Bret Stephens | How long do liberals think the laws of fiscal gravity can be suspended

Then there is Mr. Obama’s famous remark, made at a NATO summit in France in 2009, that he believed in American exceptionalism "just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." The president’s Sesame Street formulation—we’re all special in our own special ways—has since served as a touchstone for critics sure that his long-term agenda is to cut America down to size and turn it into just another social democracy among many.

But maybe the suspicions of Mr. Obama’s motives are unfounded.

Take his comment from the summer of 2011, after Standard & Poor’s cut America’s credit rating a notch below AAA. "We’ve always been and always will be a triple-A country," he said at a press conference. It’s hard to imagine a more vivid statement of American exceptionalism (defined as braggadocio) than that.

It’s also a statement that, so far, he’s gotten away with, and not just because the media gave him a pass. Little nations like Guatemala or Bulgaria may tremble in fear of the judgments of a ratings agency. But the usual rules don’t apply in the usual way to the U.S., which issues the currency in which its debts are denominated. China doesn’t hold a penny of American debt the U.S. couldn’t devalue, so long as we’re prepared to beggar ourselves in the bargain.


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