Christina Patterson: What Americans want is not what they need

Sunday 23 October 2011 05:38

It had to happen. Barack Obama has been ousted by Susan Boyle. Let me say that again. The President of the world's only hyperpower has been pushed from the TV schedules by a plump Scottish spinster with quite a nice voice.

The President of the richest nation of the world had been planning to address its members about the fact that 47 million of them had no routine access to healthcare. The Fox channel said no. (Of course it said no. That's like expecting a TV channel run by the BNP to push for the abolition of borders.) So, more surprisingly, did NBC.

The planned address was, after all, competing against So You Think You Can Dance and I Survived a Japanese Game Show. What was needed was not an indication that America has, in the form of its brightest politician for decades, got talent, but that America's Got Talent, in other words that freakshow democracy with a supersized slab of humiliation, continues to triumph over the boring, real-life equivalent. And the icing on the double chocolate cheesecake was an interview with the small-town everywoman who Dreamed a Dream, but found that leaving her church visits, cat, Pebbles, and the safety of her council house for a new life of global taunts about her weight, intelligence and marital status, was not uncomplicated.

Whatever criticism she has attracted will, however, be as nothing compared to the vitriol Obama (who will now fill the less than primetime 8pm slot) can expect as he ploughs on with his plans for healthcare reform. Handsome, lean, married and coiffed of eyebrow he might be, but this is as nought compared with the terrible taboo he has broken in seeking to ensure that 97 per cent of the American population have access to the kind of healthcare that most other countries in the Western world offer their citizens for free.

An internal memo of the Republican National Committee, leaked to the Huffington Post, has urged its members to "engage in every activity" to block the reform, which, it says, is "a grave threat to America's healthcare, and America's health". Quite how reforms aimed at ensuring that Americans who suffer the misfortune of sudden illness or accident might have treatment beyond the limited emergency service the state provides might be regarded as a "threat" to "America's health" remains unexplained.

Or, indeed, how a system rated 37th out of 191 by the World Health Organisation in terms of overall performance, and 72nd out of 191 in terms of the overall level of health, couldn't find a little room for improvement.

But the Americans who might benefit, I forgot to say, are uninsured Americans. About 17 per cent of the population, and a rather higher percentage (one assumes) of the audience for I Survived a Japanese Game Show or America's Got Talent. These, of course, are not proper Americans. They're failed Americans, Americans who let the side down. These are Americans who are insufficiently ambitious and insufficiently motivated, Americans who somehow Dreamed a Dream of being ugly, poor and fat.

There is no greater sin in America than being poor, unless it's being on the side of the poor. There is no greater sin than standing up against the eternal, damn-near constitutional right to wreak profit, at whatever cost. Speak against this, and, as I recently discovered, you will feel it.

Like anyone who writes in a national newspaper, I'm used to abuse, but nothing prepared me for the venom unleashed when I dared to suggest, on an American website earlier this year, that "rational self-interest" might have its limits. My suggestion, said one correspondent who tracked me down months later, was "an attack" on his "happiness, freedom, income, survival and family" and I clearly had "(a) no education and (b) no experience". Suffice it to say that he, and his fellow Christina critics, were less than delighted about the "obscure left/socialist leanings" of "an American Idol President". Socialist? It would be tempting, as a Brit, to say 'you're having a larf!', but these people are not, I think it's safe to say, overly endowed with a sense of humour.

If Obama can't do this, nobody can. If Obama can't do this, America's poor are screwed. Sure, America's got talent, but it's also got some of the most unpleasant, uncompassionate, unerringly ruthless people on the face of this planet. Boy will that boy need some luck.

Scandinavian gloom, Scandinavian-style

As someone whose heart swelled with pride when Abba won the Eurovision song contest, and Bjorn Borg won Wimbledon, and Ikea started delivering bookcases, and meatballs, to the masses, I nearly exploded with it on Monday night, while watching the Swedish adaptation of Wallander. OK, so it's only blood (half of it, to be precise) and I wasn't born in Sweden, and I've never actually lived there, and I had nothing whatsoever to do with the writing, dramatisation or any other aspect of the Wallander series or books. But what a triumph!

Kenneth Branagh was great as the gloom-ridden detective in the British version, but Krister Henriksson is just so much more – well, Swedish. Gloomy, not in a look-at-me-and-my-brilliant-acting way, but just in a quietly efficient, I'm-not-ecstatic-but-let's- just-get-on-with-things kind of way. And his female boss, to whom he reports without resentment or sexual frisson, looks, like a lot of female Swedish bosses, like a woman who manages a certain degree of power with a minimum of make up and a minimum of fuss. Almost as if such a thing were completely and utterly normal.

Let's drink to the death of the pub

Never mind the Empire, now we know that Britain's sunk. The pub, cosy cornerstone of the community, hub of happiness and harmony etc, is in decline and this, apparently, is a national disaster.

Could this be the same institution that has been castigated for fostering the country's only serious national pastime, the mass pouring down throats of the drug regarded as the biggest threat to the nation's health? I like a nice pub, and I like a nice drink, but I also quite like a nice little nibble with my drink, and the odd peanut or pork scratching doesn't really cut it. The fact that bars have sprung up to replace the defunct pubs – bars serving proper food, and proper tasty snacks – is surely cause for celebration. Which, of course, needs a little tipple.

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