Commentary Magazine


Liberals: Debt Debate “Damaged” U.S. Image

Liberals, deflated by the right’s debt ceiling victory, have seized on a new accusation against the Tea Partiers and conservatives who effected a seismic shift in Washington. “Among foreign leaders and in global markets,” writes the New York Times’ David E. Sanger, “the political histrionics have eroded America’s already diminishing aura as the world’s economic haven and the sole country with the power to lead the rest of the world out of financial crisis and recession.” So the unruly policy debate itself has hurt the U.S.

Not quite. In Greece, leaders enacted an austerity program that produced a season of violent riots; In Spain, spending cuts led to a nationwide squat-in; In France, where the semi-permanent retiree class is always on a low-boil, riots and strikes followed announced changes in entitlements; In Britain, new spending cuts met mass-vandalism. And in the U.S., elected representatives wrangled, negotiated, and ultimately voted in a new borrowing and spending paradigm—one that has the support of their constituents and that will begin to take on the monstrous national debt.

This was, by definition, proof of American exceptionalism. Barack Obama once said, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Okay, but what does the objective record tell us? The Brits tore up streets and buildings when spending cuts came down the pike, and the Greeks set off bombs. The rest of Europe followed the same model. Objectively, the exception here is America.

This is no accident. It is in the American political DNA to resist the centralized redistribution of individual earnings.  Where Europeans see government largess, Americans see the state’s parasitism. That’s why today’s popular American protest movement—the Tea Party—objects to federal spending, not federal cuts.

There was never cause to riot in the U.S. because our political system allows for swift and effective popular redress. In 2009, a CNBC business analyst talked on air about throwing a tea party. In 2010, Tea Party candidates swept midterm elections. And in 2011, the U.S. has been set on a new course. Let this episode—even with its absurd theater and unnerving brinksmanship—show the world what American representative government really is. During this whole period, Europe’s popular political movements have only grown more violent and less coherent.

What has done damage to the U.S.’s reputation around the world—lots and lots of damage—are the two-plus years Obama has spent distancing himself from American values and snubbing American allies. Our antagonists want nothing else than to see the U.S. back away from its principles and leave our friends hanging in the wind. And little would warm their hearts more than watching the U.S. sign up for endless suicidal borrowing. The reclaiming of American fiscal sanity, as witnessed in the final debt deal, will be welcomed by our friends, regretted by our enemies, and envied by nations whose financial trials keep them on the brink of chaos.  It will also continue to irritate American liberals, who’ve never been quite so out of step with the times.