In this week’s New Statesman: What if Romney wins?

Nicky Woolf, Mehdi Hasan, Nicholas Wapshott and Mark Leonard write in our US Election Special. PLUS: Rafael Behr on the death of the middle class dream and Rachel Cusk on "the anorexia statement".

Nicky Woolf: How the Midwest was won

Nicky Woolf writes from America as the impending election looms large, where swing states like Ohio hold the key to election victory on Tuesday. Woolf looks at Obama's 2008 auto industry bailout that saved the livelihood of thousands of Ohio residents. Will it be enough to secure him a victory in this critical battleground state?  

This is the middle of the Rust Belt, a name that came about as the industrial era was waning in the latter half of the 20th century, when the steel and manufacturing industries were beginning to lose out for the first time to cheaper competitors overseas that were faster to adapt to circumstances and less enthralled with unionisation and workers’ rights. The cities built on steel started to decay.

Today, because of the government rescue, the Rust Belt is still the home of the American auto industry. To the north in Michigan, Detroit, Motor City, is its beating heart, and Ohio is its muscle. About 848,000 people here do jobs that are directly dependent on or tied to the auto industry.

One of the players at the tournament is Chris Mendez, an ex-marine who now works at the foundry. Does he feel like Obama saved his job? “There’s no doubt in my mind,” he says. “He saved all our jobs. [Before the bailout came,] over half the people at the plant were laid off. I was laid off. When they happened, when we had word that GM was going to be OK . . . it was great. I was overjoyed. I’ve got three kids; when I was laid off they were terrified. I’ll do everything I can to support him – and make sure he gets re-elected.”

…Romney supporters have been celebrating positive national polling in recent weeks. The first findings after the initial presidential debate on 3 October, by pollsters of the Pew Research Centre, showed Romney leading among likely voters for the first time by 4 points – an extraordinary 12-point swing from their previous poll in September. Gallup, too, found a (less dramatic) shift to Romney after the debate, showing him tied with the president on 47 per cent, and a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed the same.

But in Ohio Obama has held his edge: a CNN poll released on 9 October put him still 4 points clear of Romney.Why is this? The answer can be found in an op-ed article Romney wrote for the New York Times in November 2008, condemning the bailout. “If General Motors . . . and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye,” he declared, with devastating hubris.

 

Mehdi Hasan: The zombie neocons have risen from the dead and found a new Dubbya

In Lines of Dissent, Mehdi Hasan hashes out the difference between Romney and his Republican predecessor, which amounts to very little. Though the Govenor is keen to put distance between himself and George W, when it comes to foreign policy it looks more like “Romney is running for Bush’s third term”. With a cast of neoconservative advisors on his foreign policy team – 17 out of 24 of whom worked under Bush/Cheney – his case as the next Dubbya looks might strong. Hasan writes:

The Romney campaign is, basically, Neocon Central. Five names on the list of his advisers stand out: Eliot Cohen, Cofer Black, Dan Senor, Eric Edelman and Walid Phares.

Cohen was an adviser to Condoleezza Rice at the state department. In November 2001, he was one of the first neoconservatives to call publicly for a war against Iraq in a column in the Wall Street Journal (in which he bombastically described the west’s conflict with al-Qaeda and its allies as the start of “World War Four”).

Black was head of the CIA’s counterterrorism centre, where is he alleged to have overseen the introduction of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (torture) and “extraordinary rendition” (kidnappings). He went on to work for the Bush administration’s favourite private security company, Blackwater.

…Despite being discredited and humiliated over Iraq, the zombie neocons are back from the dead.

 

Nicholas Wapshott: What if Mitt Romney wins on 6 November? And how will it affect the rest of us?

Self-proclaimed “severe conservative” Romney may have rebranded himself at "Moderate Mitt" since the primaries, but if his manages to “trick” the American people into electing him President, what will the implications be? Even a watered-down Romney in the Whitehouse means a “rubber stamp” on a radical Republican agenda, Wapshott asserts:

If Romney’s rebranding tricks the people and he wins on 6 November, he will soon discover what it is like to be Obama, a president hemmed in by hostile forces. Since angry Tea Party activ­ists consumed the Republican Party in 2009-2010, candidates and congressmen have lined up to sign pledges promising that, if elected, they will not compromise on introducing tax cuts, public spending caps and a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget, and will agree to outlaw abortion, ban pornography and keep women in uniform off the front line.

…There is more. Republicans wish to impose their reactionary social agenda on the half of the US they disagree with. Romney has said he would be happy to sign a law making all abortion illegal in all circumstances, including cases of rape and incest and when the procedure is necessary to protect a mother’s health. If that were to happen, Mexico and Canada (perhaps the UK, too) would become medical refugee destinations for those who can afford the air fare. American women who travel abroad to abort can expect to be arrested for murder on their return.

 

Mark Leonard: The man with two brains

For our lead books review this week, Mark Leonard – author, and director of the European Council on Foreign Relations – takes at look at The Obamians: the Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power. The book “tries to paint a portrait of the 44th president’s foreign policy through the prism of his relationship with his closest advicers.”

Turns out he is a man of two minds, oscillating between the “realism” and “idealism” embodied by the make-up of his foreign policy team: on the one side are the saged policy makers who cut their teeth on the Cold War, on the other side the youthful “Obamians” who made a career for themselves in his 2008 campaign. As Leonard puts it:

According to Mann, Obama had two foreign policy teams: one, for public consumption, was the “team of rivals” that Obama appointed to cabinet-level positions. These grizzled war­horses gave the young president gravitas but they were kept away from the big decisions on foreign policy. They included figures such as Hillary Clinton at the state department, Robert Gates at the Pentagon, Richard Holbrooke as “AfPak” envoy, General James Jones as national security adviser and General David Petraeus, now director of the CIA. They were mainly people whose world-views had been shaped by the cold war. Yet the advisers who stayed behind after the intelligence briefings and helped Obama make his key decisions were younger, more political appointees who had worked on his campaign or made a career in the Senate rather than the national security apparatus.

… Obama’s Jekyll and Hyde persona extended to the level of ideas as he deliberately straddled the two main ideologies of US foreign policy: idealism and realism. As in domestic policy, he combined an unsentimental realism about the realities of power with progressive goals. On the one hand, he did not close Guantanamo and stepped up the policy of using drones to assassinate potential terrorists. On the other, he intervened in Libya to save lives and asked the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to resign.

Obama’s inner circle reflected the two sides of his brain. Rice, McFaul, Power and Rhodes stood for his idealism (Power describes herself as the administration’s “conscience mascot”). Meanwhile, power-brokers such as Donilon and McDonough saw themselves more in the realist tradition of the first President Bush.

 

Elsewhere in the magazine

 

Rafael Behr: The dying of the middle-class dream

“The promise of Britain”, “the great middle class” or “the American Dream” – whatever you call it, it’s falling apart.  In an era where people increasingly feel that the system is rigged against them, Rafael Behr brings us a special report on the slow death of the middle class dream. He begins:

All of British politics since the end of the Second World War has been underpinned by a double promise. The first element is collective – every generation will live better than the one before it. The second component is individual – any citizen’s hard work will be rewarded with wealth and higher social status.

In the US, the equivalent offer is explicit in the idea of an “American dream”. In Britain, we are more reticent about expressing the belief that self-advancement should be a fundamental right and more pessimistic about whether it extends to us. That doesn’t mean the idea lacks currency, nor does it diminish the feeling of betrayal when the contract is broken.

It is breaking before our eyes. The financial crisis did not only disrupt the longest run of economic growth in living memory; it upset assumptions about who the economy was designed to serve. The perception that a super-wealthy elite was both responsible for the crash and insulated from its consequences is profoundly demoralising. It mocks the ambition of those who feel they are working harder than ever for diminishing returns.

And on the political front…

This opens a new chapter in British politics. For the first time, swaths of middle-class voters, who for generations were given to understand that the system was fashioned for their benefit, feel it is rigged against them. In such a climate, the conventional messages – the appeal to aspiration and the promise to reward enterprise – ring hollow. Yet the current generation of party leaders doesn’t know any other kind of middle-class politics.

…Downing Street is under no illusions that politics for the foreseeable future will be shaped by the feeling in many households that the ground is giving way beneath their feet. Senior Tories also know that they will not long get away with blaming the nation’s misfortune on the legacy of the last government. “Answering the question ‘What are you going to do about this?’ will be the dominant theme in politics for the next 30 years,” says a No 10 strategist.

 

Rachel Cusk: The Anorexia Statement

In a searing essay on anorexia nervosa, author Rachel Cusk examines why women go to war with their bodies. Anorexia has long fascinated as a disease that simultaneously engenders both sympathy and frustration, disgust and admiration. Cusk writes forcefully from her own experiences and encounters, raising a potent question: if the female body carries many messages, what is a woman trying to say when she starves herself? What exactly is “the anorexia statement”?

Without quite knowing why, as I have grown older I have become more interested in – it could even be said, more respectful of – what might be called the anorexic statement. Perhaps it’s because, as the 45-year-old English mother of two children, my body has little power of provocation or utterance; or rather, that what it’s said or tried to say through the years hasn’t seemed to have added up to all that much. Quite what constitutes the anorexic statement I’m not entirely sure. All the same, it has a great power of disruption. It’s a stray spoke under the wheel of things that otherwise have the capacity to hurtle on headlong: family life, fashion, the destiny of the female body. The statement might be: help me. Or it might simply be: stop.

…It may seem superfluous for a 45-year-old mother-of-two to say that she does not exult in the life of the body, but let’s just call it a place to begin. At the very least, as a statement, it raises numerous lines of inquiry. One might be: is it obligatory, or even a moral duty, to take pleasure in one’s own physical being? Leaving aside for a moment the question of what definition of pleasure one could possibly arrive at in this particular hall of mirrors, is the value of the physical quest in any way comparable with that of the artistic, the emotional, the spiritual?

I understand the anorexic’s notion of pleasure far better than the hedonist’s. Sometimes it has seemed to me that the second kind of pleasure is consequent on the first, that the life of sensation can be accessed only from a place of perfect self-discipline, rather as strict religious practices were once believed to constitute the narrow path to heaven. The anorexic, like the ascetic before her, publicly posits the immolation of the flesh as a manifestation of a primary physical discontent she is on her way to escaping: she represents a journey whose starting point is disgust. Body is found to be not only intolerable to but weaker than mind – how, then, can its desires and yearnings be taken seriously? The anorexic statement suggests a second body, one that will be painstakingly encroached on and attained; and hence, a second template for desire. This second body will belong to its owner as the first did not: its desires, therefore, will be experienced as not shameful, but true.

 

In The Critics

The historian David Priestland reflects on the strange rebirth of Whig history. Andrew Marr’s TV series “History of the World” shows, Priestland argues, “the extent to which the struggle to interpret our history has been won by a complacent liberalism”. This isn’t to say that the BBC shouldn’t be investing in grand histories. “Yet they have to choose the right ones,” Priestland cautions. “For bad history may be worse than no history at all.”

In the Books Interview, Jonathan Derbyshire talks to children’s author Anthony Horowitz about the latest book in his Power of Five Series, Oblivion. Horwitz tells Derbyshire that the three main characters in the book “are heavily influenced by the Murdochs” (the novel was written while the phone hacking scandal was at its height). On the public responsibilities of writers of children’s fiction, Horowitz says: “You should not try to proselytise… I do get very nervous when writers like me get vocal about political issues and get up on soapboxes, because the end results can be very messy.”

Also in Books: Sarah Churchwell reviews Michael Gorra’s book Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece; Talitha Stevenson reviews Songs of Innocence, Fran Abrams’s history of British childhood; and Andrew Adonis reviews The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy by Douglas Carswell. PLUS: “The Descent”, a poem by Emily Berry.

Elsewhere in the Critics: Rachel Cooke on Mark Gattiss’s “A History of Horror”; Ryan Gilbey reviews Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and the US cut of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining; Rachel Haliburton goes to Moscow to discover what Chekhov means to the Russians; Kate Mossman is beguiled by a musical collaboration between Peter Blegvad and Andy Partridge; and Antonia Quirke rails against cuts to arts programming on the World Service.

 

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Charlotte Simmonds is a writer and blogger living in London. She was formerly an editorial assistant at the New Statesman. You can follow her on Twitter @thesmallgalleon.

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Why hasn’t British Asian entertainment built on the Goodness Gracious Me golden age?

It is 20 years since the original radio series of Goodness Gracious Me aired. Over two decades, the UK media portrayal of Asians hasn’t used its success to evolve.

Save for a handful of special one-off episodes, Goodness Gracious Me hasn’t occupied a primetime TV slot for nearly two decades. Yet still it remains the measuring stick for British Asian comedy.

The sketch show, which transitioned seamlessly from radio to screen (it started as a BBC Radio 4 series in 1996), has stood the test of time and is as much a staple of modern British Asian culture as Tupperware or turning up an hour late.

What Goodness Gracious Me did so expertly was to take a set of serious issues facing first, second and now, I suppose, third generation migrants, and turn them on their heads. 

In making light of the pressures of academic expectation or family drama, Goodness Gracious Me wasn’t playing down the poignancy of such concerns; it was raising awareness and combatting their uglier side with humour.

It offered resonance and reassurance in equal measure; it was ok to have an embarrassing uncle who insisted he could get you anything much cheaper, including a new kidney, because other people like you did too.

That Goodness Gracious Me was broadcast on a mainstream channel was also a victory for minorities; it made us feel integrated and, perhaps more importantly, accepted. Against the backdrop of Brexit, what wouldn’t we give for that treatment now?

Really, though, the jewel in Goodness Gracious Me’s crown was its willingness to recognise diversity within diversity. It is a relic of a departed era when discourse on TV around Asians was different, when the broad church of that term was truly represented, rather than reduced to one catchall perception of British Muslims.

Goodness Gracious Me offered insight into the experiences and idiosyncrasies – religious or otherwise – of Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and even English people. It’s what made it so accessible and, in answering why subsequent programmes have failed to reach similar heights, this is a good starting point.

Without the flexible sketch format, the modern Asian sitcom Citizen Khan has struggled to cover multiple topics, and, by being specifically about a Muslim family, it leaves many non-Muslim Asians wondering: where’s ours?

I hasten to add that I feel plenty of sympathy for the British Muslim community, hounded by tabloid headlines that attack their faith, but it would be disingenuous to suggest that non-Muslim Asians are sitting pretty in 2016 and don’t need a similar level of support in terms of positive public perception.

The current volume of British Asian media products is fairly good. The BBC has its dedicated network, The Good Immigrant essay collection was one of the outstanding reads of the year, and we still have champions of comedy in Romesh Ranganathan and Nish Kumar.

But I think ultimately it comes down to the broadness of appeal, rather than the quantity of products. Goodness Gracious Me was not only able to engage the full spectrum of British Asia; it transcended its target audience and was on terrestrial TV.

The British Asian media on offer now is up against it, released as the country’s attitude towards foreigners completes a full circle back to the same suspicion my grandfather encountered in the Sixties.

Fewer outlets are willing to explore the stretch of what it means to be Asian, either by denying it due consideration in mainstream shows or by peddling their own monolithic observations. The BBC Asian Network, for example, is laudable in its existence, but does little to engage the young Asians who aren’t into techno spliced with Bhangra.

The mainstream representations of Asians in Western film and television that are commissioned, meanwhile, are irritatingly limited and sometimes inaccurate. In an article for the Guardian last year, Sara Abassi lamented the disproportionate appetite for “gritty post-9/11 films about conservative Pakistani families”, and that the researchers of American series Homeland failed to realise that the national language of Pakistan isn’t Arabic.

When I interviewed the actor Himesh Patel for the No Country for Brown Men podcast, he suggested that the answer to re-establishing Asians in mainstream media, both here and in America, was three-fold. The first challenge to overcome was for outlets to acknowledge that not all Asians fit the same religious or cultural profile; the second was to be open to placing Asians in non-Asian specific products to better reflect their presence in society.

Patel, who is best known for his portrayal of Tamwar Masood in the soap opera EastEnders, made his third recommendation based on this role. He felt that characters should be written with only their personality in mind, making the ethnicity of the actor who plays them incidental. Tamwar’s awkwardness but underlying kindness, Patel said, was what defined him – not his skin colour.

Goodness Gracious Me, though a primarily Asian show and a comedy at that, actually taught some salient lessons about representation. It succeeded in providing a window into a multiplicity of cultures, but at the same time wasn’t a total slave to the politics of identity – several of the 100-plus characters needn’t have been Asian at all. It was reflexive to the times we lived in and a perfect advertisement for empathy. That is why we still talk about it today.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.