Is This Standard & Poor’s America, or Alexander Hamilton’s America?
I write this on a Monday morning as the world reacts to the astonishingly blasé decision by Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the creditworthiness of the United States of America. The move was reckless and irresponsible. Say what you will about the problems in Washington, the United States is still a nation so committed to paying its bills that the only real worry expressed in Washington about a failure to increase the debt ceiling in August had entirely to do with what would happen to domestic and defense spending. It was a given in all quarters that the government of the United States would see to its debt obligations before anything else. Even those Tea Partiers who thought the ceiling should not be raised were excited at the prospect of a fiscal crisis because of its effect on domestic government spending they didn’t like—which meant they assumed as a matter of course that America was obliged above all to pay its bills first and foremost.
That sense of obligation is built into the national DNA; in the early years of the republic, Alexander Hamilton won a fight against more populist Founding Fathers who thought some of the nation’s creditors, who had bought debt and were trading in it, should not be made fully whole because they were dishonorable. Hamilton’s victory in that fight established the financial character of the United States as an entirely reliable and responsible customer and creditor in the global market, and that character was in evidence throughout the debt-ceiling fight.
About the Author
John Podhoretz is editor of COMMENTARY.