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American exceptionalism, for all the world to see

Republican shutdown is hurting the image of the U.S. and democracy abroad
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping
US President Barack Obama (R) and Chinese President Xi Jinping take a walk at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California, on June 8,...

President Obama was scheduled to visit the Philippines and Malaysia next week, but yesterday, the White House announced that those plans had to be scrapped because of the government shutdown.

Mark Landler noted the big winner from the news: China. Obama's trips were intended to demonstrate U.S. support for the Philippines and Malaysia, bolster U.S. influence in Southeast Asia, and "counter Beijing's muscle." All of that is on hold, however, because congressional Republicans don't like the Affordable Care Act.

It's a reminder that unhinged GOP lawmakers aren't just hurting the country with this tantrum, they're also embarrassing us on the global stage. Anne Applebaum reportedyesterday from Warsaw.

From my perch overseas, I've also been watching the run-up to the government shutdown in Washington. At times, I have tried to explain it to bemused foreigners. Many of them think, mistakenly, that Americans are having an argument about the budget or the deficit. I have to put them straight: This is an attempt by one part of the U.S. political system to use the budgetary process to stop the implementation of a single law, the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"). If my interlocutors come from democratic countries, they then look puzzled.

Applebaum added that Republicans are doing real damage "to the credibility of the United States abroad -- and the credibility of democracy itself."

TPM had a related item on reactions from international reporters stationed in Washington. I was struck by comments from Joyce Karam who writes for Al-Hayat (an Arabic newspaper based in London): "The whole concept is little surreal for our readers, trying to understand why the No. 1 country in the world cannot pass a budget. I come from Lebanon and our parliament is very ineffective, but ludicrous as it sounds, it is better than U.S. Congress when it comes to passing budgets."

The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation's Anders Tvegard added, "It's to us Norwegians hard to understand that it can be happening in one of the most influential countries in the world that you can have such a dysfunctional government. It is kind of joke or disbelief. We laugh about it. How is it possible at all? Why would they do that?"

I suspect in countries like China, officials are only too pleased to take advantage of Republican radicalism. "You think democracy is a political ideal?" they're saying. "Just look at how it fails in the United States."

It's no doubt too much to ask, but I'd love to see Republican lawmakers consider a global perspective before they throw tantrums. There's no reason GOP lawmakers can't ask themselves simple questions: will an idea improve U.S. competitiveness? Will it bolster our global stature or detract from our reputation? Will it make us stronger or weaker? Will our rivals use it to mock us or celebrate us?

As we discussed on Monday, great nations can't function the way we're struggling to function now. The United States can either be a 21st-century superpower or it can tolerate Republicans abandoning the governing process and subjecting Americans to a series of self-imposed extortion crises.

It cannot do both.