POLITICS

Personal Responsibility vs. Outrage At Banks: The Commenter Wars

05/08/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There are two warring factions in the comments section of any story about a borrower, a bank and a loan gone bad. One side rages against the bank and its greed, while the other blames the borrowers for shirking their obligations.

These factions fought furiously over our story about Rosalina Gomez, a Minneapolis janitor on the verge of losing her home. Gomez happens to clean the office of the CEO of the bank that bought her foreclosed home in a sheriff's sale. Her union highlighted the juxtaposition of the rich banker and the hard-luck homeowner in its campaign for better wages and health insurance for Minneapolis janitors, which was ultimately successful. Gomez, for her part, won a 60-day reprieve of her March 11 eviction date -- but so far has not been made an offer that would let her family stay in its home.

An interesting thing about the commenter war is that it's not a class war between the haves and the have-nots. The personal responsibility camp isn't a bunch of rich bankers -- it contains plenty of folks whose circumstances mirror that of Gomez but who nevertheless resent the implication that there's anything newsworthy about a delinquent borrower getting thrown out of her house. Or they wonder at the fairness of the situation: Why should one person who can't pay back a loan get relief while others are made to suffer through foreclosure or bankruptcy? That kind of infighting among people ostensibly in the same class and in the same situation is the type of dissension that created "Reagan Democrats" in the 1980s -- middle-class people facing tough times who resented government assistance to those poorer than them.

One exchange in particular struck HuffPost. It happened over email. The subject line was "eviction of maid," which did not incline this reporter to take the letter very seriously. But the person said she didn't want to be mean and she persistently asked: What was the point of the story? So HuffPost answered. Both sides shifted -- this reporter became less defensive, and the emailer changed her tune when she no longer felt pitted against Gomez.

Here's the exchange, starting with the letter to HuffPost, which the sender granted permission to publish:

Dear Arthur,

What was the point of this article? Many people are losing their home, why is she so special? I live in the Bay Area in California, single parent for 17 years in a 1 bedroom apartment. Oh, by the way, I slept in the living room so my son could have the bedroom. I have had the same job for 11 years and I haven't had a raise in 8 years, I HAVE NO BENEFITS AT ALL. I make $17.00 an hour and pay $1100.00 rent for a 1 bedroom apartment.

I also have no sympathy for 2 people who couldn't make their house payments......

What's the point of your email? Are you saying that because there are people worse off than Rosalina Gomez, a reporter shouldn't write about Rosalina Gomez?

No, but why did you? You made it seem as though the CEO did some underhanded thing...she did not pay her mortgage period..you get evicted when that happens. Were you trying to get sympathy from Americans? We have non left. She did not seem to be homeless, so what was your point? It sounds to me that she is lucky to have a job and a place to live. Many Americans don't... I would have symphony for a single parent with children who could not make a payment, but 2 people, no way.

If I wrote an article about a single parent with children failing to make a payment, I would still get an email like this from a person like you. By the way, she's a janitor, not a maid.

I am not trying to be mean. But still, what was the point of this article? That's all I want to know. Usually, articles have a point. I missed your point in this article. So, what is the point of your article?--banks should let people who can't pay stay in the house because they are a janitor in a union? What?

The point of the article is definitely not to make you feel sorry for Gomez, or to say what banks "should" do for someone in Gomez's situation. I think the coincidence that she cleans this CEO's office and that his bank owns her house brings up an interesting juxtaposition: The banker made bad loans through the housing boom and the borrower took on more debt than she could handle. He gets bailed out to the tune of $6.6 billion and is the "executive of the year." She goes bankrupt and is evicted. I'm just putting it out there, and that's the whole point!

Thank you Arthur,

And it is well taken by me now and you DO have a point. I see what you were trying to say about the irony of the situation.

ps
I was not trying to be disrespectful to you or to the lady. I just didn't understand, but now I do.

Thanks to this person and to all the thoughtful commenters and emailers. Keep 'em coming. The stupid and racist ones, not so much.

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