VIEWED from this side of the pond, the US government shutdown and debt ceiling negotiations formed part of a simple – more accurately, simplistic – narrative, as one would expect of reportage dominated by the BBC and allied Barack Obama cheerleaders, which played to a liberal worldview so out of touch with the real world as to be extraterrestrial.
According to the leftist playbook, a bunch of Tea Party lunatics, blinded by ideology, attempted to prevent Obama implementing the greatest reform since the abolition of slavery and in the process brought America and the world to the brink of economic collapse until they were faced down by The One and ignominiously slunk back to their plantations and evangelical tabernacles. (Look out for the Hollywood version soon, with Tom Hanks hamming it up as Harry Reid.) It is as psychedelic a vision as the liberal claim in 2012 that the defeat of flip-flopping Mitt Romney was a deathblow to the Tea Party.
If the White House thinks that the watching world, apart from the usual parti pris suspects, bought into that analysis it is sadly deluded. To take just one headline impression: it has emerged that the Democrat administration regards any Americans who think it unwise to pile billions more dollars on to a national debt already standing at $16.7 trillion (£10.33tn) as “nutjobs”. That does not inspire confidence in the fiscal prudence of the US government. If it plays badly in Peoria, it plays even worse in Beijing. In case anybody is tempted to suppose this mammoth indebtedness is a historic accumulation from George Washington onwards, it is instructive to recall it stood at $10.6 trillion when Barack Obama took office and the debt cap has been raised six times on his watch.
That is a ticking timebomb at the core of the world economy. It is unsustainable. How long before some spectator shouts the obvious – that the emperor has no clothes – and the whole house of cards collapses? There is more awareness of this peril among Americans than Europeans because they come from a tradition of fiscal rigour. Granted it has been abused many times, including under Reaganomics, but fiscal debauchery on the scale practised by Obama is an alarming innovation. That is why, as the headlines screamed “Republican defeat!” last week and polls registered resentment over GOP tactics, a large majority of Americans still voiced respect for the principles that motivated Senator Ted Cruz and his allies.
The Republicans made a tactical blunder: if you are going for confrontation, make sure your people will not blink first, and try to take the public with you. Already, though, that setback is history. The Republicans have taken the pain but they may have secured long-term benefits. Even as the Senate was going through political contortions, the focus of contention – Obamacare – was going into meltdown. The Healthcare.gov website is, in the words of one of its promoters, “a Third World experience”. The IT contract to run it, originally estimated at $93.7m, has soared since April to $292m – and it does not work. The supreme irony is that those trying to operate it believe the solution would be to delay implementation of the programme for a year – which is exactly what the Republicans demanded, for different reasons.
If Obama had agreed, he would have gained a reputation as open to compromise, avoided the shutdown and debt ceiling brinkmanship, and at least got his unworkable healthcare scheme off to a plausible start. However, a president humiliated on gun control and Syria felt he had to look strong, despite his desperate weakness. The reason why the website crashed is that it requires registration before browsing options, so that some visitors can be immediately reassured by seeing subsidy entitlements ahead of costs. The cheapest Obamacare plan will be 99 per cent more expensive for men and 62 per cent more expensive for women than the cheapest plan under the old system. Some citizens will lose 10 per cent of income.
Middle America will erupt when the full implications sink in. Obamacare is not going to happen because America cannot afford it – neither macro-fiscal America in Washington nor little America behind its white picket fence. Then Joe Public will remember the Republicans tried to stop this doctrinaire insanity and they will reap the reward. Meantime, Obama is still hobbled by sequestration and the Republicans have a good chance of taking control of the Senate next year. They need a net gain of five to form a majority and six Democrat-held seats look vulnerable. With control of both houses of Congress and a fiscal agenda backed by the public, Obama would not simply find himself “on the wrong side of history” – he would be history. «