Still more housing policy confusion

STILL MORE HOUSING POLICY CONFUSION…. About two weeks ago, at a campaign event in Colorado, Sarah Palin claimed that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had become “too expensive to the taxpayers.” The criticism didn’t make any sense — the lending companies have operated as private companies without taxpayer funds. In the midst of a housing crisis, it’s the kind of detail a candidate for national office ought to know, especially before talking about the issue.

McCain broached the subject in a similar way yesterday.

McCain has aired and prepared, respectively, two ads that link Obama to former Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae chief executives Jim Johnson and Franklin D. Raines. McCain told a large, loud audience in Blaine, Minn., that Johnson had walked away from the mortgage giants with $21 million “of your money” in severance pay, while Raines received $25 million.

“Let’s tell them to give it back,” McCain said, and the crowd obliged, chanting “Give it back. Give it back.”

First, if we’re going to start talking about executives with excessive golden parachutes, perhaps McCain might consider addressing Carly Fiorina’s $42 million going-away package.

Second, and more to the point, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae execs were not given taxpayer-financed severance packages. Again, we’re talking about private companies, not taxpayer-financed agencies. As the Washington Post reported today, “[T]he severance packages were paid by company shareholders, not taxpayers.”

So, here’s the question. Is John McCain still confused, even now, about how Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae operated, or was he just trying to energize voters with talking points he knew to be false?

Oddly enough, given the last several months, it’s genuinely hard to tell when McCain is being dishonest and when he’s being incompetent.