Beyond the gaffes, Romney misleads and veers right

By David Rohde
August 3, 2012

In presidential races, the gaffes get the headlines, but the prepared texts and advisers are more telling. Mitt Romney’s widely reported blunders in his three six-day trip to Britain, Israel and Poland dominated press coverage, but the candidate’s prepared comments and the aides who advised him were far more disappointing.

At a fundraiser in Jerusalem this week, Romney said that aspects of Israel’s culture explained why the average per capita income in Israel was twice that of the Palestinians. Within hours, Palestinian officials called the statement “racist” and accused Romney of ignoring the economic impact of Israeli’s military occupation of the West Bank, as well as $3 billion a year in American aid to Israel.

Romney could have dismissed the episode as a misunderstanding. But instead he stood by – and expanded – his argument that culture is why Israelis were wealthier than Palestinians.

“In some quarters, that comment became the subject of controversy,” Romney wrote in an opinion piece published in the National Review on the final day of his trip. “But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture?”

He went on to expand his line of thinking to the United States, saying that several aspects of American culture made it “the greatest economic power in the history of the earth.” One, though, stands out.

“The American economy is fueled by freedom,” Romney wrote. “Free people and their free enterprises are what drive our economic vitality.”

Throughout the trip, Romney used the same tired rhetoric. In Poland, he hailed “economic liberty.” in Jerusalem, he said Israel and America “share in “the reward of economic freedom.” Throughout the trip, he stuck to a simplistic narrative that America’s greatness is unrivaled in human history and one sinister force – and one alone – is destroying it: big government

At the fundraiser where he made the remarks that angered Palestinians, Romney also repeatedly referred to a book written by one of his foreign policy aides titled Start Up Nation, which hailed Israel’s fast-growing high-technology industry but gave a cynically selective description of its findings.

The book, in fact, argues that culture is one of several factors that combined to create Israel’s high-tech boom. A central force is a government entity: the Israeli army, which conducts research and creates a culture that has fueled entrepreneurship. (Yes, a government entity, apparently, can foster entrepreneurship.) The book says that government funded R&D and research universities are vital as well. And one reviewer warned that Israel’s high-tech growth could lead to a bubble if the country does not address its long-term economic challenges.

Beyond his misleading description of the book, Romney ignored rising income inequality in Israel and Poland – a major issue in the American election. Poland has one of the highest income inequality rates in Europe and an astonishing 15-year differential in life expectancy between Warsaw’s poorest and wealthiest districts, the Guardian recently reported.

The Solidarity trade union – which Romney lavishly praised in his speech – criticized him for supporting “attacks on trade unions” and refused to meet with Romney. Last year, the union held nationwide demonstrations protesting rising income inequality.

In Israel last September, 450,000 people demonstrated against rising inequality in what was believed to have been the largest protest in the country’s history. Critics of Israel’s conservative government say its Republican-style laissez-faire policies boosted economic growth but have given a handful of families control of 30 percent of Israel’s economy, from banks to supermarkets.

Romney’s foreign trip is further proof that, despite the primaries being over, he is not moving to the center. The foreign policy aide who was the driving force behind his trip to Israel – and the author of Start Up Nation – is Dan Senor, a former official in the administration of George W. Bush and best known for cynically downplaying the chaos in Baghdad as spokesman for L. Paul Bremer. (I experienced this firsthand while covering the invasion of Iraq in 2003.)

“Under real-world rules, Dan Senor should not be anywhere near Mitt Romney’s foreign policy inner circle,” Time’s Massimo Calabresi wrote this week. “If there is a foreign policy moment in the last 20 years with which an adviser should not be prominently associated, it is the Bremer era in Iraq, during which Rumsfeldian incompetence and willful ignorance produced an era-defining foreign policy failure.”

Willful ignorance was on display throughout Romney’s trip. Yes, President Obama twists facts as well, and together both candidates are producing what David Brooks correctly called this week the “dullest campaign ever.” But Romney’s tired rhetoric, omissions and hubris on the world stage were disappointing. He played to the far right, grossly exaggerated his “culture” point and tried to make it a wedge issue in foreign policy.

Like it or not, simplistic narratives about our innate greatness are not answers to the global economic forces battering our nation.

Outside the U.S., American economic power is increasingly viewed as in decline. A June Pew survey of global public opinion found for the first time that more people believe China is the world’s leading economic power rather than the United States. In truth, the American economy is still twice the size of China’s, but the credibility of China’s state-capitalist model is growing.

Would Romney argue that the Chinese government’s economic policies have made that country an economic laggard? Would he urge Norway’s central bank to hand over management of its $593 billion sovereign wealth fund – one of the best-run in the world – to American bankers? Would he travel to South Korea and tell the government to stop the export subsidies to industry that have given Asia’s 14th-largest country its fourth-largest economy?

It is right to believe in free markets, and there is a great deal of evidence of their benefits. But it’s naïve and wrong to think that all economic success is attributable to free markets, unfettered capitalism and our exceptional culture. Even before our economy collapsed, that kind of argument got you laughed off the world stage.

We need to look outward, not inward. We need to partner with and learn from foreign countries, not use them as campaign props. And we have to talk honestly, not offer tired platitudes and sly omissions – even if we’re running for president.

(Correction, August 3: This piece originally misstated the length of Mitt Romney’s trip overseas.)

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivers foreign policy remarks at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem, July 29, 2012.   REUTERS/Jason Reed

 

19 comments

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This is a good op-ed that hits on a very disturbing trend here in America, a trend that could very well guarantee America’s decline in the world. Political rhetoric is moving further and further from reality, yet it’s the political rhetoric that people are believing. It’s becoming America’s reality, and as long as we continue fooling ourselves about how things work in the world, ignoring how things really did work for us here in America, things will continue to fall apart for us Americans.

Romney talks out of his butt continuously. He’s trying desperately to appeal to the extreme right and the extreme right isn’t particularly concerned with reality. For example, the Tea Party, named after the Boston Tea Party incident where Americans were protesting taxation without representation, wants to impose exactly what the original Tea Party was protesting. Increasingly, the right is rejecting democracy. They are running candidates on the platform of no compromise, which is intrinsic in a functioning democracy. Their tactic is to either get what they want, or to keep everyone else from getting anything THEY want. So they keep a majority of Americans from being represented in our government.

Look what this false rhetoric did for us in Iraq. All the deaths, all the destruction, and all the debt. And everything we were told about the threat Saddam’s Iraq posed to the US and what it would take to quash that threat were either lies or just wrong information. And yet few on the right will still admit that it was a mistake. Can you imagine what would be done to Barack Obama if everything was the same except it was Obama carrying out the invasion of Iraq? He’d most likely end up impeached, removed from office, and probably end up behind bars. But it was okay for Bush, a Republican, to do it. Romney will be no different.

Look at all the lies that have been told about Obama. He wasn’t born in the US; he’s a Muslim; he’s a socialist; he has a plan to confiscate our guns; he ignored US soldiers during a trip to Afghanistan; he issued an order allowing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to resettle in the US. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on and on and on. Heck, one survey showed that 25% of Republicans believed that Obama might be the anti-Christ. People like Karl Rove and other rightwing operatives love this kind of stuff, but they’re sacrificing our nation’s future for their own personal immediate gains.

Our government’s entire fiscal policy is based on a bogus economic theory that if you drastically cut taxes for the rich and deregulate all our industries, the US economy will prosper. The obvious question is, wasn’t our economy prospering just fine for the 40 years prior to implementing trickle-down economics? We switched from one economic plan, that made us the envy of the world, to another plan that has the world viewing us as being in decline. And yet half the country is hell-bent on staying on our declining course.

This can only be chalked up to an elaborate campaign of misinformation, also known as propaganda. This is the direction we’re going in and it gets considerably worse with each passing year. This will guarantee our demise unless we start insisting on better, more complete information, and our news media shares a big chunk of the blame. They’re afraid of alienating potential customers, so they pare everything down so that no information being presented makes the right look worse than the left, regardless of what’s really going on. Therefore, we don’t know what’s going on, and in the meantime sources like Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and FOX News fill in the blanks.

Posted by flashrooster | Report as abusive

“Romney talks out of his butt continuously. He’s trying desperately to appeal to the extreme right and the extreme right isn’t particularly concerned with reality.”

That my Friends in a nut shell is it !!!!

Mr R., Maybe it’s time to thow away the “Speech Writers” and tell us what’s REALLY on your Mind. we can see through your THIN veneer !!!!!!!!!! get rid of the FLUFF and get down on the Mat. !!!! otherwise you will loose the election for sure.

Posted by Pangaea7 | Report as abusive

EXCELLENT ARTICLE…and most intersting comments on it…B

Posted by charlesebalfour | Report as abusive

Excellent article. Very well written. Thank you.

Posted by Adam_S | Report as abusive

“Beyond the gaffes, Romney misleads and veers right” could just as well have been written “beyond the gaffes, Obama misleads and veers left”. And therein lays the outright dishonesty of this article, and the dishonest praise it receives, because if Romney can be accused of putting forth nothing but empty rhetoric, then, honestly, Obama cannot be deemed to be far behind, but that’s one whole side of the spectrum of dishonesty that Rhode chooses to forget.

And, if as this article chooses to do, we allow ourselves to willingly fall for one side of the dishonesty spectrum, then we should all at least be willing to acknowledge that we’ve turned into shameless political activists for one side or the other as opposed to rational, thinking citizens and voters.

It is, in the end, not Romney or Obama, left or right, that matter; they will both be gone in ten years one way or another. It is the spirit in which this country was founded and our responsibility as Americans, and whether we assume it this time around in November, that will define America’s future and the country we bequeath our children, and that is a thousand times more important than Rhode’s political likes or dislikes.

We can venture to compare the US with the successes of China or Norway; let us not pretend, or let others forget, however, that it is the US that both Chinese and Norwegians, and everyone else for that matter, still aspire to emulate; and let’s once and for all recognize that our Founding Fathers, our fathers and grandfathers must have done something right to get us where we are. And if so, let’s make sure we preserve that recipe for our children and grandchildren.

Posted by CAL59 | Report as abusive

Of the current crop of politicians none are worth the keys to the White House, including the buffoon now occupying it.

Posted by sjtom | Report as abusive

Mitt Romney will be the next President of the U.S. – this is the inconvenient truth. Many Reuters “commentators” are obviously democrats but this will not improve the re-election chances of Barack Hussein Obama. What Mitt Romeny wants is to put America first, the few true friends of U.S. second, and the rest of the world last – preferably out of sight.

Posted by Jaysonrex | Report as abusive

“Beyond the gaffes, Romney misleads and veers right” could just as well have been written “beyond the gaffes, Obama misleads and veers left”. And therein lays the outright dishonesty of this article, and the dishonest praise it receives, because if Romney can be accused of putting forth nothing but empty rhetoric, then, honestly, Obama cannot be deemed to be far behind, but that’s one whole side of the spectrum of dishonesty that Rohde and his fans choose to forget.

And, if as this article chooses to do, we allow ourselves to willingly fall for one side of the dishonesty spectrum, then we should all at least be willing to acknowledge that we’ve turned into political activists for one side or the other as opposed to rational, discerning citizens and voters.

It is, in the end, not Romney or Obama, left or right, that matter; they will both be gone in ten years one way or another. It is the spirit in which this country was founded, that clearly worked and turned the US -as opposed to China or Norway- into a land of opportunity, and our responsibility as American voters -and whether we assume it this time around in November- that will define America’s future and will either continue to shape or continue to disfigure the country we inherited and the one we bequeath our children.

That is a thousand times more important than Rohde’s political biases, likes or dislikes.

Posted by CAL59 | Report as abusive

The life span of dominant world powers has been shrinking since the Greeks. Perhaps it’s time for the U.S. to start to prepare for post-super power status?

Posted by dragoon | Report as abusive

if big government and extensive regulation are the answer (the opposite of what Romney is calling for as per this editorial), then it would be interesting to get the author’s view on why countries like Greece and Italy are in so much trouble?

Posted by USA4 | Report as abusive

Typical GOPTr sleaze sham! Greece and Italy don’t have either ‘Big Government’ or extensive regulation! Both governments have catered to public demand to win reelection or stay in power and both are riddled with graft and corruption; is’ been estimated that 86 percent of Greeks bribe the tax collectors to lower their tax bill. Italy’s government also has been repeatedly slammed by Cabinet level bureaucrats’ resignations over charges of graft and corruption with industry.
Extensive regulation – NOT
Big Government – NOT

Posted by JBltn | Report as abusive

Excellent! Bravo! Diplomacy training for Romney – who can do it in 4 months just in the event!

Posted by slnsimhan | Report as abusive

A major problem in America today is that many Americans live in denial of the changes going on around them. We deny our political system has flaws, we deny our tax system is destroying the middle class, we deny we need gun control, we deny our citizens need proper healthcare and other social services, we deny we are facing economic decline if we don’t address education and our infrastructure and we deny other countries have intelligence and ideas. It is time to embrace change and move forwards rather than seeking comfort in memories of the past!

Posted by abkisa | Report as abusive

Excellent article and right on target. Thanks!

Posted by widollar | Report as abusive

the gop has only two agendas – both spoken in private only:
1. eliminate taxes on the wealthy and large corporations.
2. eliminate all public programs.
nothing else matters. all else they say is just lip service, smoke and mirrors. what the rest of us propose is to return to tax rates they have already paid, before 1980, and between 1994 and 2000. that is not an increase, just giving back the lucrative breaks given by reagan and bush2. they were wealthy then they will still be wealthy. America is not an oligarchy yet and i trust that the 99% will understand it cannot become one, and that their votes will always outnumber the gop. but we have to vote! they have at most 25% of the population that swallow everything the gop, fox, & the radio bobble heads say.
abortion? didn’t the gop have all four branches of govt in total control for 6 years? why then was nothing done about roe v wade, or for that matter a balanced budget, deficit control, social security, medicare, medicaid, healthcare? for the answer see #1&2 above. smoke and mirrors – wake up before they ruin this country – they came much too close the last time they were in control.

“My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.” Ronald Reagan

Posted by jcfl | Report as abusive

“At a fundraiser in Jerusalem this week”,

That may be the ultimate in describing a political process that doesn’t represent or reflect the will of it’s own citizens. Anyone not tied to global business or big money is irrelevant. It is a political process that is not at all accountable to domestic concerns.

The electorate really is little more than sheep to be fleeced.

It may be a global world and culture but the bills it incurs are still paid by the locals.

Israel is a foreign power. This kind of foreign fundraising appeals only to politicians concerned with what is good for their own bank accounts. Israel doesn’t permit the occupied territories to vote in Israeli elections, so why does the US allow Israelis, or any other foreign citizen to vote in ours?

If it isn’t possible to restrict voting rights to people who live in, have citizenship rights and are within the taxing jurisdiction of the local, state and federal governments (all three, not one or the other, and have no other citizenship rights in any other country), than it is fair to say that there is no such thing as national citizenship anymore and the world is one large corporate government with no real political rights for the national inmates, that is unless the can’t pay for them with donations to corrupt candidates and governments.

Romney just announced with his fundraising that the US is a fascist regime and the citizens are an inconvenient overhead item.

And it is obvious that such fund raising will never be voted illegal because it is too good for the beneficiaries – the political classes.

I won’t vote for any of the candidates this time. I’d be a stupid tool that only deludes myself I’m participating in a legitimate democratic process. I’m not going to waste the gas – that only benefits a multinational corporation anyway – and act like I think my vote is anything more than a blue finger. It sends the wrong message that I think the process is legitimate. TO HELL WITH IT and to hell with them?

I’ll collect my food stamps (maybe?), and wait until the powers that be send me a suicide pill (by certified mail –no return receipt requested) and remove myself from the nation’s welfare rolls. They only want my house anyway. There doesn’t appear to be any employment around here anyway and I am getting too old and tired to work now. If the level of political discussion and insight I see in my neighbors is any indication, they wouldn’t know what was happening to them anyway. Most of them are chronic drunks.

I have never spend more time reading about national and international affairs in my life and I have never been so certain it was a waste of time

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

I will refer Mr. Romney and his advisers to read “Why Nations Fail” by Acemoglu & Robinson to know that prosperities and economic successes are more intertwined with the policies and politics of a people, and neither culture, geography nor color plays any significant role, if at all.

Posted by 0okm9ijn | Report as abusive

excuse me – my eyes- …no political rights unless they can pay for them …

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

another excuse me – I didn’t mean to say that foreign nationals are allowed to vote (I never thought they could but I’m beginning to wonder) in domestic elections but that they should not be allowed to donate to campaigns of any other nation’s candidates where they aren’t also citizens of that country.

If this is the new global order, than the UN – but with a completely redesigned legislative structure that is far more representative of the majority of the world’s population – should be the global government and it should also have the power to levy direct taxation on the entire population of the planet. It should also have the power to levy income taxes on international corporations.

If the citizens of the countries of the world are going to be trapped in states that render most of them irrelevant to the political process than it is only fair that their masters pay the costs of their dominance.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive