Bill Clinton, Voters: Debt Default? Eh, Not So Bad

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 25 2011 9:56 AM

Bill Clinton, Voters: Debt Default? Eh, Not So Bad

Speaking freely at a summit put on by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, former President Bill Clinton dropped a sweet little grenade on the Democrats currently trying to get the debt ceiling raised with only token concessions.

"If we defaulted on the debt once for a couple of days," said Clinton, "it might not be calamitous." Voters didn't know better. "They've never lived through it. No one knows what will happen."

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That's what the Washington Post's poll told us yesterday.

Among those who believe they are well-informed, 52 percent say they worry more about Congress raising the limit and permitting additional borrowing. By comparison, 37 percent worry more about the possibility of default. Those who consider themselves less well-informed are more evenly split, with 45 percent more worried about borrowing and 34 percent more concerned about default.

The "well-informed" figure is key, because a plurality of voters have no idea what the hell is going on. The information failure on the debt limit has been... well, not surprising, but ranking pretty high on the Obama administration's Parade of PR Failures. Part of the failure is reality-based. It's theoretically possible, as Pat Toomey has pointed out, to hit the debt ceiling and start stripping the rest of the government for cash -- selling off parks, selling Gold, holding up Social Security payments. That would force a crisis that would probably shift public opinion pretty quickly. Not enough people are worried about that, though, so the GOP has plenty of leverage.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.