As the newest American political analyst on Chinese national television, I’ve been asked to explain the U.S. government shutdown and default showdown.
It’s not easy.
How do you explain the farce that Washington has become? Lawmakers shutting down the government because of an issue not directly related to spending. Hostage-taking is for terrorists, not for Republicans.
International observers are even more baffled by the brinkmanship over the debt ceiling. Why, I am asked over and over, would congressional Republicans threaten the full faith and credit of the United States, risk a relapse into recession and jeopardize a very tenuous economic recovery around the world? Why would they, through their illogical enterprise, encourage other nations to replace the dollar as the global reserve currency, which will do nothing but create inflation at home, make borrowing more expensive for the American government and American consumers, and stifle foreign investment in the United States? And why is President Barack Obama incapable of rescuing the nation from the tar pit of Capitol Hill.
It’s a lose-lose proposition.
Are there any winners in the Washington wackiness? Not really, though there are some short-term gainers. Here’s my long list of losers and short list of winners in the continuing congressional catastrophe.
The House Speaker looks like a hostage being forced to read a script by his radical captors. He looks weary. He looks very, very sad.
He looks weak.
They look extreme. Actually, they look beyond extreme. And incompetent.
The Tea Party
Did we mention extreme? The current situation is reminiscent of the Vietnam War-era saying, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”
They look weak, too, as the Tea Party tail continues to wag the Republican dog.
The Republican Party
The Grand Old Party is lurching toward the political cliff in the 2014 midterm elections. Its best asset: gerrymandered House districts. Its best ally: discombobulated Democrats.
The United States.
Forget partisan politics. Congress has made the U.S. an international laughingstock. The double showdown has led to grave global doubts about the reliability of the United States and the leadership skill (and power) of its president. So this will hurt the country for a long, long time and its president — whoever that may be, Democrat or Republican.
The U.S. economy
In the short run, thousands of Americans are without paychecks, tourism revenue has plunged and consumer confidence has taken a hit. Businesses have another reason to hold off on hiring. In the long run, interest rates will be higher and loans will be even harder to obtain for individual Americans and corporations alike. And they call Republicans the pro-growth party?
The global economy
The self-induced crisis in Washington has shaken global confidence in the United States If American lawmakers blunder into a default (still unimaginable from my distant vantage point), it would almost certain trigger an international recession as China, Japan, Brazil, the EU and other leading U.S. creditors take a massive hit. The consequences would be so severe that it’s not even worth contemplating.
The U.S. Congress wouldn’t do something so wantonly self-destructive, would they?
Remember Smoot-Hawley? Call this modern-day version Cruz-Boehner.
Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell
There really are no winners in Washington, but the closest thing to it are the Senate leaders. Instead of acting like squabbling partisans, they are playing the role of sober cops coming to restore order after a frat party has descended into anarchy and drunken debauchery. Officers Reid and McConnell, your country needs you. Now.
In the short term, the freshman senator from Texas has become the hero of the ultraright, the face of Fox News, the Earl Grey of the Tea Party. In the long run, he will have to overcome the first impression of two-thirds of Americans (who know who he is) that he is a right-wing ideologue. Polls show that he’s poison among independent and swing voters outside of the Lone Star State.
They are only winners because House Republicans look so, so bad. The Dems haven’t won any awards for profiles in courage or bipartisan bridge building. Except another Bridge to Nowhere.
Ratings are way, way up at the nation’s favorite cable channel for nerds and policy wonks. Heck, it’s the most bizarre reality show on television. And, unlike the Kardashians, it has real-world consequences.
The government in Beijing has won in two ways (so far). First, President Obama canceled his Asia trip, allowing first-year Chinese President Xi to be the star of the show at APEC. And China-bashing Washington Republicans have succeeded in making Beijing the victim of irresponsible fiscal policies in free-enterprise America that could lead to default. A bizarre lesson in capitalism.