I am starting to feel sorry for Mitt Romney. On an international tour of three countries, he made news in two of them by dissing the London Olympics and infuriating the Palestinians. The poor guy – for months, people have complained that he never says what he really believes. Now he’s in trouble for too boldly saying what he actually thinks.
First, during an interview with NBC News anchorman Brian Williams, Romney had this to say about prospects of success for the London Games: “It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out. There are a few things that were disconcerting: the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials -- that obviously is not something which is encouraging.”
Well, the queen’s government was disconcerted enough about the failure of the security contractor to provide enough guards that an extra 1,200 British troops were called in to help. Nevertheless, Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a return slap at Romney, the former boss of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world,” Cameron said. “Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”
Take that, Mormon Country.
The British press tore into Romney. “Who invited him?” asked a big headline in the Daily Mail Online. Of course, this is the same British press that has been finding fault with the Olympics for months, saying the Games have drained national finances and turned London into a police state.
Abandoning irate England, Romney scurried off to Israel (after telling everyone he had no interest in watching his wife’s horse compete in the Olympic dressage competition – the horse that appears on his tax returns as a $77,000 loss). At a fundraiser in Jerusalem (the guest list included Sheldon Adelson, the casino baron who almost single-handedly financed Newt Gingrich’s primary campaign), Romney declared that the large disparity in living standards between Israelis and Palestinians was due to the Israelis’ high-achieving culture.
This was not a novel observation for Romney. He elaborated on the theme in his book, “No Apology,” in which he credits Israel’s cultural dynamism for powering an advanced technological economy as Palestinians languish in pre-industrial economic dependency. Still, the comments caused Palestinian spokesmen to flip out, calling Romney an ignorant racist.
Insult or not, this does not qualify as another Romney gaffe. A gaffe is a mistake; Romney meant what he said.
Since provoking Palestinians is an honored avocation in the Republican Party, he didn’t lose any votes with his comments. His rap on the Olympics, as innocuous as it was, caused him much greater grief since conservative commentators, as much as liberal pundits, were appalled by Romney’s lack of manners.
At the third stop on his tour – Poland – all seems to have gone well. Romney even received a strong endorsement from Lech Walesa, the hero of the Solidarity movement that brought down the old communist regime back in the 1980s (although it would be interesting to know if the old labor leader understands that Romney is not exactly a big booster of labor unions).
The intent of Romney’s excursion abroad was to increase his street cred as a potential world statesman, but, even if there had been no mini-media storms, it is hard to see how anyone would be overly impressed by his play-it-safe itinerary. Traveling to Britain, Israel and Poland is about as risky for an American politician as a tour of country clubs would be for an executive from Bain Capital.
Now, if Romney had gone to Pakistan, Venezuela and Somalia, we would have something more interesting to talk about than minding one’s manners at the Olympic Games.