americans by preventing commercial banks from also being investment banks.

Yet it was the repeal in 1999 of that important law's restrictions, a repeal led by Republican Sen. Phil Gramm, of Texas. and signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton, that is largely to blame for the current crisis. Far too few banks are in control of far too much of the nation's money, and when the shameful and evil ways they make money end up almost collapsing the economy, taxpayers are left to bail them out.

Ryan voted for repeal on Glass-Steagall in 1999, but is on the record recently as saying Glass-Steagall should return. But the man at the top of the ticket isn't so sure, which means that Ryan will have to keep his thoughts to himself.

Romney and Ryan are in lockstep in disagreeing with the passage of the Dodd-Frank law, which was supposed to reform the banking industry, and that should cause many of us to be cautious as to why.

Criticism of Ryan and Biden messages
Biden responds to 'chains' criticism

Let's be clear: Dodd-Frank is not a perfect bill. The financial lobby was successful at stripping away some of the toughest provisions of the law, and former Connecticut Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd was too willing to do their bidding. Democrats and Republicans are to blame for that, but at least the law is an effort to get Wall Street to clean up its act.

Romney seems to want Wall Street to keep doing what it's been doing, offering no specifics on what kinds of regulations should be imposed to put it in check. He definitely wants to repeal Dodd-Frank, but won't say what he'll replace it with.

When J.P. Morgan announced it lost $3 billion a few months ago, Romney essentially shrugged his shoulders and said that's the free market enterprise for you.

But when that free market enterprise results in our economy almost collapsing, resulting in Wall Street needing more than a trillion dollars of infusion from the American taxpayer and the Federal Reserve, it sure isn't free to us.

Far too many banks have been horrible at working with the millions of homeowners who face foreclosure, as evidence by stories done by many reporters, including CNN's Jessica Yellin Romney? Nothing. Go to www.mittromney.com and see if you find anything confronting the housing crisis. Nada. Nothing. Zip.

Judging by the voting record of Ryan in the House, we surely can't expect him to work to change Romney's mind.

Ryan was one of only 64 House members to vote against a law requiring credit card companies to notify cardholders they were going to raise their interest rates (it passed).

He voted no on a bill to allow the Treasury Department to offer $300 billion in loans to community banks to assist small businesses (it passed).

He voted yes to strip the Consumer Financial Protect Agency of some of its toughest rules, instead wanting to soften it up (it failed).

And he voted yes on a bill that delayed for a year new regulations on the kind of derivatives that created the financial mess we're in right now (it passed).

It is clear that Wall Street doesn't care about American consumers, except to keep them shackled in debt through sky high credit card balances, thus allowing the financial industry to make billions off the high interest rates. Bankers fought hard to keep hitting account holders with hidden fees, again lining their pockets. And they sure as heck aren't doing enough to stabilize the housing market by drawing down principals and placing a moratorium on foreclosures.

So we should recognize Romney's recipe of ideas as a disaster for consumers and a boon for Wall Street.

You can be angry all you want about Biden's chains comments, but you better be just as upset if we have to go through another financial calamity like we did in 2008 when Wall Street ran amok and took us for suckers in an effort to tap into our pocketbooks again, courtesy of the U.S. Treasury.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland Martin.

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