US debt debate not democracy at best

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 July, 2011, 12:00am


Hillary Rodham Clinton tried to put the best gloss on America's debt debacle. 'These kinds of debates have been a constant in our political life throughout the history of our republic and sometimes they are messy,' the US secretary of state said in Hong Kong on Monday, 'but this is how an open and democratic society ultimately comes together to reach the right solution.'

She spoke at a luncheon for Asian business leaders, and later in the day she went to Shenzhen to issue similar assurances to State Councillor Dai Bingguo, whose country is the largest foreign holder of US treasuries and has much at stake as the US gets closer to its August 2 deadline to raise the US$14.3 trillion debt ceiling.

But a lot of people must be wondering, if this is what an open and democratic society looks like, who needs it?

In its inexorable march towards the debt deadline, the US government has not made democracy seem the province of statesmen or of elevated discourse. It has featured one political party that seems intent on risking serious damage to the US economy to force deep spending cuts on social programmes it has long detested, and another party that says it wants some new revenue to go along with spending cuts, but has shown a willingness to concede on the revenue - and yet it has not won a single concession for bending in that direction.

We've also seen a lot of foot-stomping, walkouts and trash talk.

As we write, it is Tuesday evening, one week before the deadline. House Republicans, Senate Democrats and the Obama White House seem nowhere near reaching that 'right solution'.

Washington is making the Legislative Council look good.