In Spain, Portugal, attention to Washington style, not substance

Thomas Patrick Melady, Senior Diplomat in Residence at The Institute of World Politics and former U.S. Ambassador to Burundi, Uganda and the Vatican, was vacationing in Spain and Portugal in recent weeks during the debates in Washington on the U.S. debt. An occasional NCR contributor, Melady sent the following reflection:

While vacationing in Spain and Portugal in July and August, it was interesting to observe the reactions of local people to the public discussion among US leaders on the recent budget—debt ceiling deliberations. Modern instant communications make it possible for the people in Spain, Portugal and other parts of the world to follow how the world’s super power resolves such very critical issues.

The frequent media clips on what was going on in the US—especially with the implications of a possible default—were carefully watched by millions in Spain and Portugal as we were vacationing here. The local peoples in some ways were more interested in the style of the discussion; how was it debated and resolved, rather than the substance of the issues.

Comments made indicated their disappointment that agitated and even erratic outbursts would be expressed in the world’s leading democracy. Where was the calm and cool atmosphere that should be prevalent when the leaders of the U.S. meet and work on critical issues? Looking for positive aspects, one could point out the appearance of both President Obama and, John Boehner , Speaker of the House of Representatives. They presented clear rational statements.

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On the other hand, media clips also used images of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Congresswoman Michele Bachman, appearing frequently in agitated and emotional ways. It is evident that most of the people in these countries observing the debate did not comprehend the essential issues but rather they had the experience of viewing how the US at the highest levels resolves national issues.

Both Portugal and Spain are having their own serious financial and economic issues. Nonetheless, they follow U.S. developments and the coverage of the past several months has been disappointing to many of them.


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