WASHINGTON -- In the world’s greatest superpower, with the oldest constitutional democracy on Earth, American exceptionalism has struck again. The government shutdown that began this week has stunned the world. With tea party-aligned Republicans insisting any measure to fund the government be tied to defunding or delaying the Affordable Care Act, and Democrats unwilling to yield to their demands, gridlock and frustration have reached levels that only the American political system seems capable of achieving.
While countries like Belize, Iran, Pakistan and Egypt face coups, revolutions, crippling debt, international sanctions, civil war and default, the threat of a government shutdown for them has never been a real one. As Georgetown University professor Erik Voeten writes in The Washington Post, "I cannot think of a single foreign analogy to what is happening in the U.S. today."
Many of the world’s democracies function with parliamentary systems, and in cases of hopeless budget gridlock, “the parliament is dissolved, new elections are held, and whole process starts over,” writes Slate's Joshua Keating.
Belgians in 2010 and 2011 went without an elected government for 589 days. But even then, “budgets were passed, government workers were paid, and government services continued to be provided," writes Voeten.
Not so in the U.S.
In 1975, Australia faced a similar budget debacle, leading to a short government shutdown. Unlike the vitriolic battle of words that often takes place in the the U.S. political system, however, Australia’s governor general, Sir John Kerr, “simply dismissed the prime minister. He appointed a replacement, who immediately passed the spending bill to fund the government. Three hours later, Kerr dismissed the rest of Parliament. Then Australia held elections to restart from scratch. And they haven't had another shutdown since,” writes The Washington Post's Max Fisher.
As the U.S. shutdown continues, national monuments and parks remain closed, hundreds of thousands of American workers go without pay, and federally funded social services for millions of women and children have ceased operating. Abroad, the world is caught between laughter and confusion as a superpower is paralyzed by its inability to overcome a relentless minority of lawmakers who have put the the entire government on the line to defund a health care law passed by Congress, signed by the president and upheld by the Supreme Court. America's political meltdown, an international embarrassment, has compromised the country's global image and credibility:
"With no political unity to redress its policy mistake, a dysfunctional Washington is now overspending the confidence in its leadership.” -- Xinhua
“In India, some business executives told VOA they could not understand how a country as developed as the United States could see its government shut down because of a legislative impasse.” -- Voice of America
“It is a risk to the world economy if the U.S. can’t properly sort out its spending plans.” -- Prime Minister David Cameron to BBC Radio 4’s Today
“For most of the world, a government shutdown is very bad news –- the result of revolution, invasion or disaster. Even in the middle of its ongoing civil war, the Syrian government has continued to pay its bills and workers’ wages. That leaders of one of the most powerful nations on earth willingly provoked a crisis that suspends public services and decreases economic growth is astonishing to many. … Now, as the latest shutdown crisis plays out, policymakers in other nations are left to ponder the worldwide impact of the impasse.” -- Anthony Zurcher, BBC
“The last few weeks of paralysis on Capitol Hill have demonstrated a system apparently quite incapable of rational action and thought. It’s not the economy that’s the problem, but the government.” -- The Telegraph
"The whole concept is little surreal for our readers, trying to understand why the No. 1 country in the world cannot pass a budget. I come from Lebanon and our parliament is very ineffective, but ludicrous as it sounds, it is better than U.S. Congress when it comes to passing budgets." -- Joyce Karam, Al-Hayat (via Dylan Scott, TPM report)
"This is a weird, messed-up feature of the American political system. I suppose the checks and balances obsession made sense 200 years ago. It makes no sense any longer. For a country that fancies itself the greatest democracy on Earth, the fact that a small band of outliers in one party can essentially shut down the federal government over a petty political brawl seems woefully undemocratic." -- Lee-Anne Goodman, Canadian Press (via TPM report)
“Canadians can only pray their economy won't be collateral damage. … Anything that drags down the American economy drags the Canadian economy down with it." -- John Ibbitson, Globe and Mail (via Washington Times)
“Instead they [U.S. officials] … squabble over the inconsequential accomplishment of a 10-week funding extension. It isn’t serious, but it certainly isn’t funny.” -- The News
“This Republic was founded on a majority opinion of centrists from both major parties of the country. … Over the years, this has stalled. American democracy works worse and worse. The American politicians supposed to lead the most powerful nation in the world are becoming a laughing stock.” -- Le Monde (via ThinkProgress)
The idea that ‘‘on a given date, at a specific time, overnight, the state may be partly ‘disconnected’ would appear to be unthinkable. Something from science fiction, or simple madness.” -- Nicolas Demorand, Libération (via The New York Times )
“The reality that another round of misplaced fiscal brinkmanship in Washington is undermining confidence in America's own economic recovery and that of the global, post-GFC economy that depends so heavily on it … neither does it say much for the budgetary processes in the world's largest economy. … Using Obamacare as the battering ram in the Republican campaign against the President is both irresponsible and damaging for the U.S. and the global economy.” -- The Australian
“A superpower has paralyzed itself.” -- Der Spiegel Online
“A small group of uncompromising Republican ideologues in the House of Representatives are principally responsive for this disaster. They are not only taking their own party to the brink, but the whole country. Unfortunately the leadership of this party has neither had the courage nor the backbone to put them in their place.” -- Die Zielt
“What America is currently exhibiting is the worst kind of absurd theatrics and the whole world is being held hostage.” -- Bild (via ThinkProgress)
"What Washington currently offers up is a spectacle, but one in which the spectators feel more like crying. …The public is left wondering how things could have been allowed to get to this point and why there is so much poison in the system" -- Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
"Personally I think it's an international embarrassment. It's just another sign of the declining U.S. influence around the world and a sign of the very divisive extremist politics that have become prominent here. There's no civilized discourse that I can see." -- Elliot Waldman, Tokyo Broadcasting Co. (via TPM report)
"Not being able to fund a law or do such a fundamental thing as a budget is … worrying for a nation, and somewhat crazy for a democracy like the U.S." -- Sanna Toren Bjorling, Dagens Nyheter (via TPM report)
"It's to us Norwegians hard to understand that it can be happening in one of the most influential countries in the world that you can have such a dysfunctional government. It is kind of joke or disbelief. We laugh about it. How is it possible at all? Why would they do that?" -- Anders Tvegard, Norwegian Broadcasting Corp. (via TPM report)
"It's a bit shocking, and I would say sometimes even embarrassing, coming from the best democracy.” -- Lorenzo Mila, Television Espanola (via TPM report)