Founded by Drew Pearson 1932
World looks askance at American democracy
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – Everybody in Washington is congratulating themselves on avoiding financial disaster, and there were a couple days there when things looked like they could get out of hand. But the world saw it one way, and Americans – especially American investors – saw it another way. The stock market never really reacted. Oh there were some jitters, but nothing that couldn’t be chalked up to the rhythms of regular trading. What explains the calm of the investor class in contrast to the dismay shown around the world? In a word: democracy.
When conservative activists ventured too far, their benefactors on Wall Street let it be known that real money was now at stake, and they better not flirt with defaulting on the nation’s debt. The CEO of Heritage Action, a young man named Michael Needham, got the message. His organization would stand behind the government shutdown, but wouldn’t push for default. When the vote to open the government was paired with raising the debt ceiling, it was game over.
If the stock market believed that House Republicans would truly take the country over the cliff, the Dow Jones index would have been down 2000 points. Instead, the markets sloughed off the dire warnings, and took the 16-day government shutdown in stride. Lawmakers mustered the political will and we got over this hurdle. Americans are relieved, vindicated that they were right all along in their view that this was little more than theatrics.
Democracy is messy. President Obama conceded as much, acknowledging that big fights lay ahead. Democrats and Republicans are far apart in their views on most issues. But the president expressed confidence that as Americans there is still more that binds the two parties together, and that common interests can come together to produce a budget compromise and action on an immigration reform bill and a long overdue farm bill. Both pieces of legislation passed the Senate with large bipartisan majorities, only to languish in the House, casualties of the hyper-partisanship that grips lawmakers.
“We keep our word . . . you can count on us,” Obama said, a message directed to the world’s investors and to America’s allies, who have not been as sanguine as the stock market in discounting the disarray in Washington. Americans have been confident and even smug about the superiority of the American form of representative democracy, but now our editorial pages are filled with analysis about how Washington is broken, and that Congress is incapable of addressing the big issues of our time, from growing income inequality to climate change.
What message does that send to new emerging democracies in Iraq and Libya, even Egypt where a military government claims it is trying to put the country on a democratic course. Will they see the American model as one to emulate? Or will they look at the events of the last weeks as evidence that Americans have over-sold their system of government, and maybe it’s time to rethink all this boosterism about how democracy is the best form of government, at least after all the others have been tried.
The conclusion that leaders around the world may well reach is that successful governance depends on a very strong executive. Watching Obama stand his ground in this latest confrontation with Congress suggests he has reached that conclusion about his own leadership. However, there are so many checks and balances in the American system that there is little chance Obama could overstep his powers. But elsewhere in the world, there is a fine line between a strong leader and a dictator, Russia being a prime example. So, as lawmakers pat each other on the back for surviving this manufactured crisis, it would be a real tragedy if the takeaway for those watching from afar is a dimming view of American democracy.
© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND