Many liberals have pointed out the tendency of the news media to give equal weight to easily verifiable, clearly correct views and total bullshit Republican talking points that make no sense. The debate over what caused S&P to downgrade the nation’s debt is a great example of this trend.
If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ll notice a big debate over why the S&P downgrade happened, and who is to blame. Here’s how you find out why S&P downgraded the nation’s debt: read the fucking report S&P wrote about it. No guessing is necessary. Here’s what the report lists as reasons for the downgrade:
– the bipartisan debt relief plan falls short (it explicitly takes no position on whether more spending cuts or tax increases are needed – see page 4, 6 lines down).*
– “the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened”
– pessimism about “the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy” and the ability to agree to further debt reduction plans in the future.
Now obviously, S&P is going out of its way to avoid giving any one side the blame, which is wise. But the fact remains, their biggest concern is whether we can get our shit together as a nation to fix our debt problems instead of taking political stances and using brinksmanship bargaining tactics. Now in my opinion, if we have one side saying that you can’t raise taxes at all from the lowest levels they have ever been (in terms of total revenue generated), then that’s going to make it much, much, harder for us to accomplish that task, and I can see why investors should be worried.
But the Republican party has a completely different explanation, one not based on the S&P report or anything else in this plane of reality. Michelle Bachmann stated that the report “proved right” her position that the debt ceiling should not have been raised. That’s the exact opposite of what the report says:
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.
(page 3 of the S&P report.) So using the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip, just like Bachmann advocated, was a big factor in causing the downgrade (obviously, because if the ceiling was not raised, it would have made a default much more likely. Default = bad for credit). Politifact gave Ms. Bachmann a frustratingly charitable “false” instead of what would have been a well-deserved “pants on fire” for that one. It’s not as bad as the typical “wash” scenario portrayed by most of the media, but still part of the media’s affirmative action policy on reviewing the truthfulness of GOP statements.
Bachmann’s statement is just the tip of the iceberg in the GOP’s campaign to portray the downgrade as “The Obama Downgrade”, i.e. all Obama’s fault and none of their own, despite that having a huge debate over the debt ceiling was their idea in the first place. The Wall Street Journal, which like any Murdoch-owned media is a good early gauge of what kind of propaganda Republican operatives are looking to spread, indicated in a July piece that the debt ceiling debate was “merely the trigger” and that the real problem is spending increases. That’s not what the report says. As explained above, the report primarily blames the partisan gamesmanship over the debt ceiling.
By the way, the claimed spending increases under Obama that you are hearing about from the Republicans are a total con. If you use dollars instead of percentage GDP, the so-called Obama spending binge virtually disappears, and spending simply rises linearly at a similar rate to prior presidents (if you zoom in to the last 10 years, you can see some minor “ripples” from the stimulus plan and subsequent leveling-off of spending). But the Wall Street Journal’ doesn’t use dollars in their graphs, because then they can’t con you. When GDP is rising instead of falling, are they still going to use the same GDP-based graph? Only if a Republican’s president.
Again, hate and fear – that’s the key. You need to be afraid that the deficit is rising out of control, and you need to hate Obama and blame him for it. That’s what the GOP wants. Because if you don’t have something to fear and hate, you stop voting for Republicans.
*(It’s worth noting, however, that the authors hint in the “Outlook” section on page 6 that lapsing of the Bush tax cuts would help avoid a further downgrade.)