Ed Driscoll

Oh, That Enemies List

Richard Nixon was really a piker compared to the Obama administration. “How Do You Spell ‘Retaliation’?”, Roger Kimball asks:

Consider the news, which was reported just yesterday by the Wall Street Journal, that the Justice Department is suing the rating company Standard & Poor’s “in retaliation for the S&P’s temerity in downgrading U.S. sovereign debt for the first time in history in 2011.”

Oops! That was the unexpurgated version. The announced reason the Department of Justice is going after the company is because “the firm ignored its own standards to rate mortgage bonds that imploded in the financial crisis and cost investors billions.”

What do you think? Companies like S&P and Moody’s look at a variety of factors to try to determine the creditworthiness of a company or a country. Their assessments are festooned with warnings and cautions, just like those “past performance is no guarantee of future returns” slogans you see pasted at the bottom of every mutual fund you’ve ever plunked a dime into.  Investors certainly did “lose billions” in the financial crisis. But whose fault was that?

The hyenas, in the shape of various states’ attorneys general and other entities unhappy about the fact that they lost money investing in some of the most exotic and risky financial instruments ever devised by the mind of man, are gathering around the tasty carcass of these companies. But no one forced anyone into making these investments. Credit ratings are not predictions, they’re educated guesses about the future based on the past. Often — usually, in fact — the future looks a lot like the past. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Partly, I think, the move against S&P (the other rating agencies are also in the government’s crosshairs) is a an example of the time-honored practice of scapegoating. People are looking for someone to blame and the rating agencies seem like low-hanging fruit: “Hey, they told me this might be a great (though risky) investment, and I lost money! Whom can I blame?”

But I suspect this is not only about scapegoating. I suspect it is also about retaliation. We are living with the most fiscally incontinent administration in U.S. history, perhaps in world history. Both S&P and Moody’s took note of this incontinence and broadcast the news by downgrading U.S. debt in 2011. The result? A $1 billion lawsuit against S&P. Merely post hoc? Or do you discern a teensy bit of propter hoc there as well? I do.

As Doug Ross once wrote, “Unlike Tricky Dick Nixon, Obama Wears His Enemies List On His Sleeve.”

Doug’s post was dated Saturday, October 09, 2010. As with Jim Geraghty’s “A Long Post: The Complete List of Obama Statement Expiration Dates,”  also from 2010, both lists have grown considerably in the years since.

Unlike the economy.


Update: Note the screen capture at Instapundit: “Now this is interesting. The part about criminal threats is now missing from the NY Times story, though the phrase still shows up in a search. I wonder why it was removed?”

Related: “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”