Friday, July 27, 2012

Romney and the UK: The gaffes he can’t walk back

FOR THE last thirty-six hours or so, Mitt Romney has endured the slings and arrows of the outraged British press and the at least mild consternation of the British government over a decidedly lackluster performance on the first stop in his international tour.

He made the mistake of expressing what seemed to be serious doubts about the UK’s readiness to host the XXX Summer Olympic Games, in statements that angered the British media and cast a pall on his readiness to assume the world stage as president.

Romney dutifully walked back his assessment this morning on the “Today” show, proclaiming that, yes, England was ready after all. Enter the phrase “Romney walks back” in a Google search; you’ll find 98.7 million results, all the ones on the first page refer to his reversing himself on his Olympic pronouncement. “After being here a couple of days, it looks as if London is ready,” the Etch-a-Sketch king told NBC’s Matt Lauer.

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End of story? Hell no, but not for the reasons one might think. Romney’s Olympian mistake might be easy to overlook in isolation, but it joins the ever-expanding blooper reel of Romney gaffes, malapropisms and unforced errors that have formed the public perception of the narrative of the Romney campaign.

The Olympic thing was bad enough. What’s worse, and so far largely underreported, is the other gaffe, the one with potentially deeper resonance, the unspinnable assessment that shows how, as Ana Marie Cox of the Guardian observed today on MSNBC, “it’s hard to apologize to people you don’t even care about.”

Romney’s Olympic misstep, it seems, was preceded by a more developed expression of how he feels about England. Some of his comments on the UK made their way into “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness,” his 2010 book. One of the more offending quotes, excerpted yesterday in the British media, would seem to be dispositive about how the candidate really feels about the UK:

England is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn't make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy. And if it hadn't been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler's ambitions. Yet only two lifetimes ago, Britain ruled the largest and wealthiest empire in the history of humankind. Britain controlled a quarter of the earth's land and a quarter of the earth's population.

The Daily Kos reported today that in 2007, in the runup to the 2008 presidential election, Romney said:

“The question is whether we're going to become a stronger nation leading the world or whether we're going to follow the path of Europe and become a second-tier military and a second-tier nation.”

“I do not want to go the way of England and Canada when it comes to health care,” he said, in response to another question.

UK to Romney: Well. At least we know where we stand.

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COMMENTS LIKE that in the context of presidential aspiration are hugely destructive to the Romney brand, which has been destroying itself for months. But they’re a problem for another reason. Those statements — fully processed and articulated (if not exactly reasoned, since there’s little reason behind them) and presumably vetted by editors, lawyers, handlers and Romney himself — are something the Republican candidate can’t walk back. They're an expression of what Mitt Romney believes.

The gaffe about Olympic preparedness is, in and of itself, not an insurmountable cockup; Britons have privately and publicly aired those logistical concerns already. Romney’s earlier written and rhetorical assessments of the United Kingdom as an historical entity on the world stage are a lot more problematic.

They suggest a fundamental indifference toward that “small island” whose history surpasses that of the United States by centuries, and whose common-law underpinnings were the basis of much of our own judicial system.

Romney’s unwise revelation of having met with the head of British intelligence, made moments after concluding a face-to-face with Prime Minister David Cameron, underscores in breathtaking fashion just how tone-deaf Romney is to the subtleties of statecraft and politics at the global scale. Connected to his writing and to the previous comments, it all strongly suggests that this candidate for the American presidency doesn’t take America’s most reliable and enduring international partner very seriously.

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The Romney tour moves on, wheels down in Israel just hours from now. The campaign is certainly hoping for better weather, politically speaking. But they’re already behind the 8-ball; a few hours ago, President Obama signed into law the U.S.-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act.

“[B]y highlighting his administration’s commitment to Israel’s security only hours before Romney arrives in Jerusalem, Obama is signaling that he plans to cede no ground when it comes to Israel and the debate over how his administration has treated it,” The Christian Science Monitor reports.

Your move, Governor.

Image credits: Romney: NBC News. No Apology book cover: © 2010 St. Martin's Press. Mail front page: The Mail Online (UK).

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