Commentary: Sam Donaldson on Candidates' Economic Strategies

The following is a commentary by ABC News' Sam Donaldson. Click here to view a video version of his latest essay.

Someone asked me whether Sen. Barack Obama is right when he says the root cause of today's financial crisis is the deregulation of the financial industry or Sen. John McCain is right when he says the primary problem has been the greed and stupidity on Wall Street -- "infectious greed," Alan Greenspan once called it.

I think they're both right.

Consider the deregulation of the savings and loan industry, which began under President Carter and accelerated under President Reagan. By the time that mess was over, about $550 billion had been transferred from hardworking Americans to the flim-flam operators, and the taxpayers ultimately had to pay another $275 billion in cleanup costs.

pic of sam donaldson on abc news nows politics livePlay

So, we come to the deregulation of the banking industry in 1999, and 2000, spearheaded by former Texas Republican Sen. Phil Gramm. The restraints came down, the requirements for sound practices were lowered and once again, the sharp operators went to work. We're not talking about crooks in the sense of breaking the law -- of course, there was some of that -- no, we're talking about the men and women of the great financial houses who saw an opportunity to make huge amounts of money on the theory that the rising housing bubble would bubble on forever ... and when it didn't, the chickens came home to roost.

If you listen to McCain and Obama, they each promise to reregulate and crack down on the greedy people in the financial community, but they haven't told us exactly what they have in mind. They should start thinking about it.

In the meantime, we must keep our fingers crossed and dodge the chicken droppings ... for we are all sitting under that roost.

Sam Donaldson, a 41-year ABC News veteran, served two appointments as chief White House correspondent for ABC News, from January 1998 to August 1999 and from 1977-1989, covering Presidents Carter, Reagan and Clinton. Donaldson also co-anchored, with Diane Sawyer, "PrimeTime Live," from August 1989 until it merged with "20/20" in 1999. He co-anchored the ABC News Sunday morning broadcast, "This Week With Sam Donaldson & Cokie Roberts," from December 1996 to September 2002. Currently, Donaldson appears on ABC News Now, the ABC News digital network, in a daily show, "Politics Live."