If a superpower wanted to prove to the world that it was on the wain and beginning a descent onto the B List, it could do little better than to ape the current US debate on raising the debt ceiling. It remains to be seen whether Congress and President Obama can nut out a last-minute solution to the budget problems there, but plenty of damage has already been done. Not only has the world economy been subjected to weeks of debilitating financial uncertainty around the possibility of a debt default by the US, but the very petulance and irresponsibility with which both sides, but in particular the Tea Party movement, have approached the situation send a strong message to the rest of the world that this is a country that no longer takes itself seriously. In the last week some Republicans have even resisted proposals to remove loopholes in the tax system. While the outcome of such proposals would be a higher tax take, it is hard to imagine why inequities and unfairness in the tax system should not be eliminated. Blind and irresponsible ideological adherence is the best explanation.
According to recent research by the Pew Research Centre 46 percent of Americans believe that China has already or is destined to replace the US as the world's superpower. Legislators in the US have clearly taken this to heart. None are prepared to take hard decisions. There seems to be little willingness to make responsible compromises in the interests of the nation and the wider world. The thought that as the political leaders of the world's biggest power they might have some extra responsibility to look beyond their own, narrow ideological preoccupations seems totally foreign to them.
China, meanwhile, has jumped at the leadership vacuum in the US Congress. It has done more than most to ameliorate the crisis in the Euro Zone by buying extra government bonds in Europe. Its politicians seem more pragmatic and ideologically flexible than there counterparts in the USA. Has the US abdicated? Not just yet. But its politicians should ask themselves whether they have what it takes to fill the boots of a superpower.