Is Mitt Romney Racist? Nope, Just Wrong on Culture
By now, no doubt, the story that Mitt Romney flubbed the Brits about their handling of Olympic security and his unfortunate assessment of the Israel/Palestinian divide has reached the ears, eyes and other senses of anyone who pays close attention to the 2012 campaign. This must be music to the ears of anyone supporting President Obama, because these new gaffs don't speak well for Mitt's ability to be Commander in Chief. He was supposed to be chipping away at Obama's lead on foreign policy, not adding to it.
Let me get London out of the way, first. What Mitt said, exactly, was this; "The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials -- that obviously is not something which is encouraging." Here's a hint, Mitt; when you go to visit our country's best friend forever in the international world, its a good idea not to leave the place with a headline like "Mitt the Twit" flowing through the tabloids.
Now for the rest of it. Romney's next stop was in Israel. It was supposed to be the highlight of his overseas trip, and indeed it was. Things seemed to be going quite well, until Mitt said this; “As you come here and you see the G.D.P. per capita, for instance, in Israel, which is about $21,000, and compare that with the G.D.P. per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.” Only Mitt Romney could have intended praise and caused offense.
Things got worse when Saeb Erekat, the senior aid to President Mahmoud Abbas called Romney's comment "racist". Erekat added, "this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation". True. “It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people.” Probably also true. Romney might have said what he said in order to pander to the likes of Sheldon Adelson, and to build up his credentials with Netanyahu buffs. His stop in Israel was certainly an attempt to pander to the Jewish vote, but, as a demographic, Jews are firmly behind Obama. So, Romney sacrificed credentials for no gain.
What makes this much more than a strategic blunder is Romney's apparent belief about culture. No, he's not a racist by any stretch of the imagination, but he implied, in his comments, that some cultures are superior to others. Is this assessment really true? Actually, it is not surprising that some would feel this way. Look at the state of Africa, a continent that is still in bad shape. (Coincidentally, if Romney had mentioned even one African country, he would have had the entire planet calling his remarks "racist".) Or a few Latin American nations, why, they seem to be in the dumps. Even Romney mentioned Mexico, a Latin-American nation.
There is also historical precedence. 100 years ago, Max Weber, the great German scholar, stated that China and Japan would never become economically powerful nations, because their culture prohibited it. Can you see the problem with this reasoning? Need I ask? Events today also disprove the "culture means everything" theory. Africa, which some would have you believe is culturally backwards, boasts no less than ten of the worlds fastest growing economies; Nigeria, Botswana, Ghana, Angola, Mozambique, Rwanda, Zambia, Chad, Tanzania and Ethiopia. Latin America now has Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Columbia. As for Mexico, well, Mexico is doing fine economically, thank you very much. If they would just git rid of the damn drug cartels.
And in fact, for the first decades of its existence, Israel's economy was almost entirely controlled by the government. Only recently has the country introduced a more market friendly economic model. True, that does speak to the values of a free market economy. But if one of our candidates for President believes that the worlds most complex problems can be simply explained by culture, then I am afraid that we shouldn't expect peace in the Middle East very soon.
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