Wayne Swan, Australia's deputy prime minister
There was an interesting report out of Australia yesterday that made the rounds, and is worth appreciating given the larger perceptions of the United States abroad.
Wayne Swan has launched a blistering attack on US Republicans, declaring "cranks and crazies" have taken over the party and have come to represent the No 1 threat to the world's biggest economy.
As the US presidential campaign enters its final weeks, the Treasurer used a speech in Sydney this morning to criticise the Republican Party's position on the US budget, warning that negotiations in the new year to prevent a "fiscal cliff" caused by a major withdrawal of government spending will be a key to the future direction of the global economy.
Most of the article is behind a pay-wall, but Swan, Australia's deputy prime minister, said, "Let's be blunt and acknowledge the biggest threat to the world's biggest economy are the cranks and crazies that have taken over the Republican Party."
And in case there are any doubts, Swan was referring to our Republican Party, not some other country's Republican Party.
The quote was a reminder that economic decisions made in the United States still have an enormous impact on the global economy -- what's that old joke about the U.S. sneezing and the rest of the world catching a cold? -- but it was also a reminder about growing international fears over the radicalization of one of the two major American political parties.
This comes up more often you might think. A couple of years ago, when it looked like Senate Republicans might block ratification of the New START treaty, international observers found it unfathomable that policymakers in the United States might reject a treaty so favorable to the United States. One European ambassador reported to his colleagues abroad that Republicans might kill New START, and told the Washington Post, "People ask us, 'Have you been drinking?'"
A year later, during the Republicans' debt-ceiling crisis, the world was stunned by the recklessness of GOP tactics. The chief economist for Mesirow Financial told MSNBC, "Coming back from Europe, the Europeans just can't believe we'd be so foolish as to decidedly squander away our debt rating in such a frivolous manner. This just doesn't make any sense whatsoever." A British policymaker said at the time, "The irony of the situation at the moment ... is that the biggest threat to the world financial system comes from a few right-wing nutters in the American Congress rather than the euro zone."
And yesterday, it was Australia's deputy prime minister lamenting the "cranks and crazies that have taken over the Republican Party."
There is an underlying irony to this. If you listen to Mitt Romney or other prominent Republicans, one of their more common criticisms is that President Obama doesn't command enough international respect. On balance, they have this backwards.
It's also true that in some Republican circles, international criticism is seen as a strange badge of honor. If officials around the globe think the GOP has gone mad, the argument goes, it's proof Republicans are doing something right.
I find that kind of thinking misguided, of course, and enjoy the contradiction of the right arguing the world doesn't like Obama enough and global opinions of U.S. politics don't matter.
But the fact remains that international observers are watching the radicalization of the Republican Party, and they're worried about the global impact.