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That's not what 'thoughtful' means


Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a far-right Republican from Tennessee, spoke to msnbc's Chris Jansing about the Republican debt-ceiling crisis yesterday, and the congresswoman said a couple of things that stood out for me.

For one thing, Blackburn kept using one word over and over again: Republicans want to be "thoughtful in what is done." The GOP leadership team will "move forward on this with a very thoughtful plan." Congress should "be very thoughtful," and the process "requires thoughtfulness."

To borrow an Inigo Montoya line, Blackburn keeps using that word, but I do not think it means what she thinks it means.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but there's nothing "thoughtful" about a hostage crisis. Blackburn and her colleagues are threatening to hurt Americans on purpose unless their still-undefined demands are met, and though GOP focus groups may responded well to the word "thoughtful," it doesn't change the fact that Republicans' tactics fall well outside the norms of the American political tradition.

Blackburn's rhetorical strategy seems to be, "If I keep saying we're being 'thoughtful,' maybe the public won't notice how completely insane the hostage strategy really is."

But even putting rhetoric aside, there's a related substantive problem.

Take a look at this exchange:

JANSING: Would you be willing, if you don't get the kind of cuts that you think are necessary, would you be willing to go into default or to shut down the government?BLACKBURN: I think that there is a way to avoid default. If it requires shutting down certain portions of the government, let's look at that. Let's put these options on the table, be very thoughtful, but get this spending pattern broken. We cannot afford a $4 billion-a-day deficit and trillion-dollar-plus deficits every single year.

For the record, we can afford a $4 billion-a-day deficit and trillion-dollar-plus deficits, and the fact that Blackburn doesn't understand this is discouraging. But what's especially important here is the congresswoman's belief that we can "avoid default" through a kind of partial default, better known as "prioritization."

When Blackburn talked about "shutting down certain portions of the government," she's referencing the notion that the United States would only default on some of its legal obligations. If the debt ceiling is breached next month, the government would be able to pay about 60% of its bills, and what Blackburn and other Republicans are suggesting is that policymakers start deciding which of those bills we pay and which we ignore.

Maybe we keep sending Social Security checks, but tell the FBI to shut down for an indefinite period of time. Perhaps we keep the Pentagon's doors open, but tell the FAA to take a nice long break without pay.

For unhinged conservatives, so long as the United States continues to pay bondholders -- under "prioritization," they'd be at the top of the list -- we could mitigate the damage of a global economic catastrophe.

How very "thoughtful" of them.