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Actually, the Blame Game Is Exactly What We Need Right Now

US President Barack Obama
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
US President Barack Obama

It’s as predictable as clockwork.

Something terrible happens, a debate erupts over who is responsible, and soon we get the Very Serious People telling us that the blame game is not what we need right now.

But sometimes a round of finger-pointing is exactly what we need. A period of mutual recrimination may be exactly what we need in the aftermath of the downgrade of the credit rating of the U.S. by Standard & Poor’s.

The Obama administration is blaming S&P, citing faulty analysis. John Kerry blamed Republicans, calling it a “Tea Party” downgrade. John McCain blamed the Obama administration.

Thank goodness.

Sometimes it pays to react to a disaster by ignoring questions of fault—or at least delaying them—while we deal with the problem. If a bridge collapses or a dam breaks, we need to concentrate on ameliorating the damage and helping the injured. We can sort out what went wrong later.

But that’s not our situation this time. In order to figure out what we need to do going forward, we need first to figure out what went wrong.

Is this really all just a blunder by the S&P? If that’s the case, then let’s make sure that credit-rating agencies lack any regulatory authority that allows them to influence markets.

Is our problem too much spending? Too little tax revenue? Too much partisanship? Too little compromise?

The only way of answering these questions is to let them be thoroughly debated. Let’s stop tutt-tutting those who are publicly articulating their version of what went wrong. Instead of criticizing those making the arguments, let’s address the arguments head on.

So the next time you hear someone complaining about pundits and politicians “playing the blame game,” tell him that that’s exactly the game we should be playing. We're on the field now, the coin has been flipped, the whistle has been blown. Game on.

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