Boris Mezhuyev, deputy chief editor of Izvestiya: "Beneath Law's Trusty Canopy..."
This quote (in the title) from Pushkin's Ode to Liberty, I recall, was the name of a joint letter by three dissidents -- Andrey Sinyavskiy, Vladimir Maksimov, and Petr Yegides -- calling on President Yeltsin to resign after the 1993 shootout at the Supreme Soviet. By no means do I wish to say that the situation in the United States -- marked at the current moment by a most severe confrontation, as we would say, between the different branches of power -- has come close to what unfolded in Moscow in October 1993, but certain analogies do suggest themselves.
President Obama's rhetoric is becoming more and more aggressive. Of course, he has not yet called congressmen "stupid scoundrels who respect only force," but something similar has already slipped into his speeches when he accuses the Republican majority of blackmail and compares his opponents to extortionists. Obama supporters such as Paul Krugman, an economist with left-leaning liberal views, are not yet shouting "crush the vermin!" but the tone of their speeches already smacks of October (1993) in Moscow: The President should not compromise with his opponents in the House because, I quote: "The modern Republican Party is no longer capable of thinking seriously about policy."
As with us 20 years ago, links to public opinion polls are making the rounds: Yesterday's CNN/ORC poll showed that while 57 percent of respondents blame everything on the Democrats, 63 percent are angry with the Republicans. Among both parties, Obama is in the best position -- only 53% of those polled blame everything on him. Krugman is not afraid to practically call for a boycott of Congress on the basis of these numbers and numbers close to them.
On the whole, one must admit that Obama has very successfully demonstrated US exceptionalism, albeit not favorably for the United States. The US state institutions are actually almost exceptional for a democratic country (let us leave to one side the whole host of direct US epigones, such as Brazil) -- only here are the legislative and executive powers so separated from one another that any conflict between them always requires long and patient agreements between the sides. It is no accident that it was the United States that gave birth to the idea that democracy as a form of government is marked in the first place by an enduring tradition of agreements and concords. A conflict like the one we are observing today in the United States simply cannot happen in countries with a parliamentary or presidential system -- here, in the event of the president and the congressional majority belonging to different parties, they always risk not agreeing on a budget, which sounds particularly threatening for the whole world when, together with not passing a budget, the United States threatens to default on its international financial obligations.
In general it seems that at the very beginning a barely noticeable crack appeared at the base of the global economic order that has now grown, reached the top of the pyramid, and is threatening to bring down the entire global power of the dollar. And this crack was the strict separation of powers in the political system of the United States. Of course, Locke and Montesquieu -- the creators of the separation of powers theory -- were great men, but we would probably not be mistaken to say that the US Constitution with all its exceptional characteristics is a law suitable for a highly elite, almost aristocratic society, such as white America in the 18th century.
The Americans created a system for a society in which all grown men who were responsible for their family and their city visited protestant churches in the morning where they prayed to God, and Masonic lodges in the evening where they talked about man's perfection. And if sharp differences arose between them in the time between these, they knew that all these differences could be safely put aside in the morning or in the evening by amicably agreeing on everything with one's lodge brother, even if he belonged to a different party or a different denomination.
And so it continued for quite a long time. But today in the United States we have a country split into two hostile ideological camps.A What churches are there, what lodges? They cannot even calmly talk to one another: For Obama, the Tea Party members who are blocking all of his reform initiatives are simply mad extremists, and Obama's enemies on the right -- who see him as a secret socialist, an atheist, and an advocate of global government -- think exactly the same about him.
If Clinton were in Obama's place, he would have given up on any reform initiatives at a stroke and started some war that was pleasurable for the congressional majority. But Obama cannot do that: The people support him in his fight with Congress, but are far from approving of his striving to help the Syrian opposition get rid of (Syrian President Bashir) al-Asad. So Obama has to show leniency on the Syrian issue in order to continue to demonstrate firmness in relation to the lower house of Congress and to not make any concessions in this regard.
And what is the result? The Republicans -- especially the party's centrists, who have ended up in the worst position -- will now desperately seek chances to come to an amicable agreement. Most likely, a so called supercommittee of 10 people from the House and the Senate will be set up again to reach an agreement on raising the debt ceiling, unfreezing state institutions, and reducing levels of spending. The main question of the day is whether Obama is prepared to sacrifice his healthcare reform for the sake of an agreement. And while I personally am sympathetic toward this reform and Obama's economic policy, these sympathies will not spread by means of the language of "internal animosity" that is in vogue in Washington at the moment.
I think that the whole world would sleep a lot sounder if Obama gave in on this issue, if he gave in for the sake of an almost guaranteed victory in the 2014 midterm elections. As in both the situation with Syria and the Russian proposal on Syria, the style of political compromise, even with an unpleasant opponent, can reap its own rewards.