Friday, 8 April 2011

Washington Diaries

I have been in Washington for several days, meeting with academics, politicians, students and policy wonks. It has been most stimulating. I have learned something from every conversation.

The visit has coincided with the debate over the US government shutdown, currently reaching fever pitch. It is fascinating to watch. Mark Twain said that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. This week there has been lies, damned lies, and a budget negotiation.

In the end, it appears that the budget negotiation is not about the budget at all, but rather it is a struggle over the future of the Republican Party. The mainline Republicans, including the Speaker, are trying to control the Tea Partyers, teach them a thing or two about politics. the Tea Partyers just want to make themselves felt, show their power, and make an ideological point.

Obama can only gain from this. In the short run, I think people will know to blame the Republicans. In the long run (ie. the presidential race), this kind of Republian in-fighting can only make it more difficult to select an acceptable nominee. The primaries will be brutal.

What is also striking is that all this is going on just a few days after the Jaqueline Van Rysselberghe fiasco in Chile, which served to show just how divided the right is in Chile -- not unlike the American Republicans. Like President Obama, the Concertación has a chance to capitalize on this division. Like President Obama, however, the Concertación is distracted. Not in Iraq or Libya, but with eternal questions over its own future. What does it stand for? What does it offer? What keeps it together?

Many former Concertación types are currently living in Washington. They should be watching US politics with an eye to their coalition's own future.

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