Silently, mysteriously, the American-made drone appears on the horizon in a foreign land, lumbering towards its target. Guided by machines thousands of miles away, it is without intelligence, morality, discrimination … yes, Mitt Romney is in London.
Yes, the Mittster hit our fair city yesterday, and in less than 12 hours had nearly managed to create an international incident between the US and the UK, something which would be like Cyprus not voting for Greece in Eurovision.
He’s here for two reasons: first to remind everyone that he ran the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, when its first group of managers had stuffed it up. That’s great to remind people of. Less thrilling for the GOP’s increasingly anxious managers is that he’s here to watch his wife Ann compete … in, erm, dressage. Horse ballet, the single most absurd event in the competition.
The visit began smoothly enough, with Mitt at the door of No. 10, but it quickly went downhill. Asked about his views on the fiasco of G4S, transport, crowd and security management, etc etc, Mitt did the worst possible thing and … told the truth. Were you concerned about reports of trouble he was asked? Well, yes, there had been many problems, and he itemised them, and it remains to be seen what would happen, etc etc.
The interview is worth watching, not least for the deadpan performance of the interviewer Brian Williams, who regularly appears on 30 Rock and The Daily Show, and is the most coolly intelligent of the mainstream news interviewer. If you want to see what the facial expression consonant with “giving them enough rope” looks like, try this interview.
Romney couldn’t give a shout-out to the city that was hosting him. Because he has no empathy. Zero. His life is the tragedy of the life of the liberal individualist; he is incapable of joining to something larger than himself. I bet that is the nature of his whole life, s-x with Ann not excluded, which is probably, a la Clausewitz, simply an extension of dressage.
Romney later apologised and walked back his remarks. But David Cameron had already got in a shot of his own, and a good one, saying that “London is a complex global city, and it’s pretty easy to run an Olympics in a city where no one ever goes”.
What made Cameron’s shot so effective was that it was sincere. Who was this American rube, some deadshit mormon from Hicksville, coming to the greatest city in the world to tell us we couldn’t cope. It was so effective, because in the last analysis it was a class-based putdown against the arriviste.
But that’s pretty much irrelevant. After today’s announcement of a 0.7% shrinking of the economy — that makes three quarters in a row — Cameron and Clegg are dead-men walking. The only thing that saves them is that the opposition is led by, in Ed Miliband, a diffident child-muppet, who is simply a mirror of the residue of pink-flesh that constitutes the Cameron-Osbourne leadership team.
There is always the possibility that Romney is playing a very complex squeeze play here. After all, Cameron et al are identified as centre-rightists with a good relationship with Obama, another centre-rightest in some ways. For Romney, still playing to his US right base, punishing Cameron et al for their diffidence, lack of leadership etc is potentially a winner.
This connects with recent remarks that Romney has made regarding the US-UK relationship. This is usually, euphemistically, described as the “special relationship” or the Atlantic relationship. Romney chose to call it the “Anglo-Saxon relationship” and insist that he would restore it to its full glory.
Romney’s spokespeople made much of an alleged incident in the early months of the Obama administration, when a bust of Winston Churchill (lent by the pathetic sycophants of New Labour) was removed from a White House corridor, to storage. This was taken — by both left and right — as a definitive act by Obama, due to the fact that his grandfather was interned during Kenya’s struggle for independence. At that time, Churchill, by then prime minister, and a depressive, stuporous, stroke-damaged alcoholic, extended colonial rule for another decade, causing tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, and the displacement and ruination of millions.
(Although most of the decisions were probably taken by Anthony Eden, an Edwardian-era racist and anti-Semite, whose explicit refusal to allow the RAF to bomb the death camp railheads in 1943-4 probably hastened the deaths of hundreds of thousands. His reason: “in this war, the Jews must not expect special treatment”.)
Obama, most likely didn’t move the Churchill bust — he has shown himself indifferent to the politics of symbolism. It was probably the simple process of moving the gifts associated with one Presidency to storage, as the new Presidency moves in. But that hasn’t stopped a mythology building up, especially among the anxious whites of the Right (and their pathetic Uncle Toms such as Dinesh D’Souza) that Obama is some sort of ’60s radical who has made the long march through the institutions to the White House, determined to have dashinkis and Angela Davis installed in the Oval Office.The reverse is the truth, and it is so bitterly funny that future historians will have a murderous time disentangling it. For the truth is that Obama is, simply, the Black Churchill. Obama’s drone wars form a continuity with Churchill’s 1920s experiments with poison gas and bombers in Iraq and Sudan to control native populations within an extant (and politically and economically essential) British empire. What is little understood is that Churchill’s enthusiasm for these new weapons — based largely on his continued shareholding in the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP) and his perpetual manic-depressive overspending — had, at its demented core a utilitarian logic about it.
The empire must be maintained, it was thought. Gas and bombs were amazingly suggested as a more humane, surgical and precise way of doing this, rather than garrisoning a whole army there. The true barbarity of such thoughts is expressed in Churchill’s comment that such methods might, through simple terror, result in fewer deaths because people would be cowed into non-resistance to imperial authority.
In any assessment, it should be obvious that Obama has proved to be the most stunningly effective manager of American imperial power since FDR. George W. Bush, the love object — effectively the stained tissue — is simply his half-forgotten prelude. Winding up Iraq, keeping Afghanistan at a low bubble, he has killed Osama Bin Laden, won a West-oriented ally in Libya with no loss of US life, and is systematically wiping out the whole Al-Qaeda/radical Islamist general staff.
The US Right simply cannot admit this — it makes them hysterical, because it challenges deeply-seated racialist notions of right. Though American exceptionalists pride themselves on the abstract nature of the US constitution and its ideas-based collective form, the idea of it only works for the Right if it is an expression of the white ethos, the reality that the Declaration of Independence et al is both universal and a specific document of white people.
So Romney’s reference to Anglo-Saxons is no accident. It is a dog whistle carved from bone, and a sign that the Romney camp has given up on one strategy, which was to take a chunk of the Hispanic vote. They have clearly now decided that this is not a goer, that New Mexico is gone, and that Colorado might needs be sacrificed for … Virginia and Ohio, two chunky states, with a lot of white angst, to be tapped.
But if you’re going to call on that sort of thing, you need to hold the line. Laying into the Brits about the Olympics is about as inept a move you could make — but it is indicative of the fiction at the heart of Anglo-Saxon Atlanticism. For what is England to Mitt Romney — the child of Mormon exiles, born in Mexico, where they had escaped the lethal persecution of the US authorities, only to find that, after the 1910 Mexican revolution, they had to cross the border again.
The Romneys settled in Michigan where father George became an auto executive, an advocate of racial equality, and a liberal Republican. Mitt went west to New England — but New England is nothing like Old England. The latter is a sump of lager and seething, the former is designed like someone used a Shaker hymn as a blueprint for social design. It is riven with class — dressage, “owning NASCAR teams”, men with “Jnr” or “the III” after their names, their first ones usually being things like “Strobe” or “Grover”, the mother’s maiden name doing double duty as a first name to preserve both family lines.
It is, in other words, a demonstration of Norbert Elias’ point that if you don’t have an aristocracy, people will make one anyway, and it is a society like nothing else on earth. Liberal and patrician, hippie and Tory, it can hold both a Romney and a Noam Chomsky, and have them both as, to some degree, as equally legitimate expressions of its spirit. Not only can it not relate to old England, it can barely relate to Ohio. Romney is a desperately tragic version of that — a soulless, other-directed Mad-Men-mannequin-Gollum, stalking the earth, trying to work out how the humans eat a hot dog, or whatever other ghastly food must be consumed on the stump.
No amount of notes, cajoling, briefing, can prevent gaffe upon gaffe — because he is a simple and categorical psychological failure, which should have ruled him out of contention years ago. He will stalk the streets of London, not knowing why anyone likes anything they like, and wonder what it reminds him of — and go home again, to a new series of gaffes. He is an American drone, his shadow suddenly looming large, and then exploding elsewhere.
He is going to stick around. He is going to be a lot of fun.