As the author of a suitably apocalyptic book to be released on Monday, I'm grateful to Standard & Poor's for providing the ultimate publicity tie-in. (Junk rating by the time of the paperback edition?) The frivolousness of the political theater in Washington this last month and its mostly fraudulent media coverage did huge damage to the United States. It confirmed to the world, as S&P's analysis suggests, that Washington is institutionally incapable of genuine reform. This was one of those it's-the-music-not-the-lyrics moments: As damaging as the specifics of the "deal" were, the broader sub-text of a political class pretending that it was meaningful was even more so.
We don't have till 2021. As I say in my column tomorrow, we have till mid-decade to turn this thing around, or it's over. That's where the politico-media Beltway myopia failed the nation. It never occurred to any of the parties or the play-by-play commentators that their dramatically negotiated plans for — what was it now? — $7-12 billion of cuts in FY2012 would not be taken seriously by the world. That's the heart of the S&P critique – its remarks about "the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions." In other words, the "deal" only confirmed the nature of the problem.
Now that it's happened, it's hard to argue that there was anything very obviously triple-A about America in 2011. So ask yourself this: If in 2013 we're still talking in the terms of this week's deal, you want to bet we'll still be AA+*?
(*Oddly enough, $&P have downgraded the US to the initials of my book. Thanks, guys!)