US Shutdown versus Gezi Protests, Obama versus Erdoğan

US Shutdown versus Gezi Protests, Obama versus Erdoğan

After 16 days of government closure, the third longest in U.S. history, the Congress reopened federal offices and resumed federal services last Thursday. The solution, however, is temporary since the next shutdown deadline is January 15 and the debt ceiling was moved only until 7 February, pushing the risk of a Treasury default into March. Yet, still, it ended the congressional stalemate and provided us with two major lessons. 

As President Obama put it forth, the shutdown and threat of default slowed down economic growth and increased borrowing costs, adding to the deficit. According to the Standard and Poors ratings agency, it has taken $24 billion out of the economy and cut 6% off of yearly fourth quarter GDP growth. Plus, it has vastly damaged America’s credibility in the world which means the U.S. credit rating. This in the end threatens global credit, in other words the global economy. Moreover, this all happened at a moment when global economy needs recovery and momentum. Hence the crisis illustrated once more that neither the U.S. nor the world can afford any self-inflicted crises or in Obama’s words a “manufactured crisis” since such an occurrence immediately creates a wave of irreparable global damage. As Obama said in his press conference right after the shutdown ended, there have been no winners in this fight. All sides lost.

The second lesson was manifested in Obama’s exemplary speech during his press meeting. He said that many people could find his policies misguided and Democrats and Republicans may have many disagreements. He embraced these differences, however, calling them the prerequisites of a democracy. He invited people to argue for their position if they don’t like a particular policy or a particular president and to debate their differences “vigorously and passionately” even if this doesn’t lead to an agreement at the end. For him, they are all Americans first, even if from different parties. He was not only inclusive but also most constructive. He put his emphasis on the importance of focusing on areas where people agree and on the word “compromise”. “Push to change it, but not break it”, he said, adding that disagreements shouldn’t mean dysfunction and degenerate into hatred. The speech was a pure democracy lesson.

Obama’s inclusive tone was in sharp contrast with the extremely polarizing rhetoric of the Turkish politicians. The EU progress report published last week asserted that Turkey’s polarized political climate has translated into a democracy relying exclusively on parliamentary majority, rather than a participatory process. The politicians’ stances are uncompromising in the face of any dissent, a fact which was clearly manifested during the Gezi protests. It was not just the excessive use of force by the police that undermined Turkey’s democratic credentials. It was the polarizing and exclusionary rhetoric used by government officials. Prime Minister Erdoğan’s warning that his voters could also take to the streets, just like Gezi protesters, and that he was keeping them at home with difficulty is just one example. The worst news, however, is that the polarizing and exclusionary tone prevail among the opposition parties and the whole public as well. 

Budget crises and protests are natural, organic processes for nation-states. And only how a government handles them defines its score. Actually Obama was wrong. There was a winner in this game, and it was him. I wish the same for our politicians.