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Leader: The world cannot afford a defeat for Barack Obama

A Romney victory would greatly increase the chances of war with Iran, embolden the most reactionary elements in Israel and further accelerate climate change.

If Barack Obama has fallen short of the expectations of many of his supporters, it is partly because they were so high to begin with. During his election campaign in 2008, Mr Obama spoke lyrically of “hope” and “change” and promised a new era of post-partisan politics. His unique status as his country’s first black president encouraged the sense that the limits of the possible had been redefined. Liberals embraced him as the man who would close Guantanamo Bay, bring peace to the Middle East and slow “the rise of the oceans”.

But Mr Obama did not reckon on the recalcitrance of a Republican opposition that has sought to undermine his presidency at every turn, or the intransigence of leaders such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Binyamin Netanyahu. Four years on from his election, Guantanamo Bay remains open, the Middle East peace process has collapsed and the oceans have continued to rise. Yet, if the initial adulation for him was excessive, then so, too, is much of the subsequent disdain.

Mr Obama entered office in more difficult circumstances than any US president since Franklin D Roosevelt. The economy was in the deepest recession in 70 years and losing jobs at a rate of 750,000 a month; the automobile industry appeared destined for bankruptcy; the US was embroiled in a ruinous and unjust war in Iraq. It was, as we said at the time of his election, “the in-box from hell”. In view of this inheritance, he has performed creditably.

Early in his presidency, he acted to prevent another Great Depression by introducing a fiscal stimulus of $787bn, a mixture of tax cuts, infrastructure projects and increased unemployment benefits. Republican claims that the stimulus was “a failure” are entirely unsupported by evidence. A study by Mark Zandi, a former economic adviser to John McCain, and Alan Blinder, a former vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve, concluded that the policy had created or saved 2.7 million jobs and added 3.4 per cent to US GDP. The US economy has now grown for 13 consecutive quarters, a record that compares favourably with that of the austerity-fixated UK. A more appropriate criticism of the stimulus is that it was too small – yet it is doubtful that a bigger package would have passed Congress, and the final bill, 50 per cent larger in real terms than the entire New Deal, stands as a considerable achievement.

Similarly successful, as Nicky Woolf reports on page 18, was the government-led bailout of Chrysler and General Motors, an intervention dogmatically opposed by the Republicans. “Let Detroit go bankrupt,” declared Mr Obama’s opponent Mitt Romney in November 2008. Should he fail to win Ohio, a state that no Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying, that could be his epitaph.

It is in the sphere of foreign policy that Mr Obama has disappointed. While fulfilling his pledge to withdraw all US troops from Iraq, he has vastly expanded the use of predator drones in Pakistan, a form of warfare that is neither just nor efficacious. In the Middle East, he has been con­sistently outmanoeuvred by Mr Netanyahu, who, in violation of international law, has continued the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Yet any temptation to suggest that the world can afford a defeat for Mr Obama is dispelled by the prospect of a Romney presidency. A victory for the Republican candidate, who, as Mehdi Hasan writes on page 38, has surrounded himself with Bush-era neoconservatives, would greatly increase the chances of war with Iran, embolden the most reactionary elements in Israel and further accelerate climate change.

On the domestic level, Mr Romney’s pledge to reduce government spending by a fifth would likely plunge the US into a double-dip recession, while his plans to cut taxes for the rich and slash spending on Medicaid, food stamps, housing subsidies and job training would result in a marked redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest. Mr Obama’s health-care reform act – his single greatest domestic achievement – would be repealed and Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court judgment that established the legal right to abortion, would be overturned. Let no one claim that there is nothing to choose between the candidates.

Mr Obama stands in a noble liberal tradition that supports an active state as a precondition for individual flourishing. His opponent, by contrast, stands for a shrivelled public realm in which the market rules all and the poor are treated with contempt. In order that the former vision may triumph, Mr Obama must be returned as president on 6 November and Mr Romney decisively rejected.

This article first appeared in the 05 November 2012 issue of the New Statesman, What if Romney wins?

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Why is our idea of motherhood still based around self-sacrifice?

To become a mother is to leap, definitively, onto the side of the carers, with no possibility of turning back.

It comes as a shock, that first night. No matter how much you try to prepare yourself, reading all the books that tell you it’s nothing like in the books, it’s only once you’re experiencing it for yourself that you find out what they really mean.

Giving birth is, of course, not like anything at all. We can grasp at as many analogies as we like –climbing a mountain, shitting a pumpkin – but, as with being born or dying, it remains its own unique, brutal experience, one which can only be gone through alone. If it falls into any sort of category, it is perhaps that of “massive, life-changing exertion, after which one deserves a long, undisturbed, triumphant rest”. Only you don’t get one. Had you, under any other circumstances, had someone slice open your stomach and pull out seven and a half pounds of matter, you’d be given some time to recuperate. But since that matter has a beating heart, you’re expected to stay up all night feeding it, the pull of that tiny, eager mouth on your not-yet-hardened nipple functioning as an instant initiation into years of sacrifice.

So you get through that first night, which is always very dark, even in the middle of summer, and then there’s the next one and the next. The daytime – morning-after bright – is when you remember to be happy because, after all, you are (what new mum wouldn’t be?). Thoughts such as “will it get easier?” are banished the moment they arise. This lasts until you get to the third day. Then your hormones crash and the milk comes in and what was left of your person becomes a hardened, tender, sticky mess of bodily fluids, red-brown blood and yellow-white milk, and still that tiny mouth keeps on gnawing.

I am eight years away from the first time I experienced this, five weeks away from the last. It’s taken me until the birth of my third child to admit that it’s been difficult at all. We structure our emotional lives around artificial binaries: public/private, work/leisure, carer/cared for. To become a mother is to leap, definitively, onto the side of the carers, with no possibility of turning back. We pay lip service to the notion that Mum has needs, too. The day my son was born I got given a New Mother’s Pamper Pack: bath oil, body lotion, moisture balm. It sits unused in the bathroom. My son is outraged at the time I spend in the shower or going to the toilet; a “pampering” bath is out of the question. The gift of being one of the cared for, just for a little while, didn’t come with the lotions and potions.

When Charlotte Bevan walked out of Bristol’s St Michael’s Hospital, her daughter Zaani Tiana was four days old. Just enough time for milk to come in, hormones to crash, panic to set in, even for a mother without a history of severe mental illness. Bevan had, according to her mother, been “breastfeeding constantly” and had stopped taking risperidone, the medication used to treat her schizophrenia, in order to avoid passing on the drug to her baby through her milk. Less than an hour after leaving the hospital Bevan is thought to have leaped to her death in Avon Gorge, taking her daughter with her. It is a terrible, shocking waste of two lives. Particularly painful is the fact that, however beneficial breastfeeding might be to infants where the cost to the mother is low, for Bevan the cost was clearly far too high. Regardless of whether her drugs would have saved her, breastfeeding just shouldn’t have been that important.

Of course, it’s easy to say that now. Still we’re told that breast is best (look, it even rhymes!). However much we might claim that in becoming a mother, in making that irrevocable shift from cared for to carer, certain people (the very ill, people like Bevan) should consider themselves exceptions to the usual rules, this does not necessarily make things easier for them. Our cultural construction of ideal motherhood is based around self-sacrifice; what other way is there? And while so many aspects of this are intangible, at least breastfeeding and not taking medication are measurable acts, enabling one to achieve at least one form of purity.

By all accounts Charlotte Bevan wanted to be a good mother. She may have fallen between the cracks for a number of reasons –lack of mental health resourcing, the inexperience of practitioners, inconsistency in the advice she was given – but she was also a victim of our intolerant, rules-based standards for “good” mothering. No one around her was demanding that she meet these standards, but it would have been impossible for her not to know they existed. Moreover, the more vulnerable one is, the greater the pressure one might feel to conform to them, to prove that, contrary to disablist beliefs about who can be a “fit” mother, one can still be the care giver rather than the cared for (because there is no space in which to be both).

This week, as the inquest into Charlotte and Zaani’s deaths continues, Rethink are publishing the results of a survey of over 1,000 people affected by schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and psychosis. The results show that 89 per cent feel long waits and inadequate care are negatively affecting their lives, by which is meant not just a worsening of symptoms, but a knock-on effect to work and relationships. It is a reminder that prejudice and a lack of resourcing do not just mean schizophrenia patients miss out on care; those around them miss out on the care these people have to offer. It is a cost that is rarely counted due to the assumption that one can only either give or receive.

Perhaps the saddest thing about the Bevan case comes from knowing the close proximity of joy and despair. The early days with a newborn need not be one bewildering, sleep-deprived fog. They can also have a peculiar magic to them. Your baby is a curious little alien, eyes not quite focused on a world in which everything is new. He or she hasn’t yet learned of all the arbitrary divisions we make. You have a creature who knows absolutely nothing and seems all the wiser for it. Amidst the boredom, pain and panic, it’s a wonderful thing to watch. You just need to know the wonder won’t make the dark feelings go away. It’s not a case of either/or. You can be the besotted mother and the person who needs extra support to make life bearable.

On a day-to-day basis I know that I am the carer, my baby is the cared for. My one-month-old is vulnerable in ways I am not. But there are grey areas, places of overlap where such rigid distinctions break down. A mother’s vulnerabilities coexist with her strengths. That first night she spends alone with her baby might be experienced as a baptism of fire, in which she enters a world where here needs come second. Many can and do endure it, but there ought to be a gentler way.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised here, you can contact the Samaritans free by calling 116 123 – all details here

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.