During Saturday’s Democratic debate, Wall Street was a favorite bogeyman of every candidate on stage. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the only one to offer an awkward embrace, connecting her campaign donations from Wall Street investors to the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001. This generated pushback from both right and left, with observers upset that she would exploit a national tragedy for a political fig leaf.

What seemed to be lost on these candidates is the fact that Wall Street isn’t some alien, sinister monster to be marginalized except in the most extreme of circumstances. Sure there is greed and corruption on Wall Street, just as there rotten apples in every profession, from healthcare to religion to journalism. The candidates fail to recognize that Wall Street fuels the American Dream, and that we should work to better connect Wall Street with Main Street. Government has failed to offer the proper educational training to arrest the growth of inequality. We need to teach personal finance and investing in schools, to show how every American can be an owner and active manager of their financial futures.

“The ability to raise capital breathed life into the dreams of Vanderbilt and Rockefeller, Gates and Jobs,” investor Jason Trennert recently said. “Charlie Merrill, co-founder of Merrill Lynch, was the first to understand that the distinction between ‘Wall Street’ and ‘Main Street’ was artificial. He believed that the average American — not just the wealthy — should be able to buy shares in the country’s greatest companies. His legacy has allowed untold millions of savers to put money in the stock market and retire in comfort.”

Just 19 states require a personal finance course in public schools, according to the Council For Economic Education, but a mere six states actually require subject testing in this area.

Data from the Federal Reserve show lower-income families have not returned to the pre-recession levels of stock holding, a problem that should concern politicians of every stripe.

The candidates fail to recognize that Wall Street fuels the American Dream.
Instead of bolstering financial literacy for families, government recently has done much to harm the financial future of Main Street in pursuit of regulating Wall Street. Democrats created and passed Dodd-Frank financial regulations in 2010, aimed at reining in large banks. Yet research this year from Harvard University found that the law actually caused further bank consolidation and accelerated the demise of community banks. This makes it more difficult for small businesses to get funding, since they cannot meet standards of bigger banks. Community banks serving African-American clientele have been hit particularly hard, shuttering more rapidly than all community banks. It’s gotten so bad that Home Depot Founder Bernie Marcus recently said that under today’s regulatory regime he wouldn’t have been able to start the national home improvement chain. Considering the harm the law has done to small-business creation and minority-owned businesses, it’s surprising that Democrats still stand by Dodd-Frank.

Democrats — particularly presidential candidate Bernie Sanders — blame the financial crisis on Wall Street greed, yet research suggests the subprime lending was due to regulatory mandates from the Community Reinvestment Act, established during Bill Clinton’s administration and continued by George W. Bush. The candidates at the CBS debate seek to punish banks for simply following through with government mandates on the mortgage market.

The Washington Post reported on Census Bureau data showing that the D.C. area had seven of the top 10 counties with the highest household incomes in the nation (Politifact figure shows six out of 10). Home values around the nation’s capital are also among the highest in the country. All three Democratic debaters spoke negatively of Wall Street and for-profit enterprise. Yet it appears that the growth of government to a projected $20 trillion in debt by the time Obama leaves office, per the Congressional Budget Office, has enriched a new class of elites. The next Democratic president would expand government spending even further, diverting more wealth to government workers and away from Main Street.

It is baffling how Democrats are comfortable enriching government workers at the expense of taxpayers and future generations. The problem isn’t Wall Street versus Main Street. The problem is Main Street versus K Street.

Earlier in the week, Republican debaters offered a contrast, with candidates like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush acknowledging the detrimental effects of Dodd-Frank, and Ted Cruz citing how the growth in government largesse benefits the Washington, D.C. metro area.

It’s time to stop bashing Wall Street and start looking for real solutions that help families from all ZIP codes contribute to their own prosperity. This will fuel a stronger economic recovery.