The mightiest democracy in the world has grounded to a screeching halt thanks to the tyranny of few. With the shutdown now in its second week, the U.S. federal government can no longer operate because leaders of the two political parties cannot find common ground and agree.
Befuddled observers around the world, meanwhile, watch in morbid fascination, taking lessons and in some cases offering up advice.
The people of Lebanon are saying, “Hey you Americans, come and learn from us — we have gotten along without a functioning government for decades.” For the Egyptians, the debacle in D.C. was something of an “aha moment,” namely how to get rid of a government without bloodshed.
The United States is worse off even than Italy, as it is without the presence of a Silvio Berlusconi to bail out lawmakers and avert a government shutdown. (Berlusconi “saved” Italy by not bolting from the ruling coalition.)
Other western democracies such as France, Germany and the U.K. are surely congratulating themselves for having a parliamentary form of democracy where the prime minister stays in power so long as a majority of the parliament supports him or her.
When the prime minister no longer has majority support and loses the confidence vote, the government falls. But, unlike in the United States, a minority cannot violate the basic tenet of democracy and shut the government down.
But it’s in China where the bloggers seem to be having the most fun in seizing the shutdown as an opportunity for a twofer.
On the one hand, many are praising America’s civil society to the sky for its ability to go about business as usual, in contrast to China, where a shutdown would assuredly lead to chaos and disorder.
“The system in the U.S is indeed superior. Their government can be shut down without causing any chaos in society,” read one comment posted on the Chinese social media site Weibo.
“The U.S. federal government shuts down. It’s the price of democracy’s checks and balances,” read another. “It will bring inconvenience to a lot of people, but I believe, between an inefficient government and a government without checks and balances, most Americans will choose the former.”
Some commenters slyly suggested that a shutdown of the Chinese government wouldn’t be such a bad thing. “I wish China’s government would shut down and let corrupt officials have a taste of it,” wrote one.
Chinese tourists visiting the United States, however, didn’t find much to laugh about. Last week marked China’s “Golden Week” during which millions venture abroad on travel vacations. Many from China left for the United States around Oct. 1, China’s national holiday.
For those who scrimped for the trip of their lifetime, they will be going home without the customary photos taken from Yosemite or the Statue of Liberty — both closed due to the government shutdown — and other popular icons from the land of the free.
But the bad taste of disappointed tourists is hardly the only damage to international relations for the United States.
Because of the shutdown, Obama had to cancel his trip to Asia just to “pivot” back to Washington — further shaking the confidence of the region in America’s leadership ability.
In contrast, China’s President Xi Jinping went to Indonesia and became the first foreign leader to address Indonesia’s parliament where he spoke for nearly an hour before heading to Malaysia.
The Taiwan-based Apple Daily made a fuss over a phrase Xi used in his speech, in which he told the audience in comments seemingly intended for leaders in Taipei, “The interests to be considered should be the interests of all.”
That same exact phrase once formed half the operating motto of Chiang Ch’ing Guo after he succeeded his father, Chiang Kai Shek, and became the second president of the Republic of China in Taiwan.
Indonesia would seem to be an unlikely venue to send a coded message to Taiwan. More likely, Xi was looking to emphasize the principle that one should consider the greater good over the narrow interest of a select few.
This, of course, is the very message that political leaders in the United States are ignoring, namely, total focus on their individual agenda and no focus on the national interest.
As the gridlock continues, the United States is expected to hurtle over the fiscal cliff around Oct. 17. Without a Congress to work with the White House and raise the debt ceiling, the United States will have to default.
When the world sees the full faith of the U.S. federal government as worthless, all jokes aside, financial Armageddon will ensue. Perhaps the crazies in Congress relish the idea of an Armageddon, but no one else will.
Dr. George Koo is an international business consultant and a contributor to New America Media.