It is common practice in this country to mock Americans for their lack of geographical knowledge. But if you're tempted to join in, ask yourself: how good is your knowledge of American geography? If, like certain British broadcasters one could mention, you’re unable to use terms like ‘Deep South’ with any degree of accuracy, then you’ve no business throwing stones (an activity which surely demands a reasonable sense of direction).
If British journalists get the Deep South wrong by using the term too broadly (e.g. it most certainly does not include Kentucky), then the ‘Midwest’ tends to be understood too narrowly. Yes, it does include farm states like Kansas and Iowa, but it also includes industrial states like Michigan and Ohio – where most Midwesterners actually live.
Politically speaking, the industrial Midwest is the key to the whole country. Whereas other regions are firmly Democrat or Republican, with few contestable states, the Midwest could go either way. Last week, it mostly stayed with Barack Obama – and in a report that was published by the New Statesman in advance of the election, Nicky Woolf explains why:
- “In 2007, the US car industry had directly employed more than a million people but in 2008 alone it shed a tenth of those and was on the brink of catastrophe… when the credit crisis rolled around, the auto industry in Michigan and Ohio had already been struggling.
- “…when Obama moved in to the White House, he assembled a presidential task force, led by the financier and “car tsar”, Steven Rattner, and the treasury secretary, Tim Geithner… GM and Chrysler requested bridging loans: $16.6bn for General Motors and $5bn for Chrysler. They received them, but by April both were entering bankruptcy procedures. The task force stepped in and forced a restructuring of both companies – some loans, a rearrangement of assets… and a government stake of 61 per cent in GM.”
As fate would have it, a certain Mitt Romney decided to give his take on the matter:
- “…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…”
So, who was right?
- “Today, both [companies] are back from the brink and the future is bright. The US treasury still holds 26 per cent of GM, but the company is negotiating for ways to buy back its independence from the taxpayer – and on 24 May 2011, Chrysler repaid the last of its loans, several years ahead of schedule. The company held a party to celebrate, at the Sterling Heights Assembly plant.”
Needless to say, the Obama campaign in Ohio was one long, relentless reminder of these events:
- “Opposite the main exit to the plant, a billboard carries the local Obama campaign’s favoured slogan: ‘Osama Bin Laden is dead. General Motors is alive.’”
There are, of course, many reasons for Obama’s victory and Romney’s defeat. But if you had to boil it down to a single line of text, you couldn’t do better than those nine words.