Words are a lot like money. When misused, they lose their value.When you spend money you don’t have, you lose credibility. When you use words that don’t match your actions, you lose credibility. It’s not just America’s credit that has been downgraded, but the credibility of the federal government’s leaders—and their cheerleaders in a courtier press—has been downgraded as well. Voters give President Barack Obama poor marks—43 percent approval rating in Gallup’s most recent survey—because he says one thing and does another. The results of this two-faced presidency have been disastrous.
Standard and Poor’s downgrading the federal government’s “AAA” rating to “AA+” merely confirms what everyone already knew: the federal government has become reckless in budgetary matters. The reactions of the powerful to S&P’s acknowledgment of the obvious shows that those rash with other people’s money are also rash with their own words.
“I think S&P has shown really terrible judgment and they’ve handled themselves very poorly,” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner emoted to CNBC regarding S&P’s credit-rating reassessment of the United States. “And they’ve shown a stunning lack of knowledge about basic U.S. fiscal budget math. And I think they drew exactly the wrong conclusion from this budget agreement.” The hapless Treasury Secretary’s words ring more true when applied to him. After all, he foresaw “no risk” of a credit downgrade in April and penned the much-mocked “Welcome to the Recovery” New York Times op-ed one year ago, boasting that “the actions we took at its [the recession’s] height to stimulate the economy helped arrest the freefall, preventing an even deeper collapse and putting the economy on the road to recovery.” With consumer spending down, unemployment above nine percent, and the annual economic growth rate below one percent thus far for 2011, the op-ed now reads as a weak attempt to Jedi-Mind-Trick the American people into an economic expansion. You can’t hope your way to prosperity.
The day before the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 635 points, Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times that “there is no reason to take Friday’s downgrade of America seriously.” It’s such advice from the former Enron advisor that makes it so hard to take Paul Krugman seriously. “And please, let’s not have the usual declarations that both sides are at fault,” he wrote Sunday. “Our problems are almost entirely one-sided—specifically, they’re caused by the rise of an extremist right that is prepared to create repeated crises rather than give an inch on its demands.” This comes from the Princetonian pundit who would have had the government spend _more_—on a second, bigger stimulus and a single-payer (state-funded) health care program.
The president sent party lackeys—his chief advisor David Axelrod and his Democratic-presidential-nominee predecessor John Kerry—on Sunday’s talk shows armed with the message that S&P stripping the U.S. of its “AAA” rating was really a “Tea-Party downgrade.” But the Tea Party didn’t support the bailouts, the health-care bill, or the stimulus package that busted the budget. The president did. From dismissing the recommendations of his own deficit-reduction commission to refusing to submit a plan during the debt-ceiling negotiations, the president has been absent without leave when it comes to keeping budgets on budget. One would be tempted to include his party’s failure to pass a budget last year when they controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency as another instance of dereliction of duty resulting in off-kilter ledgers. But given the trillion-dollar-plus deficits they had posted prior to this fiscal year, no budget may have been preferable to another round of nuthouse bookkeeping in which spending wildly outpaces revenue.
The president’s use of surrogates to attack Standard and Poor’s, Republicans, and the Tea Party is another means of dodging ownership. The credit downgrade happened on Obama’s watch after he presided over deficits in excess of a trillion dollars in each year of his presidency. Monday’s call from the president for targeted tax cuts and new unemployment-insurance spending demonstrates the degree to which his debt-ceiling-negotiation rhetoric was posturing.
The child-in-chief demands more power but accepts no responsibility. There is a natural corrective that tends to restore accountability. People who don’t take responsibility get responsibility taken away.
Daniel J. Flynn is the author of Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America, forthcoming this fall from ISI Books. He writes a Monday column for Human Events and blogs at www.flynnfiles.com.