Vice President Joe Biden was in Virginia yesterday, reminding voters that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan intend to roll back the clock on Wall Street safeguards and layers of accountability. "[Romney] said in the first 100 days, he's going to let the big banks write their own rules -- unchain Wall Street," Biden said. "They're going to put y'all back in chains."
The apoplexy was almost immediate. Republicans and the media condemned the line, accusing Biden of arguing that the Romney-Ryan ticket somehow supports slavery. Reporters used this as an example of campaign rhetoric reaching the gutter and the GOP used this as evidence of the Obama campaign's viciousness.
Yes, Biden used the wrong metaphor. I doubt it was planned; I also doubt we'll hear it again; and I'm quite certain the "chains" line won't be the centerpiece of the Obama campaign's messaging in the coming weeks and months.
But there's a forest-trees problem -- there's nothing wrong with slapping Biden's wrist for an example of rhetorical excess, but can we at least try to notice the policy matter he was referencing at the time? Mitt Romney addressed the subject this morning:
"The comments of the vice president, as I heard them, were I thought one more example of a divisive effort to keep from talking about the real issues. Look, no one is talking about deregulating Wall Street!"
Well, that's not quite right. It's true that Romney isn't proposing a complete elimination of every Wall Street regulation, but he has promised to destroy every new safeguard imposed by the Obama administration in the wake of the 2008 crash. (Romney would also eliminate the Sabranes-Oxley protections created with bipartisan support after the Enron fiasco.)
"No one is talking about deregulating Wall Street"? Well, someone is talking about going back to the regulatory framework as it existed when the global financial system nearly collapsed due to mismanagement, irresponsibility, and insufficient oversight.