Blame the people who get eaten by bears

As the Republicans’ debt-ceiling hostage strategy dragged on, there was a noticeable split among GOP officials. Most congressional Republicans, including the leadership in both chambers, agreed that the debt limit had to be raised, though they would refuse to go along — deliberately crashing the economy — unless Democrats paid a steep ransom.

But there was also a painfully large contingent that approved of the hostage strategy, but didn’t necessarily fear the consequences. For these GOP lawmakers, raising the debt ceiling wasn’t a high priority because failure wouldn’t do any damage anyway — so they welcomed default. In one memorable example, a right-wing Republican from Alabama proudly proclaimed the nation’s credit rating “should be improved by not raising the debt ceiling.”

A senior administration official said those who simply choose not to believe any of the warnings, “These are the kinds of people who get eaten by bears.”

As it turns out, these are also the kinds of people who get our credit rating lowered.

A Standard & Poor’s director said for the first time Thursday that one reason the United States lost its triple-A credit rating was that several lawmakers expressed skepticism about the serious consequences of a credit default — a position put forth by some Republicans.

Without specifically mentioning Republicans, S&P senior director Joydeep Mukherji said the stability and effectiveness of American political institutions were undermined by the fact that “people in the political arena were even talking about a potential default,” Mukherji said.

“That a country even has such voices, albeit a minority, is something notable,” he added. “This kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns.”

No, perhaps not. Some voters in the United States, for reasons that trouble me, are comfortable in electing lunatics to Congress. Apparently, the ratings agencies noticed.

Now, there’s a compelling case to be made that Standard & Poor’s has a job to do, and it doesn’t include pretending to be political scientists. It’s a ratings agency, not a group of pundits, and downgrading a nation’s debt because some wild-eyed yahoos in Congress said crazy things is a terrible mistake. Capitol Hill’s most glaring idiots, after all, lost, an agreement was reached, and the debt ceiling was raised.

But even if we put all of that aside, shouldn’t the S&P comments yesterday put to rest, once and for all, who’s responsible for the downgrade? Republicans talked up default; Republicans refused to compromise; Republicans won’t accept revenue; and Republicans deliberately played a radical game with the full faith and credit of the United States. S&P didn’t leave much doubt about which side of the aisle the agency considers responsible for undermining global confidence in the American system.

So can the political world stop pretending there’s an open question about culpability here?