Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
No matter how the wrangling over America’s national debt is resolved, it will leave lasting dents in the international image of a country that prides itself on its can-do spirit and its competence. “The entire whole world is watching,” as President Barack Obama put it, and parts of it are dismayed by a monumental display of dysfunction.
Not to speak of an equally impressive display of rigid dogmatic thinking by anti-tax zealots more befitting Afghanistan’s Taliban than legislators of the Republican Party, a mainstay of America’s democracy for more than 150 years. An outspoken British cabinet minister, Vince Cable, described Tea Party-backed Republicans as “right-wing nutters” posing a threat to the world financial system.
Elsewhere in Europe, less sharp-tongued commentators saw the deadlock in Washington over raising the debt ceiling and avoiding default as a sign of America’s decline.
“The United States must fundamentally renew itself,” columnist Ansgar Graw wrote in the conservative German newspaper Die Welt. “This means that both parties must place the common good above gains in electoral campaigns.”
Failing to do so, he said, could result in turning “the American 21st-century crisis into the demise of the dominant power of the 20th century.”
One of the most striking depictions of the gap between long-held perceptions of the United States as a model of democratic competence and the new reality of politicians risking financial havoc for the sake of the purity of anti-tax dogma came not from abroad but in a political cartoon in the New Jersey Record newspaper. Cartoonist Jimmy Margulies portrayed Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai standing together looking at a paper marked “U.S. default.”