7 April 2011, 15:50

The US government balancing on the verge of a shutdown

The US government balancing on the verge of a shutdown

The rift between Democrats and Republicans in the highest echelons of the US power system has become so deep that the government, for the first time in 15 years, is balancing on the verge of a shutdown.

The rift between Democrats and Republicans in the highest echelons of the US power system has become so deep that the government, for the first time in 15 years, is balancing on the verge of a shutdown.

The issue the two parties cannot agree upon is the proposed budget cuts with both parties trying to avoid too many spending restrictions for their potential electoral base.

But the whole story definitely goes far beyond a technical issue of whether to pay the military a hundred dollars more at the expense of teachers or vice versa. The budget battle of spring 2011 is the first (and most probably not last) clash between the Democrat White House and the newly-elected Republican majority on Capitol Hill (at least, in the House of Representatives, although the drift in the Senate shouldn’t be too long in the making).

The Republicans in the House (and it should be noted that the majority of the 87 freshmen – and freshwomen – mostly represent the hard-liners leaning towards the so called Tea Party) are eager to take an opportunity to demonstrate that the landslide victory achieved by Barack Obama in 2008 was no more than a temporary swing to the left – due exclusively to the tiredness an average American experienced after eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency.

As all of us remember, the main slogan put forward by the Obama team was “Change We Can Believe In”. Like any Socialist slogan it bore no positive meaning, only a negative one: let’s destroy the previous system and only after that think of what to do next.

Breaking down was not a success. The American system has proved that it is strong enough to withstand all socialist experiments. More so, Barack Obama virtually failed with all promised endeavors, like the widely advertized medicare reform which was torpedoed by Congress (including his own party members).

As time tricked on, Obama grew increasingly aware that he was bound to turn into a “second Bush”, just like in an old Chinese fairy tale: whoever slays the dragon himself is doomed to become the dragon.

The situation around Libya only proved the correctness of such a statement. It had been one of Obama’s biggest promises to end the two wars his predecessor started – in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the war in Iraq has not been done away with but just renamed (like pulling out combat troops and leaving behind 50,000 “non-combat military advisers”), the war in Afghanistan is only gaining momentum.

And instead of finishing that war, Obama has come face-to-face with Libya, which for him was a lose situation. Abstaining from getting involved would mean the loss of the American leadership even among  European NATO allies, but getting involved would mean that there is no difference between Obama and George W. Bush.

And now Obama is facing what is perhaps the most serious battle on the home front. Actually, a government shutdown in the US is not as terrible as it sounds. It is definitely nothing like an impeachment. It just means   that some federal expenditure would be stopped for some time, which might result in the temporary closure of national parks and museums, the suspension of a relatively large number of employees working for government contractors, delays in completing passport formalities for new immigrants and the like. Basic services to US citizens will be provided and regular government employees (both military and civilian) will continue to get their pay.

So, the very act of a “government shutdown” is far more significant politically symbolic than practically. But this makes it all the more dangerous for Obama’s 2012 re-election prospects.

In 2008, Obama was regarded as an anti-Bush. Now he seems to have become a “new Bush”. And that gives an opportunity for someone on the right flank to present him or her as a new anti-anti-Bush.

All this might be fun for an outside observer, but what does it mean for an ordinary American?

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