My hunch is that S&P was making a political argument and felt the need to cast it as deficit arithmetic. Then, when their arithmetic proved wrong, they were left looking foolish. As it stands, you actually can’t coherently merge the first and second versions of S&P’s explanation of the downgrade. That should tell you something about how rigorous their framework is, even if doesn’t obviate the still-legitimate points they made about our political system.
I think Ezra is fundamentally right here. The problem is this: if S&P set out to make a political point, they did so in such a fumbling manner that the political message, the most important part, was utterly lost. The MSM has a fundamental inability to report on something negative relative to a single party. Obama offered at least four debt ceiling deals, including several that had previously been GOP deals. How was this reported? “Both parties unwilling to compromise; President unwilling to lead and/or deal”
S&P issues a report castigating GOP intransigence on revenues. Reported: “political system unable to deal with current crisis.”
If S&P truly intended to make a political point, the report itself needed to be called “The GOP’s Willful Destruction of The American Century” or “Political Nihilism and Today’s GOP: A Downgrade Story” and furthermore needed to be told through colorful pictures and in fewer than 50 words. There’s no way in hell a company like S&P is going to do this; they are fundamentally incapable of really making the political point that they seem to have set out to make, as such moves soon prove to be bad for business. (And don’t think for a moment the GOP will forget this slight. There will be GOP initiated investigations, damaging ones, into S&P at the first available opportunity). Therefore: you don’t do it at all unless you can back it up with hard numbers such that the conclusions are inescapable. Which they also couldn’t do. But that national embarrassment is a whole other post.
Assuming for the moment that they went there and made the political point utterly and inescapably explicit, even then, it would be hard to get the MSM to report it as such. They’d dodge with a “it’s all very complicated” or “let’s leave it there” or simply book only conservative guests and allow them to talk as long as they want to without challenge or correction. Above all else, they’d avoid any mention of what was actually written in the report. You know: pretty much what’s happened in the last several days.
Naturally, this all has to transpire alongside the slow-motion European financial collapse and its effect on global markets. Typically “USA über alles” reporting over-stresses the influence, if any, of the downgrade on global events. “Post hoc, ergo procter hoc motherfucker” may as well go on the Times masthead. People are stampeding for Treasuries!!! It must be the downgrade of that instrument’s backing that is causing them to do this!!! (Had the downgrade not occurred, at least FOXnews and maybe the broader media would have blamed the collapse in value on the Presidential birthday BBQ’s failure to durably impact jobs creation). The MSM response? Get some folks on to scream “I blame the Democrat and the dirty fucking hippies for this historic downgrade of the United States and the similarly timed collapse of the global markets. The only response is to slash the social safety net, cut taxes, and increase defense spending. Or a mandatory National Week of Constant Prayer. Whichever.” What other rational approach is even possible?”
This is why we fail.