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Posted at 2:35 PM ET, 12/16/2010

A confusing commission

By Ezra Klein

The point of the 9/11 Commission was to knit classified information and expert testimony into a coherent narrative of the attacks that would help us reform our intelligence agencies and disrupt future attempts. The point of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was ... well, it's not exactly clear. Its report is coming many months after financial reform has been signed into law, and after many books and reports have done an exceptional job telling the story of the crisis (which is not, crucially, a classified story).

Which is all to say that I'm puzzled by the decision the panel's Republicans made to break away, declare certain words off-limits and release a nine-page report that reads like a long op-ed from a generic Republican politician. I get that sort of partisanship and message discipline when the stakes are high, but what are they playing for here? Keith Hennessey, who's one of the panel's Republican members, has suggested that the minority is angry that the final document won't give them more space to offer an alternative narrative, but that hardly explains why they're voting certain terms and phrases off the island. So what does?

By Ezra Klein  | December 16, 2010; 2:35 PM ET
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Here's what would be great...if some malcontent on the FCIC got a hold of all the data and findings gathered during the course of this thing....and turned it all over to Wikileaks.

We dont need no stinking commissions. Someone up there should just leak all of it and let everyone go through everything, unmolested, and find out things.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | December 16, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

The 8th Rule of Bureaucracy:

If the reality you face doesn't help you, make up your own version, then angrily denounce and deny the old one.

Posted by: tomcammarata | December 16, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Also the 6th Rule:

When history disagrees with your analysis, either ignore it, disclaim it, rewrite it, or all three.

Posted by: tomcammarata | December 16, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

What is your obsession with commissions?

Posted by: 54465446 | December 16, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

This should be the abridged edition:

"Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Report"

Chapter 1: Causes

1. Irresponsible, short sighted, greedy banks and other investment institutions.

2. Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee - Barney Frank

3. Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs - Chris Dodd

The End.

Posted by: RisingTideLiftsAllBoats | December 16, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

The point is so the Texas School Board can require its Contemporary History classes to be taught from the commission report, not the popular, liberal biased literature.

Posted by: will12 | December 16, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Because conservatives feel they are entitled to their own facts?

Posted by: wayward_va | December 16, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

"Because conservatives feel they are entitled to their own facts?"

Better that than another man's money.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | December 16, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Just a guess. The Reps figure the report will be more objective/less prejudicial from their point of view if the report discusses "financial institutions" rather than "Wall Street", "investment banks" rather than "Wall Street", "hedge funds" rather than "Wall Street", etc. Sounds to me as if there's a p***ing contest going on, the Dems leaked something they could spin against the Reps and the Reps leaked something they could spin against the Dems. Just the usual infighting; the 9/11 commission was the exception in having unanimity, not this one.

Posted by: bharshaw | December 16, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

In Republicanland, everything not officially decreed by an officially ordained frothing, red-faced doughperson is off-limits to say, because anything outside those utterances is a liberal conspiracy, or worse--it could end up taking them off-message.

Posted by: KBfromNC | December 16, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Ezra: Did you see Krugman on this? I think he has the answer. It's about long-term propaganda, not immediate issues or interests: "I wonder if Ezra Klein is serious when he asks whose interests are served by this. The right has always understood that the perceptions game is a long game, that you have to rewrite history on a sustained basis to shape the assumptions that govern politics. Work at it steadily, and you have even a liberal Democratic president believing that Social Security only covered widows and orphans at first, that Medicare started small, and that the Clinton-era productivity boom began under Reagan."

Posted by: jtmiller42 | December 16, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

They're playing for the historical narrative. In 10 years' time conservatives will be arguing that the financial crisis of the late 2000s was caused by the government getting too closely involved in the market - forcing banks to offer toxic loans through measures like the Community Reinvestment Act and Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac - and then exacerbated by President Obama's decision to spend trillions on stimulus measures and bailouts instead of reining in spending and reducing government intrusions into private business.

In order for that narrative to work, they have to gradually expunge the idea that Wall Street, shadow banking, deregulation or George W. Bush had any real role to play in causing the crisis. This breakaway commission is just a small part of the effort to create that narrative. The sad thing is, when all the anger towards bankers eventually subsides and the economy starts roaring again, I think it's entirely plausible this narrative will become the consensus.

Posted by: bigmandave | December 16, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse

Following up on @bigmandave's comment, in a few years we'll also see plenty of citations of the FCIC's minority report as definitive proof that Freddie, Fannie and CRS single-handedly caused the meltdown. By then, the document will have the sheen of "official authority." It was a product of the official commission, after all.

Many months ago, either Planet Money or This American Life had a segment on the Great Depression commission, a commission that generated huge outrage as the commission brought various financial miscreants before the bright lights of hearings, and was instrumental in reforms of the era. The presenters suggested that perhaps the FCIC would create the same outrage and lead to further reforms in Congress. Although not a crazy idea at the time, it appears they were completely wrong. The commission is not grandstanding enough, the mainstream is not giving it much attention, and it's pretty much impossible to imagine the next Congress doing anything on financial reform.

Posted by: meander510 | December 16, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

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