Hostage negotiations seldom produce good results. In this case the resolution produced
a guarantee that we will not stimulate jobs anytime soon
- a long term debt reduction that is hopelessly inadequate from any perspective
But the real damage to US full faith and credit is the negotiation itself.
The debt ceiling is misnamed in a way that is horribly misleading. When Congress passes bills and they go into law, the national debt goes up or down.
The debt ceiling does not limit what we owe.
It only limits whether we pay on what we owe.
The Republican approach was like that of too many of us. Let's run up our bills, then deal with our debts by refusing to pay the bills when they come due. In some households this is involuntary. The sudden loss of a job, a death in the family, or a huge medical expense can warp the financial world of any family. No such excuse exists for a simple refusal to pay your bills.
The reaction of the media was, as has become typical, one of rigid ideology. For conservatives, that ideology is to blame Obama for what Republicans do. For mainstream media, the ideology is rigid neutrality. For either, if the actual documented facts contradict ideology, the facts are to be avoided.
The facts were simple. Standard & Poor's downgraded the credit rating of the United States of America. It went from "AAA" to "AA+". The "A-1+" short-term rating stayed the same. The downgrade was startling. It had never happened before.
They did it for a few reasons, most of which could be summarized simply. They didn't like the deal. They didn't like the way the deal was done.
The main problem concerning the deal itself was medium to long term debt reductions being inadequate. But this stood out in their short summary (pdf).
The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy.
Well, yeah. Hostage taking, with hostages remaining available for the taking in the future, tends to downgrade confidence in the well being of the hostages.
Republicans did a great deal of damage with their use of the "statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default" as "political bargaining chips." But the Republican Party has pretty much become the captive of a small group of revolutionaries who spent the weekend celebrating their ability to bring the United States to its knees. So we make allowances.
The news media, on the other hand, has a difficult time.
A long ago science fiction story granted some mysterious governing entity the ability to make an individual disappear, becoming effectively invisible to ordinary people. The disappeared person would quickly discover that nobody was able to look at him. If he approached, they would involuntarily change direction, their attention suddenly fixated on something else. No one could turn their eyes in his direction.
In one scene, he was able to trap a friend in an elevator. Standing directly in front of him, he watched his friend's frantic, involuntary twists and turns. The fellow eventually dissolved into a psychotic state.
We expect a similar approach from conservatives.
Fox News manages an entire report without any mention at all of the hostage negotiation. The closest they manage to even an indirect reference is this one sentence:
"The S&P will monitor the U.S. for about six to 24 months to see whether its fiscal position deteriorates further or if political gridlock gets worse."
The Washington Times quotes Democratic personalities as they give what might be recognizably accurate paraphrases of the Standard & Poor's report. Then reacts with eyerolls and how-dare-they:
That’s exactly the kind of blame game that led Standard & Poor’s, one of three key credit-ratings agencies, to strip the U.S. federal government of its AAA status Friday night and reducing it to AA+ for the first time in the nation’s history.
But the victim-in-the-elevator contortions also went to mainstream media. The pox-on-both-houses seemed to be based on everything except the actual S & P document. This Washington Post report was reprinted in papers across the nation:
Standard & Poor's historic downgrade of the U.S. credit rating caused the capital to erupt Saturday in the exact partisan clashes that S&P had said led to its decision in the first place.
Both major political parties accused each other of causing the downgrade and used the credit rating agency's report to make their case.
The Associated Press went into formulaic he-said-she-said. In their report, President Obama blames the Tea Party. Administration political advisor David Axelrod blames Republican unwillingness to compromise. John McCain says it's the President's fault.
Why resort to fact-checking when you already have a finger pointing narrative?
Our own John Myste, writing independently, managed to scoop every major news organization in America. In his diligent journalistic undercover investigation, he somehow was able to find what Fox News, the Washington Times, the Washington Post, and Associated Press were unable to locate: The very public Standard & Poor's document itself. Possibly because he looked where others didn't think to look. In what S & P put on the internet and sent to news organizations everywhere.
Let's see. How did that one sentence go again? The one you don't see in most news reports? The one from Standard & Poor's? Oh yeah. Here it is:
The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy.
Highly paid mainstream journalists are very busy. They can't invest the time to . . . you know . . . read what S & P sends to them before writing about it.
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