Contrasting joy of individual action, Romney finds ... the kibbutz?

Republicans really, really don’t like collectives, cooperatives, associations and governments that get in the way of rugged individuals. And Mitt Romney really doesn’t mind pitching out political and cultural commentary, seemingly off the cuff, about one of the most politically delicate regions of the world.

The Republican presidential candidate made his point about the imperative for individual action in a unique way while speaking Tuesday at a fundraiser in Chicago. America is not only not a collective, he said. It’s not a kibbutz, either.

“It’s individuals and their entrepreneurship which have driven America. What America is not is a collective where we all work in a kibbutz or we all in some little entity,” Romney told a gathering at Maggiano’s Little Italy in downtown Chicago. “Instead, it’s individuals pursuing their dreams and building successful enterprises which employ others and they become inspired as they see what has happened in the place they work and go off and start their own enterprises.”

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That’s not to say that Romney doesn’t find much to admire in Israel, maybe even the kibbutz. It’s just not a model for American business, the candidate seemed to be saying.

Romney caused a furor last week with his commentary on the “power” of “culture” that he saw as crucial in the gaping disparity between living standards for Israelis and their Palestinian neighbors. That remark caused a furor among Palestinians, who said the Republican had ignored decades of Israeli policy promoting development in Jewish areas while disrupting commerce in, for example, the occupied parts of the West Bank.

“Oh my god, this man needs a lot of education,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said at the time. “What he said about the culture is racism.” Erekat called the “Israeli occupation” the reason for the income disparity.

On returning to the U.S., Romney did not back down from his comments, writing an essay for the National Review online that asked: “But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture?”

It remained unclear whether Tuesday’s kibbutz remark would create another flap. But there’s no chance that — layering a super-charged political campaign on top of the super-charged issue of Mideast relations — that the words will go unscrutinized.

It’s curious, then, that Romney, feet firmly planted in America, couldn’t find another region of the world or another collective--other than one near and dear to many Israelis and to American Jews whom he is courting-- to make his point about the joys of capitalism.

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