Mitt Romney’s tour abroad (which includes all of two European countries and Israel) has produced some interesting commentary from the would-be next president. No doubt most of these comments are blips on the radar, but with enough points on the page we can start to connect the dots.
Late last week an anonymous foreign policy advisor within the Romney campaign had choice words for the Daily Telegraph concerning the Obama administration’s regard for the UK. Specifically:
“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage and he [Romney] feels that the special relationship is special…”
And further on
“The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.”
Curious words given how many Americans don’t have Anglo-Saxon history. Many of those same Americans owe a lot of historical hardship to that heritage. The problem with that Anglo-Saxon heritage is that it’s wrapped in colonial history and colonialism hasn’t been kind to everyone.
Are we to take it to mean Barack Obama doesn’t appreciate the Anglo-Saxon heritage because he’s not Anglo-Saxon? Was this a subtle reminder about some of the convenient differences between Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama?
Maybe, but it feels more like this was a nuanced commentary on a shared history that was poorly stated.
There was also some commentary Mr. Romney had for the British people concerning preparedness for the Olympics:
“A few things that were disconcerting. The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, supposed strike of immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging.”
Not racist. Not really even that important… even if it is kind of a dickish thing to say to a country trying to get excited for the risky business of turning the Olympics into an economic boon.
And then there’s the trip to Israel where Romney was overheard commenting on the cultural differences between Israelis and Palestinians.
“It is a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel…”
And a more complicated cultural comment on the triumph of the Israeli economy.
“Culture makes all the difference… And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few others things?”
The first comment is interesting because while contentious, or so I read according to experts in middle eastern geopolitics, but it falls in line with previous presidential comments. So maybe not so serious, even if it did get serious attention. Guess that’s Liberal Media: 1, Romney: 0
The second comment is a little weirder. By comparing Israeli success by citing their GDP against Palestinian scores. If the idea is that Israeli culture is the deciding factor… it means that other comparable cultures cannot be as successful.
Are these hints at the careless, racist culture within the Romney camp?
Maybe, but it feels like there are a couple different elements at play. We’ve already talked about how the Mitt Romney isn’t class sensitive, but it feels like he also doesn’t understand why you can’t comment on someone else’s culture without perilous risk. Our culture is made up of the values we hold important.
It would be kind of like me saying that the culture of Alabama is the reason poverty is rampant in that state. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not (though we should try not to confuse culture with politics or economics) because it still pisses people off when they hear it.
More importantly, Mr. Romney was supposed to be taking this tour to prove that he’s capable of leading abroad. And maybe he did just that. These 3 gaffes represent only the smallest part of what he did in Europe and Israel. And, to be fair, it seems like he failed at making complicated observations that are probably more correct than not. The problem is that instead of coming back from Europe looking like the next president, he looks like a rookie. This may just be a PR failure, but it’s a failure none the less.
Finally, there is a part of me that wonders if some of this has to do with how foreigners feel about Barack Obama. It’s no secret that our president has enjoyed a higher approval rating abroad than at home until recently. Actually, even in decline 63% of Europeans approve of Obama’s policies. It makes me wonder if Romney’s walking through a PR minefield.
It often seems like American liberalism is European conservatism, which would make Romney the crazy right winger trying to lead the country with the most nukes and drones. But that is just a hunch.
What I do think is that the Romney camp isn’t very good at dealing with folks that aren’t like themselves. Take that NAACP speech he gave last month. That was a prime opportunity to address a huge disparity in our electoral politics: Why do African Americans (and other minorities and women) vote for Democrats over Republicans in such large margins?
That’s a real question that deserves a real answer, and it would have been fascinating to hear about why the candidate thinks that happens and how he would like to address it. Hell, if the GOP could figure out how to stop Dems from pulling down the minority vote or the women’s vote they could probably win every election outside of a coastal state… and maybe a lot of those too.
Instead it turned into he said she said about whether Romney was trying to get booed to fire up his own base.
What it seems like, from my vantage point, is that Romney isn’t very good at appearing empathetic. It looks like he doesn’t understand why racial, cultural, or economic differences matter to the people in those circumstances. That may or may not be true, given that I’m looking at three things he said in a sea of other statements, but even the appearance that he doesn’t get “it” is a real problem.
(Feature Image: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons)