The worst thing the GOP has ever done?

I was on a radio show recently talking about the debt-ceiling hostage standoff and was asked whether this was the worst thing Republicans — or any major party, really — have ever done. The more I think about it, the more the question resonates with me.

My mind quickly went to the war in Iraq and all that’s associated with it — the casualties, the lies, the torture, the many costs — as the worst thing Republicans have ever done, but for the sake of conversation, let’s stick primarily to domestic politics.

Where would the GOP’s hostage fiasco rank on the list of modern Republican misdeeds?

The list, alas, isn’t brief. We could go through Hoover’s failures of the late 1920s, or perhaps Joe McCarthy’s crusade in the 1950s. Nixon’s crimes in the early 1970s are legendary, as are the many Reagan-era scandals — Iran-Contra, criminal fiasco at H.U.D., the Savings & Loan debacle — of the 1980s.

The more contemporary offenses are no doubt fresher in everyone’s minds: the Gingrich/Dole government shutdowns, the Clinton impeachment debacle, the Bush v. Gore scandal, the politicization of the Justice Department, the Plame scandal, the fiscal recklessness, the financial industry negligence that contributed to the 2008 crash, etc.

And while I’m open to suggestion on this, I still think there’s something unique about the Republicans holding the full faith and credit of the United States hostage, threatening to impose a catastrophe on all of us, on purpose, to achieve a specific (and unnecessary) policy goal. What’s more, note that no elected GOP officials — literally, not one — ever stood up during this process to say, “Wait, this is wrong. We shouldn’t do this.” They all just went along.

Michael Cohen had an item a couple of weeks ago, before the debt-ceiling agreement was reached, noting:

It’s hard to think of any other situation in American history where a political party has taken such a scorched earth approach to policy-making.

One should be dismayed about what that means.

Agreed. This wasn’t just another partisan dispute; it was a scandal for the ages. It’s the kind of thing that should scar the Republican Party for many years to come.

Indeed, consider the apparent consequences. This one radical scheme has helped lead to the first-ever downgrade of U.S. debt; it has riled financial markets and generated widespread uncertainty about the stability of the American system; and it has severely undermined American credibility on the global stage. Indeed, in many parts of the world, observers haven’t just lost respect for us, they’re actually laughing at us.

If we stick to domestic politics since the Civil War, can any other major-party scandal match this? Nothing comes to mind.