Republicans across the political world have struggled to comprehend the causes of the financial crisis since it began roiling the American economy nearly five years ago. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R), now one of the GOP’s two leading presidential candidates, hasn’t been immune, going all-in on the notion that government policy, government-sponsored housing programs, and government regulation were the main drivers of the crisis, a claim that has been repeatedly debunked.
On the campaign trail in Colorado this week, however, Santorum offered an even further out there explanation for the crisis. According to the Colorado Independent, Santorum told one crowd that gasoline and oil prices rose so sharply in the build-up to the collapse that they caused Americans to default on their mortgages in droves, thereby triggering the housing crisis that is still acting as a drag on the nation’s economy:
Stressing the importance for the country to provide cheap energy to its citizens, Santorum blamed the recession not on sub-prime mortgages or the derivatives market but on spiking fuel prices.
“We went into a recession in 2008. People forget why. They thought it was a housing bubble. The housing bubble was caused because of a dramatic spike in energy prices that caused the housing bubble to burst,” Santorum told the audience. “People had to pay so much money to air condition and heat their homes or pay for gasoline that they couldn’t pay their mortgage.”
The theory that rising oil prices blew up the housing market exists only in Santorum’s mind. “All The Devils Are Here,” an inside account of the crisis written by Fortune editor and columnist Bethany McLean and New York Times columnist Joe Nocera, doesn’t mention oil or gas prices a single time. New York Times financial reporter Aaron Sorkin’s “Too Big To Fail,” another inside account, never points to oil prices as a factor in the crisis. And the official government report about the crisis, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Report, mentions oil prices multiple times as a symptom of the declining economy but never blames rising prices for the collapse of the housing market.
In reality, the primary cause of the financial crisis is quite clear. Mortgage lenders and large banks, driven by an insatiable thirst for profits, divvied up subprime mortgages and junk loans into mortgage backed securities, credit default options, and various forms of derivatives, then sold them around the world, creating a housing bubble that burst the minute the market overheated. Unfortunately, in their quest to prevent Wall Street banks and rogue mortgage lenders from taking responsibility, many Republicans have created an alternate reality in which anything else — even something as disconnected as fuel prices — caused the crisis, even if those claims have no basis in reality.