Yes, boys and girls, playing with matches really can burn down the house.
I hope this lesson is sinking in as Rep. Richard Nugent, R-Spring Hill, watches the ongoing economic flame-out — though from the looks of things so far, it's not. On Tuesday, his office put out a statement blaming the Democratic Senate for this mess.
Which is nonsense, because when it comes to the debt ceiling fiasco, the downgrading of this country's government bonds and the subsequent stock market plunge, even the most nonpartisan observer would have a hard time avoiding the following conclusion:
This, folks, was the fault of Republicans, and specifically the right wing that now dominates the party — the wing embodied by Nugent's freshman class in the House of Representatives.
It managed to pick such an ugly fight over a point of widespread bipartisan agreement — yes, of course the United States needs to reduce its deficit — that the loss of credibility has brought us to the brink of another recession.
Hopefully, the economy won't take this devastating plunge. We won't know that for a while — or whether the main cause is the artificial crisis here or the real ones in Greece, Spain and Italy.
But we do know that the squabbling didn't help, that our 401(k)s are a lot smaller now than they were a couple of weeks ago, and that Nugent had a hand in it.
No, he's not as radical as some members of Congress. He voted for the compromise bill designed to eventually cut $2.4 trillion from the $14.3 trillion national debt. Five of the 19 Florida Republican House members voted against it.
And you could see what he's up against at last week's town hall meeting in Brooksville: a significant number of voters who seemingly won't be happy until U.S. Treasury bonds are downgraded to junk status.
"(President Barack) Obama will reign again in 2012 because Republicans are wimps," a disgusted Carolyn Zivkovic told Times staff writer Tony Marrero as she left the meeting.
But if Nugent seems moderate compared to such hard-core tea partiers, what if he'd been just a little more moderate? Moderate enough to be in line with the traditional values of his party, moderate enough to support an earlier, informal agreement between House Speaker John Boehner and Obama that through a lot of cuts and much smaller tax increases would have reduced the deficit by $4 trillion?
My guess is the U.S. would get respect for making a significant dent in the deficit, doing it with a relatively balanced approach and with more care than a college kid throwing together a last-minute term paper.
That didn't happen, of course. Now we have a terrifying economy, which guarantees that all those tax savings hoarded by rich folks over the years will stay hoarded. More frightening still, we have no meaningful prospects of getting the economy going again.
Here's the most generous possible interpretation of Nugent's performance, of his cruel refusal to consider tax increases for the wealthy in a time of historic inequity, of his backing of the distracting and gimmicky "cap, cut and balance" bill as the country headed toward crisis:
He's a Washington newcomer who didn't know the true consequences of posturing when the country's future was on the line. From now on, he won't have that excuse.