A paralyzed superpower: How the world sees the US government shutdown

As the US government shutdown sinks in, newspapers, commentators, tweeters, and readers are trying to figure out what it means for the rest of the globe.

Mark Lennihan/AP
Tourists who had hoped to visit the Statue of Liberty stand near the dock used by Liberty Island ferries, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, in New York. A government shutdown closed national parks across the US.

For many outside the United States, the quirks of American democracy are usually something to scratch one's head over: Why are laws different from one state to another? How is it a presidential candidate can win the most votes but still lose an election? Doesn’t the filibuster completely pervert the concept of a majority vote?

But when the government overseeing the world’s largest economy and the world’s largest military ends up hanging a “Closed-for-Business” sign, the head-scratching turns to head-shaking and fear of the longer term global consequences of a US government shutdown, never mind a US government default.
“A superpower has paralyzed itself,” proclaimed Germany's Der Spiegel Online.

"Americans sneeze and Brits catch the flu,” wrote David Blanchflower, a former member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee in The Independent, a British newspaper.

The Mexican newspaper The News marveled at the prospect of a government shutdown. US officials "are facing the unthinkable prospect of shutting down the government as they squabble over the inconsequential accomplishment of a 10-week funding extension,” the paper said in an editorial.

In commentary published Tuesday under the headline "Jefferson, Wake Up. They Have Become Fools!," the French newspaper Le Monde offered a history lesson on the origins of divided US government.

“This Republic was founded on a majority opinion of centrists from both major parties of the country…,” the paper said. “Over the years, this has stalled. American democracy works worse and worse.”

The leftist French newspaper Libération ran a commentary by editor Nicolas Demorand that said the concept of the French government closing its doors was impossible to imagine. The idea that ‘‘on a given date, at a specific time, overnight, the state may be partly ‘disconnected’ would appear to be unthinkable. Something from science fiction, or simple madness,” Mr. Demorand wrote.

The Irish Times newspaper tried to draw a parallel between the US government deadlock and an upcoming referendum to abolish the upper house of Parliament in Ireland.

“And the deadlocked battle between Congress and president reflects one of the dangers of a system in which rival centres of power, each claiming democratic legitimacy, can hold each other in check – result , total inertia,” the paper said.

In Indonesia, Jakarta’s two English-language newspapers published articles about the shutdown, which drew commentary from readers such as one identified as Mounte_Cristo, who wrote: "thought my government is bad, indeed US government is worse. but it's ok at least the civil servants can take on leave without permission from their bosses, relax and enjoy barbeque in the backyard for few weeks."

China's state-run Xinhua news agency warned tourists heading to the US that popular destinations, such as national parks and monuments in Washington, might be closed. The paper avoided any critical editorializing about the US situation.

In Russia, government newspaper Rossisskaya Gazeta’s headline on Monday read: “The Elephants Are Robbing the US Government.” Meanwhile, in the newspaper Kommersant, readers of an article headlined “The USA Has Been Left Without a Government” reacted sarcastically to the news of the shutdown: 

“For the ‘Good’ Empire, this sort of clown show is shameful. The debt ceiling of course will be raised, but the USA has unambiguously damaged its image yet again,” a reader named Esergn wrote. “It’s better for Obama to work things out with Congress than trying to start a war in Syria.”

Australian radio personality and film critic Marc Fennell, meanwhile, offered this proposal for how Australians should react to the US government closure:

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