Homeownership, Hoover said, "permeates the heart of our national well-being. It makes for happier married life. It makes for better children. It makes for confidence and security. It makes for better citizenship." Any San Franciscan knows that's bogus. The city's renters have organized themselves into 400 citizens' groups apt to fill mass meetings at a moment's notice on issues ranging from public transit to pets' rights.

Hoover's limp response to the Great Depression discredited his presidency, but his cherished homeownership drive remained a national government-supported goal. The massive home foreclosures of the Depression didn't sway the government against the apparently risky practice of encouraging everyone to own homes — instead, the government created institutions such as Fannie Mae, the Federal Housing Administration, and the Federal Home Loan banks, designed to make it easier and safer. Zoning and the creation of the national highway system ensured that this easy-credit system had plenty of single-family-home products people could buy.

Looking back at this fall's financial crisis, I hope people will end up recalling the foreclosed ranchettes of Brentwood and question the cost of the American Dream. For Congress to have rejected or postponed last week's bailout bill would have been foolish. Without it, lending could evaporate, and so could businesses and jobs. But as Americans seek a course picking through the aftermath, they should look toward the beacon on a hill that is San Francisco.

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