'Would Be Nice to Have a Similar Shutdown in Russia'

Foreigners react to news of America's broken-down government.
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South Korean tourists take their own picture in front of the U.S. Capitol dome on on October 1, 2013. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Yesterday, Josh Keating at Slate had a great post asking, “How would we report on the shutdown if it were happening in another country?” (“The current rebellion has been led by Sen. Ted Cruz, a young fundamentalist lawmaker from the restive Texas region, known in the past as a hotbed of separatist activity” is just one of many gems.) Well, today we have a shutdown, and we have the answer to that question -- at least through the lens of foreign newspapers and social media.

The comments on American coverage in foreign papers can be really fascinating, first because the readers seem surprisingly informed about the inner-workings of American politics, and also because the areas that they’re wrong about are often colored by the context of their own political climates. If you come from a country where public officials do nothing but pad their own pockets, you might think sending them all home is a great idea. Meanwhile, if your homeland long ago made healthcare universal, the idea that the U.S. government would grind to a halt over such a measure is unthinkable.

“The Tea Partiers are desperate to keep Americans from experiencing a public healthcare system,” one Canadian writes. “Imagine what would happen if Americans ever got a taste of ‘single-payer’!”

With the caveat that online commenters can be kind of the worst, no matter where you live, here are a few highlights on the shutdown coverage from around the world:

Taking a page from the “covering other countries’ crises” handbook, Germany’s Zeit newspaper laid the blame squarely on the Congressional Republicans and went so far as to call them “a handful of radicals.”

“Not only are millions of government workers affected but all Americans, as the inability to pay, if it lasts for weeks, will have fatal effects on the economy,” it said. “A small group of uncompromising Republican ideologues in the House of Representatives are principally responsive for this disaster. They are not only taking their own party to the brink, but the whole country. Unfortunately the leadership of this party has neither had the courage nor the backbone to put them in their place.”

Some in France responded positively to “le shutdown,” coverage of which dominated French paper Le Monde this morning. One commentator hoped that the NSA would  “close its large ears” without the funds to continue. (Sorry, pal, no such luck.)

Another suggested that our system of doing things is, well, kind of outdated:

“The unchanged constitution of the U.S. was written for a country with an agrarian economy. This kind of paroxysmal crisis is a striking demonstration of that.”

And some even seemed envious of our ability to send bureaucrats home without pay:

“I admire the Yanks!” writes one commenter. “We can only dream: Officials suspended on unpaid leave! This would never happen here. I do not like everything about them, but I like American pragmatism.”

And of course, some took the opportunity to poke fun, via a historical symbol of American-French unity:

 

Screenshot: hervebaudry

 

Russian papers didn’t cover the shutdown as thoroughly  as other European media outlets, but some Russian readers seemed to take a similar view: Cutting bureaucracy, what’s the problem?

“What will change in the government if Obama will cut five chefs? And instead of 10 drivers he’ll have two?” wrote one reader of Komsomolskaya Pravda, who perhaps does not understand the full extent of the furloughs. He also quickly associated bureaucracy with its Russian corollary: corruption. “Yes, nothing will change! Would be nice to have a similar shutdown in Russia, and from 10 officials to cut five. Think of the benefits to the economy by reducing kickbacks!”

Another Russian reader, though, was less optimistic:

“Well, as usual, whatever problems they have will backfire on us."

In China, which today kicked off a week-long celebration of the National Day holiday, mainstream media coverage of the shutdown was muted: neither the China Daily nor the Global Times, the country's two largest English-language dailies, devoted an editorial to the subject. But the shutdown still registered as a trending topic on Sina Weibo, China's most important social network, where most of the comments displayed a mixture of shock, derision, and glee, with no small amount wondering how the world's most powerful country got itself into this predicament. One user named "Summer Sun Dandan," wondered aloud which Chinese business would volunteer to fund White House operations, since "after buying the White House the company can hang a large photo of itself inside." (The White House itself, alas, will not be affected by the shutdown).

More importantly, stock markets across Asia have taken the news in stride - and the Chinese index is even up 0.7 percent.

And at First Post, an Indian website, one commenter simply shrugged, reminding us that governmental dysfunction is far from unique in some parts of the world:

“India is shutdown for last 10 years,” the commenter wrote. “What about that?”

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Olga Khazan and Matt Schiavenza are associate editors at The Atlantic.

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