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Flipping hypocrisy

Finding hypocrisy in politics is about as difficult as finding drunks in a bar, so detailing each and every double-standard could fill the entire newspaper. But sometimes, one stands out enough to deserve a little extra scrutiny.

Republicans jumped on Rep. Shelley Berkley last week, after Jon Ralston reported that Berkley’s husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner, had been purchasing, fixing up and “flipping” foreclosed homes in Las Vegas.

Almost immediately, Brian Walsh, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, emailed the news to reporters, reminding them “that at the same time Nevada has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country, Shelley Berkley and her husband have been taking advantage of the situation.”

(Berkley has no part in her husband’s enterprise. But, ironically enough, she has been crusading against banks, accusing them of fraudulent foreclosure practices and asking people to sign an open letter to the Obama administration to hold banks accountable.)

Shortly after the first release, the senatorial committee sent out a second.

“First, Shelley Berkley used her office to secure federal funding for her husband’s medical practice. Now she’s capitalizing on the down economy by buying and flipping foreclosed homes,” said Jahan Wilcox, another spokesman for the NRSC. “It’s hard to say what’s worse: The Berkley-Obama economic policies that drove so many Nevadans into foreclosure, or Berkley capitalizing on their misfortune.”

(Wilcox refers to a Sept. 5 New York Times story that reported Berkley intervened when the kidney transplant program at UMC — overseen by Lehrner’s medical practice — was about to be killed by Medicare officials.)

But Berkley, capitalizing on the misfortune of those facing foreclosure? Really?

That attack stands out primarily because buying foreclosed homes and then selling or leasing them to willing buyers is the Republican solution to the foreclosure crisis. Witness what GOP front-runner Mitt Romney told the Review-Journal editorial board Nov. 17:

“Don’t try and stop the foreclosure process, let it run its course and hit the bottom, allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up and let it turn around and come back up,” Romney said. “The Obama administration has slow-walked the foreclosure process that has long existed and as a result we still have a foreclosure overhead.”

None of Romney’s opponents for the Republican nomination criticized his remark, because they all believe essentially the same thing.

But when Berkley’s husband takes Romney’s advice and pursues what the entire Republican field thinks is the best, free-market way to solve the problem, he gets slammed by the Republican senatorial committee? Why?

Because Republicans saw a chance to score political points. Consider what Mike Slanker, a political consultant working for Berkley’s 2012 opponent, Sen. Dean Heller, told the R-J: “How many members of Congress do you think find it a good idea to be flipping foreclosed homes right now? One?”

Actually, there’s probably quite a few Republican members of Congress who think the Romney approach is best. But Slanker’s point — that this looks bad — only works if you don’t care about intellectual honesty.

If this were any other businessman, Republicans would be singing his praises. But let the husband of your Democratic opponent do it, and suddenly operating in the free market turns into profiting off misfortune. That’s the very definition of hypocrisy.

The real conflict here is between Berkley — who blames banks and favors programs to help distressed homeowners stay in their houses — and her husband, who’s taken the Republican approach.

If nothing else, however, we finally know what it takes to get Republicans to care about people facing foreclosure.


Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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