Political Animal


August 08, 2011 8:30 AM No contest

By Steve Benen

It’s probably only natural that, in the wake of Friday night’s downgrade announcement, the relevant political players would start holding their rivals accountable. But in this case, if reality has any meaning at all, the debate on this would be brief.

Putting aside, at least for now, whether Standard & Poor’s has the credibility to make such assessments, it’s worth emphasizing the extent to which the agency pointed the finger at congressional Republicans. It not only directly attributed blame to the GOP hostage strategy of the past few months, it lamented the very idea of allowing “the statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default” to “become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy,” before complaining that “the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues.”

The chairman of S&P’s sovereign ratings committee freely admitted that the downgrade decision was “motivated” by the Republicans’ debt-ceiling hostage strategy. A National Journal analysis concluded, “[I]t’s hard to read the S&P analysis as anything other than a blast at Republicans.”

And here’s how Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann interpreted all of this.

“The president’s refusal to remove Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner shows the president has no plan to restore the AAA credit rating to the United States of America,” Bachmann said. “The president is not listening to the people of this country, nor is he providing the leadership that is necessary to bring about economic recovery.”

Just let that sink in for a moment. Bachmann’s tactics contributed to the downgrade decision, and Bachmann blames … Tim Geithner. It’s tempting to note how much choots-pah it takes to be this shameless.

But before anyone assumes that Bachmann is just a bizarre caricature, keep in mind that the larger phenomenon is widespread: the downgrade right-wing Republicans caused is leading right-wing Republicans to blame the White House.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the surprisingly unintelligent freshman senator, said the developments “provide further evidence that President Obama’s agenda has been a disaster for our economy.” Among right-wing activists, the argument is the downgrade happened during the Obama presidency, which necessarily means it’s Obama’s fault.

This is obviously an Alice-in-Wonderland-style farce, though I assume many Americans will believe it, and the media will parrot it as part of the “both sides are always to blame for everything” coverage.

But for those who take reality at all seriously, it’s rare to be able to draw such a clear line, linking one party’s recklessness to an awful result. That Republicans are denying responsibility for their mess should exacerbate the severity of this scandal, at least if there were any justice.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • DAY on August 08, 2011 8:38 AM:

    An interesting twist on this was offered on CNBC this morning. S&P is owned by McGraw Hill. And they are in the business of making money; in the case of S&P, by rating things. The goal here is to get some "street(as in Wall) creds", and make lots of money in Europe by- you guessed it- rating bond offerings.

    In case anyone forgot, ALL the ratings agencies get PAID for their ratings, most often by folks trying to sell something. Often to suckers. . .

  • j on August 08, 2011 8:38 AM:

    Over the weekend a tea party gathering in Wisconsin had a speaker who announced that the downgrade was labeled as the Tea Party downgrade, and this was greeted with cheers!!!!!!

  • Burr Deming on August 08, 2011 8:43 AM:

    The pox-on-both-houses bias is pervasive, and fact free. Main stream media seem as susceptible to their own prejudices as the extreme right are to theirs.

  • Danny on August 08, 2011 8:43 AM:

    Seemed to me that the dems on the sunday shows did a pretty good job pushing the Tea Party downgrade message (which of course happens to also be the truth). Dean was great against Sessions on Face the Nation. O'Malley was also pretty good.

    What did the rest of you think?

  • walt on August 08, 2011 8:46 AM:

    I'm risking playing the Inappropriately Angry Person now and saying it out loud: the end is nigh. Republics don't survive episodes of such brutal contempt for process and evidence. Yes, politics ain't beanbag but there's always been in my experience dissenters telling the crazies they've gone too far. Today, crickets. There's a conspiracy of mainstream opinion sitting smugly on its hands while vandals burn the house down. The average American, needless to say, is oblivious to the history of these things. A political party that uses hysteria to magnify zealotry and hatred for the other side is telling us loud and clear: it's war. You don't simply weather this bad spot and hope for better times. You fight back. But what we're doing now is surrendering to madness. Drumbeats, please.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on August 08, 2011 8:50 AM:

    Danny .... Unfortunately no one outside the beltway watches Meet the Village (where multimillionaires discuss the problems of multimillionaires)The rest of the shlubs are tuned into faux news alt universe, where in fact IT IS all OBAMA's fault. Everything is Obama's and the Democrats fault donchaknow.

  • martin on August 08, 2011 8:51 AM:

    Just take a trip over to the Washington Times this morning and see how many times the "Obama Downgrade" is mentioned. I'm sure Fox will use that phrase more than "homicide bomber."

    They have their own little world and they are going to do their best to make sure we live in it.

    Mr Captcha suggests we call them tlyrow units

  • Anonymous on August 08, 2011 9:04 AM:

    "That Republicans are denying responsibility for their mess should exacerbate the severity of this scandal, at least if there were any justice."

    Unfortunately, there no longer seems to be any justice. You can also draw a clear line from the media's coverage, or more appropriately, the lack of it, to the empowerment of the Tea Party.

    Would the Tea Party have become the phenomenon it did if the media hadn't spent so much time initially explaining away the clear warning signs, or discounting the many voices that were, rightly, saying it was a radical movement?

    Would the Tea Party/Republican Party have been able hide their radical agenda behind the guise of "fiscal responsibility" if, instead of the media's willful or unintentional complicity with the Tea Party lies about the deficit, the public was told from the start that Republicans -- some of the same ones who, after dismissing them for nearly a decade, had suddenly "seen the light" on deficits when a Democrat became president -- ran up the deficit and were now trying to pin the debt on Democrats?

    If there were any justice, the Tea Party never would've even been in a position to inflict the damage it has on America.

  • c u n d gulag on August 08, 2011 9:12 AM:


    "Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the surprisingly unintelligent..." Senator...

    Uhm, what's surprising about an unintelligent Republican Senator - new, or used?

    Alert us when you find an INtelligent Republican Senator - or Congressperson, Governor, Mayor, State Rep, dog catcher, etc.

    Now THAT will be surprising!!!

  • Kathie on August 08, 2011 9:20 AM:

    There is something I will never understand: how our media became a megaphone for right wing propaganda talking points. The public owns the airwaves, yet this garbage is repeatedly broadcast, often without anyone disputing it. The stupider and bigger the lie, the more it's repeated. I guess that's the genius of the Luntz message machine.

  • wvng on August 08, 2011 9:23 AM:

    If most of the media hadnít just spent the weekend largely saying the downgrade was both sideís fault I might agree that the narrative is perfectly clear for all to see. But our media is broken, which means the average Americanís ability to understand events is broken, which means all bets are off.

  • whatsinaname on August 08, 2011 9:32 AM:

    "There is something I will never understand: how our media became a megaphone for right wing propaganda talking points. The public owns the airwaves, yet this garbage is repeatedly broadcast, often without anyone disputing it. The stupider and bigger the lie, the more it's repeated. I guess that's the genius of the Luntz message machine."

    Really? You truly don't get it?


    Do you get it now? It's the genius of 4 right wing terrorist oranizations owning all your media.


  • jpeckjr on August 08, 2011 9:41 AM:

    Thank you, Mr. Benen, for raising ever so slightly the question of whether or not S&P is credible in making credit ratings. While I think their assessment of the GOP's role in preventing real solutions is accurate, their track record in rating investments in recent years, particularly in the mortgage industry, is not all that good.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on August 08, 2011 9:51 AM:

    so sayeth whatsinaname

    Well put
    Independent journalism is a quaint notion that is mostly confined to internet media and a few brave individuals who
    (shudder) speak the truth.

    Media consolidation has been the downfall of the free press. They can own it all now newspapers radio , TEEVEE. There was a time when this was not allowed , but sadly those times are gone , never to return .

  • kevo on August 08, 2011 9:51 AM:

    Look no further for the madness among Congressional Republicans than the inspirational showing of Ben Affleck's The Town!

    If these cretins took heart from that movie, the tell is there for all to see - an unabashed desire to "hurt people!" Yes, Republican Teabaggers, "people will get hurt" and your insane perspectives regarding my country have perverted the very markets you say you revere!

    Go figure! Idiots are a bit difficult to suffer after a few rounds of their idiocy! -Kevo

  • chopin on August 08, 2011 10:21 AM:

    Thank you whatsinaname for pointing out what should be obvious. To that I would add the 2004 quote attributed to Carl Rove; "...we create our own reality". Every time I hear Benen bemoaning the idea that the Rethug tactics are shameless and wrong I recognize the gig is up. The GOP policy machine's one single objective is to transfer all wealth and power to themselves. In this mission they are deadly effective. The opposition, such as it is, is a joke, still stuck in a cycle of pointing out that the GOP rhetoric does not match its actions. DUH! Of course it doesn't. It's smokescreen and the opposition is flailing at windmills. Exactly as Rove said you would. "And while you're studying that reality...we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too".

  • FRP on August 08, 2011 10:22 AM:

    I believe it is more a reflective matter of how the specific laws that were displaced . There were a roll of prudent laws that viewed the hegemony of every manner of dissemination , print , radio , television , and electronic , as a matter of no trifling urgency . These were legislatively overturned one by one permitting the least to become loudest , and the foremost to become camouflaged amongst the garbage and the flowers .
    Rupert takes you down and
    You know that he is half crazy
    That's when your convinced
    That wingnuts being prepared
    To zero out the wavelengths
    And Fox feeds you hoax and ranting
    That come all the way from Rupert's heinie
    With golden flying monkeys
    And he lets the ravings answer
    The river is only what's put in it
    Buddy you're traveling blind

  • jjm on August 08, 2011 10:38 AM:

    There's video on Raw Story of teabaggers in Wisconsin cheering the downgrade and proud of their achieving it. http://www.rawstory.com/rawreplay/2011/08/wisconsin-tea-partiers-cheer-downgrade/

    But their leading spokesmen are blaming Obama.

    Won't the public, at some point, find their schizophrenia alarming?

    The only winners will be the financiers ... just what the Tea Party ordered.