Is the US a functioning democracy? This week legislators decided to shut down a swath of the federal government rather than allow an enacted health law go into operation at the agreed moment. They may go further; if they do not vote to raise the so-called “debt ceiling”, they risk triggering default on US government debt – a fate far worse than the shutdown or fiscal sequestration. If the opposition is prepared to inflict such damage on their own country, the restraint that makes democracy work has gone. Why has this happened? What might be the result? What should the president do?
The first question is the most perplexing. The Republicans are doing all of this in order to impede a modest improvement in the worst healthcare system of any high-income country….
High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to buy additional rights. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/bca4c114-29d8-11e3-bbb8-00144feab7de.html#ixzz2gb1dcT5f
So what should the administration do? In a democracy, people overturn laws by winning elections, not by threatening the closure of government or even an outright default. It is impossible to run the government of a serious country under blackmail threats of this kind. Every time the administration gives in, it stores up more difficulty for itself. It has to stop doing so. Some argue that the 14th amendment of the constitution, which states that “the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law … shall not be questioned”, gives the president the power he needs to borrow, in order to redeem debt. But such a presidential action would be risky. The Supreme Court might side with the president, but a constitutional crisis could itself impair US ability to borrow on favourable terms. Again, the clever proposal to mint a trillion-dollar coin and use that as security at the Federal Reserve might also cause mayhem.
Playing chicken with credibly reckless people is always scary. But the administration cannot give in. I remain, like Winston Churchill, optimistic: the US will do the right thing in the end, though not before first exhausting all the alternatives.
Sometimes. people looking at us from across the ocean see us most clearly. I think what they find hardest to believe is that part about how the nihilists in the House “are doing all of this in order to impede a modest improvement in the worst healthcare system of any high-income country.” It is pretty mind-boggling. Especially when this modest improvement is based on a Republican approach.
That’s far from the only good piece I’ve seen in the last few days that look at this situation from an international perspective.
I particularly liked E.J. Dionne’s column about how Germany — which we taught how to do democracy after WWII — has a lot to teach us now about how to have a functioning republic:
Are Germans now more American than we are?
As we stare at the prospect of a government shutdown driven by tea party radicalism and ludicrously irresponsible hostage-taking politics, we’d do well to study how postwar Germany — yes, encouraged by the United States — has embraced the sort of consensual, problem-solving politics for which we were once famous….
But let’s focus for now on public policy inside Germany, which has proved that capitalism with strong social protections works. The Christian Democrats call it “the social market,” a system that has been enhanced and reformed over the years by both Merkel’s party and the center-left Social Democrats.
This moderate form of progressive, bring-people-together politics was what the United States and its allies had in mind for Germany when they worked with German leaders, especially Christian Democrat Konrad Adenauer, to create a post-Nazi state. The goal was to avoid the extremism and polarization that destroyed the pre-World War II Weimar Republic and led to Hitler’s seizure of power….
He goes on to discuss how, on both the right and the left, the center of gravity in German politics is moving more and more toward the centrist parties. Now there’s a consummation devoutly to be wished, as the American sickness of gerrymandering drives us further and further apart toward the poles.
Of course, I love the piece because it’s very UnPartyish.
Then there was this piece, also in the WashPost:
As the U.S. government creaked toward a shutdown on Monday, the world looked on with a little anxiety and a lot of dismay, and some people had trouble suppressing smirks.
“To be honest, people are making a lot of jokes,” said Justice Malala, a political commentator in South Africa.
Over the years, Malala said, South Africa often has been lectured about good governance by the United States as well as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which are heavily influenced by Washington.
“They tell us, ‘You guys are not being fiscally responsible,’ ” Malala said. “And now we see that they are running their country a little like a banana republic. So there is a lot of sniggering going on.”…
Of course, they’ll be doing something other than laughing if this country goes into default.
It’s just a tragedy of immense proportions, what is happening to this country.