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Hating Government, Loving the CFPB

"It is something out of the Stalinist Era," says Lindsey Graham. Perhaps the esteemed senator from South Carolina is angered by the CIA drone attacks? Or the Justice Department's kneecapping of FOIA, whereby the Agency seeks license to "lie, and claim records do not exist, when they do"?

Alas, he is not. The senator is peeved by -- in fact, seems to resent the mere existence of -- the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the financial watchdog set up by presumptive Democratic nominee for Massachussets Senate, Elizabeth Warren. He's not alone. Last week, his fellow Republicans blocked the nomination of former Ohio attorney general, Richard Cordray, as head of the Bureau. (Scott Brown was a notable exception; he is presumably concerned that a "no" vote would give Warren more ammunition on the campaign trail -- which she clearly doesn't need.)

Other gripers: "We’re not going to let the president put another unelected czar in place, unaccountable to the American people," says Mitch McConnell. There's "no check and balance" says Orrin Hatch. Rob Portman fears the CFPB's "authority over personal economic decisions," and cites James Madison on the celestial authority of angels as a defense.

I can imagine the GOP's gamble: they assume that contituents will not stop to consider what, exactly, the CFPB does. A decent place to start is the Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans, which should be up and running in a month.

One of the Office's mandates is "helping to educate older Americans to avoid unfair and deceptive practices." Senior citizens are notoriously vulnerable to investment scams. Per InvestmentNews:

Older Americans are financially abused by family members, strangers and businesses to the tune of $2.9 billion a year, according to a study released by MetLife Inc. in June. That sum is 12% higher than the study's 2008 findings, which estimated that elders were being swindled out of $2.6 billion a year. Both numbers may be underestimating the problem, however, as 80% of cases aren't reported, according to experts.

The utility and necessity of the CFPB is pretty obvious. But you can see why Republicans believe they can score points in attacking the Bureau given that a recent poll found that the public believes, by an overwhelming majority, that "big government" is "the biggest threat to the country."

As it happens, though, while Americans are quick to distrust government in the abstract, they like many of the actual functions of the public sector. The CFPB is a case in point, with polls showing very strong support for better regulation of the financial industry. And, mind you, the polling on CFPB has only broadly asked Americans about the need for such oversight. Once the public really gets to know what the CFPB is doing -- like protecting grandma from reverse mortgage scams or stopping college kids from getting into trouble with credit cards -- support for the Bureau will only grow.

Did you know that the CFPB even has a whole office dedicated to protecting military personnel from being ripped off by unscrupulous lenders and insurers? Probably not. But that's one more example of the mundane reality behind all this hysteria.

Right now, conservatives are using CFPB as a symbol of big government, sure in their faith that Americans hate government. But just wait: in time, the public will come to love the reality of the CFPB as much as they like the idea.