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Australia’s Swan Slaps Tea Party ‘Cranks’
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan is setting his sights on the anti-tax Tea Party movement that's hijacking U.S. politics. And, as they say Down Under, "Good on him."
“Global markets are nervously watching the positioning of hardline elements of the Republican Party for signs that they will dangerously block reasonable attempts at compromise,” Swan said in Sydney on Sept. 21. “Let’s be blunt and acknowledge the biggest threat to the world’s biggest economy are the cranks and crazies that have taken over a part of the Republican Party.”
Swan makes a vital point that deserves far more attention in Washington. It's the extent to which U.S. legislative gridlock is spooking markets in the Asia-Pacific region and creating hard feelings among government officials.
As an American living in Asia, I often find myself sitting with a finance minister, central banker, lawmaker or businessperson and being asked, "What in the world is going on with your government?" and "Don't your lawmakers get that we are concerned about America's economy?" and "Are these Tea Party people for real?"
American policy makers don't tend to spend lots of time wondering what their peers in Asia think of them. Credit-rating companies do (Asians hold trillions of dollars of U.S. debt). Remember how shocked Washington was last year when Standard & Poor’s yanked away its AAA rating? That was over a battle concerning the debt ceiling. That pales in comparison to the broader fiscal war that may consume Washington as 2013 approaches -- and spook officials from Seoul to Jakarta.
Swan was arguably the best person in the Asia region to warn the U.S. about its Tea Party-perception problem. Australia is a member of the Group of 20 nations, as solid an ally as the U.S. has these days, and Swan is treasurer of a uniquely successful economy in a world of pain. Your friends should always tell you the truth, no matter how difficult.
Asia worries that the extreme wing of the Republican Party would consider defaulting on U.S. debt or allowing U.S. unemployment to rise to 10 percent rather than working with President Barack Obama. Perceptions matter, and Swan's comments are worth taking to heart. They come, after all, from a friend.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)
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