The American Government Doesn’t Exist – For Now

October 2, 2013
REUTERS/ James Lawler Duggan

The world is paying attention to the shutdown of the American government. Below is an enlightening explanation, meant for a Russian audience, of the political background that led to the shutdown, as well as some commentary. Of note is the likening of this crisis to the 1993 Russian coup.

It was published in the state-owned Ria Novosti. – Ed.

American as a country has not divided, but the American state as a system of governance has begun to close offices starting today, one after another. The budget does not exist due to a dead end in which Congress has wound up due to its resistance to the Administration. The situation is incredible and illustrative of how the USA not only has an economic crisis, but a disaster in its two-party democracy, and with it the system of governing the country.

In general, the part of the government that is necessary for people’s physical survival will keep working around the US — the police, meteorologists (the hurricane season has not ended yet) and other similar officials. But imagine, NASA, the space agency, will close. Only those services that follow the needles on equipment will stay open.

And the only thing that reassures Americans is that this already happened in 1995-1996, in the exact same fight of the Republicans who controlled Congress with a Democratic president. And everyone seemed to remain alive, and somehow figured it out. But the “golden” 1990s should not be confused with the current era. The context is different.

America had only barely begun to convince itself that the economic crisis was ended, which had arisen from the de-regulation of the financial sector of the economy. And now everyone sees that the political system of the country was de-regulated as well. In both cases, almost the impossible occurred; yet when two such crises happen simultaneously then the situation is completely new.

All the more so when the situation is of a global nature because with the Middle East alone we see what happens when the US lets go of the reins: very unpleasant governments and groups immediately spring to life and wreak havoc. It’s hard for America to scare them – what can they possibly mean, when their own government is closing one office after another? They can only laugh.

It’s Hard to Be a Republican

The mechanics of the current crisis have been described repeatedly. It amounts to the fact that the Republicans who control the House of Representatives (but not the Senate) have already 40 times, starting in 2008, that is, since the election of Democratic President Barack Obama, tried to completely block his work.

And since health care reform is practically all – or at least, the main thing — that Obama has done in domestic politics, there is a battle around health care. If Obama gives it up, the budget will rapidly be passed and it will turn out that Republican policy is being conducted in the country, and the president and his whole party are nothing.

Health care, of course, is an ideological issue. The Republicans on the whole are against socialism, that is, big taxes for the sake of distributing social goods to each and every one; then, in their opinion, no one will feel like working.

But in addition, we will not forget that the US medical lobby is a powerful industry earning countless billions and conducting its policy moreover on a global scale. Obama’s health care reform is not profitable for this industry, particularly because the revenues of the insurance companies, which have merged with medicine, would be restricted; for example, they could not raise premiums if a person is discovered to have serious illnesses.

Americans – and not only they alone – have long watched with horror at what forms the eternal battle between Democrats and Republicans have taken. The problem here is that it is no longer the struggle of two ideologies, but an attempt to convince voters that one of them is better. The Republicans are fighting for the very existence of their party, and that is why they take wild measures, like the current boycott of the government budget and the Administration.

Will Tanks Shoot at the Congressional Building?

Americans are a people who on the whole still believe that their political system is the best in the world. A guide at one of the government museums grew famous for greeting the last group of visitors on 30 September with the words: this is the greatest and most instructive moment in the history of our democracy. Starting October 1, she will cease to receive her salary as a civil servant, but she still believes in her country.

For Russians, the analogy is obvious, since the end of this week marks 20 years since the stand-off between the president and the parliament which ended with tanks firing shots at our Russian White House: yes, the Americans are now having a typical 1993.

And yes, the American president and parliament will not subject each other to impeachment or disbanding, but the spirit of the conflict is similar: constant fighting and mutual provocations and no compromises. Both sides are making the situation completely unbearable. Will they bring tanks to the building of Congress?

The problem of the American system is that at any moment it could cease to be a two-party system. The Republicans are gambling such big stakes so feverishly that they may overplay their hand, and become the party of a hopeless minority. During their previous several attempts to paralyze a Democratic Administration, public opinion surveys were entirely against the Republicans, and the popularity of Congress on the whole fell to the bottom. But on the other hand, how could they do otherwise?

The mechanism that works like a pendulum, bringing first one party to power, then another (and that is the point of the two-party system) depends on a fulcrum. For already 20 years now, America has divided into “Republicans in any weather” and the same kind of Democrats, approximately in equal portions. But the crisis of 2008 and George Bush’s military policy struck the Republicans harder in the end. And here is the result: the Republicans cannot even find a normal leader and a candidate for president. What was his name, Mitt Romney? Where is he now?
But Romney, in fact, emerged from non-existence recently and called upon his Republican colleagues to come to their senses. Republican governors and other moderates have also been calling for the same thing. The party has split into factions but the radicals who have brought things to the current budget crisis are running the show.

The country will come out of this crisis, we will hope – but in what form? The Democrats (like their ideological brethren in Europe) in recent decades have very insistently promoted their global values – and have advanced them: not half, but about 40% of the American public is inclined “not to take one step backward.”

But with this same attitude the Republicans in Washington have now overplayed their hand with the closing of the US government…