Your humble blogger was watching CNN late last night after the House of Representatives passed the fiscal cliff compromise, and was struck by the
anchor's Ali Velshi's complete and total disdain for what had just transpired. He repeatedly said that this was, "an embarrassing moment for America," and that it was so frustrating because these wounds were self-inflicted. This was surprising, since CNN is ostensibly the cable news netowrk that's the least partisan and most likely to maintain the detached, sonorous perspective that can only be incubated after prolonged exposure to Wolf Blitzer.
Now I'm certainly not gonna defend what went down the past two months as the exemplar of Jeffersonian democracy or anything, but I do think some perspective is in order here. The truth is that America's political institutions engage in self-destructive behavior on a fairly regular basis. This holds even in the post-Vietnam era. In the 1970s the country nearly tore itself apart because of Watergate. In the 1980s it was Iran-Contra. In the 1990s the federal government was shut down because Republicans and Democrats couldn't agree on the budget for a spell. That was followed by the House of Representatives impeaching President Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice. In late 2000 the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling short-circuiting ballot recounts in Florida and making George W. Bush the next president using a legal logic that was so tortured that the Court said no one could ever use it again. And last year U.S. debt was downgraded -- not because of any fundamental U.S. economic weakness, but because of the U.S. political system. All of these episodes were politically self-inficted wounds -- and the United States weathered all of them pretty easily. Please bear this in mind the next time you read something about America going to hell.
[But haven't things gotten worse?--ed. Well, no, I think what's changed is that the Dems and the GOP are acting more like European parliamentary parties in a constitutional system that emphasizes the separation of powers. That's a problem, and gerrymandering is exacerbating the situation. But it's a situation that a few nonpartisan districting commissions would be able to solve.]
Now, with this dose of perspective sauce, there also needs to be a recognition that elements of the United States have shifted in an ideological direction that makes them increasingly isolated in the world. To see why, look at this Financial Times story by Hannah Kuchler on David Cameron's G8 priorities. The salient part for this conversation:
In a letter to the leaders, Mr Cameron said the world will continue to face “grave economic uncertainty” in 2013 but the rich countries must set “ambitious standards” to drive growth in their countries and across the globe.
The UK will push for action in three key areas: trade deals, including a potential EU-US trade agreement; measures to tackle tax evasion and open government; working with developing countries to fight corruption....
The British government has prioritised chasing tax evaders, with prosecutions for tax evasion up by 80 per cent and a treaty with Switzerland, its largest ever deal on tackling tax evasion. Mr Cameron wants to use the UK’s time at the top of the G8 to “galvanise collective international action”.
“We can lead the way in sharing information to tackle abuses of the system, including in developing countries, so that governments can collect taxes due to them,” he wrote in the letter. “We can work together to sign more countries up to international standards. And we can examine the case for strengthening those standards themselves.”
Now, international tax evasion has been an on-and-off G8 priority for the past 15 years, and there's actually been some progress on tax havens. I guarantee you, however, that to the House GOP caucus this will look like some back-door globalist conspiracy by the Obama administration to raise taxes or enforce collection through jackbooted G8 thugs. So anything that will require legislative approval ain't going anywhere.
[Uh, isn't this kinda nuts? Everyone knows that the G8 doesn't have any thugs, much less jackbooted ones!!--ed. Yes, and everyone knows that Agenda 21 is a nonbinding plan of action for sustainable development, but that hasn't stopped a few deluded people from freaking out about a U.N.-hatched global conspiracy.]
So some things have changed, and for the time being there will be some issues on which legislative action is likely not gonna happen. On the other hand -- much like Americans after New Years Eve parties -- the United States usually recovers from these bouts of temporary stupidity. The federal government will muddle through, and I suspect even the 113th Congress will be interested in a U.S.-E.U. trade deal.
Am I missing anything?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.