Mitt Romney made headlines recently for what he said about British preparation for this year’s Olympic Games. The real damage done by Mitt Romney, however, occurred in Israel where the presumptive GOP nominee really showed his ineptitude for international & national politics. Before his trip to Europe we heard from Romney surrogates about the candidates unique understanding of U.S.-U.K. relations due to his — and not the president’s — Anglo-Saxon heritage.
In the speech to Americans living in Israel Romney reiterated his belief in Israeli cultural superiority over Palestinians, and went so far as to compare that situation to one closer to home — that of the U.S. and Mexico. The speech, like the trip, has been billed to be Romney’s proving grounds for his suitability to hold the office of the president, and like other similar moments in this election cycle Romney failed… miserably.
The most disturbing elements of his speech in Israel — besides completely disregarding current U.S foreign policy objectives — was the candidate’s assertion that Israeli culture is superior and therefore more profitable and successful as a nation. The New York Times quotes Romney:
“Culture makes all the difference,” Mr. Romney said. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”
Israel’s culture, according to Romney is responsible, in part, for the “accomplishments of [its] people” while the “few other things” are left for you to figure out. I’m not the only one who heard this statement and thought that Mitt Romney stuffed his foot in his mouth once again. The White House and the Obama Campaign jumped on these comments saying they are against current U.S. policy and evidence that the former Massachusetts governor is unfit to be president.
Palestinians became infuriated at Romney’s comments noting that issues such as occupation of the West Bank and economic & military support from Western countries (namely the United States) has stunted the nation’s growth. The superior culture Romney cites — including the divine providence of the “chosen people” — is one of domination and apartheid.
Shortly after Romney “didn’t” say Israeli culture is superior to Palestinian culture, he compared that situation to the relationship between Mexico and the United States. While Romney’s comments regarding Israel & Palestine have garnered much deserved attention, his comments regarding Mexico’s culture have been relatively untouched. Here’s what Romney said according to the transcript obtained by the New York Times:
He added, “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.”
Mitt Romney concluded that Palestinian, Ecuadorian, and Mexican cultures are responsible for their current economic position. From Romney’s standpoint it has nothing to do with the illegal occupation being forced on Palestine, the hundred + years of U.S economic domination of Mexico, or the history of political instability in Ecuador since the mid-1990s. Rather, the issues facing these nations are blamed on what can best be described as the Romney version of the since debunked “culture of poverty.”
Romney cited two books in his speech, one of which is The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, by David S. Landes and while this book is lauded by many intellectuals as an important and well written history of European economic development, it cannot be transposed onto non-European nations. Landes’s work is highly Eurocentric and as UC-Berkley economist J. Bradford DeLong writes:
But [The Wealth of Nations is] a history oriented toward understanding the wealth and poverty of nations today must be Eurocentric. Goings-on in Europe and goings-on as people in other parts of the world tried to figure out how to deal with suddenly-expansionist Europeans make up the heart of the story of how some–largely western Europe and northwest Europe’s settler ex-colonies–have grown very, very rich.
Moreover, relative poverty in the world today is the result of failure on the part of political, religious, and mercantile elites elsewhere to pass the tests (rigged very heavily against them) of maintaining or regaining independence from and assimilating the technologies demonstrated by the people from Europe–merchants, priests, and thugs with guns in the old days, and multinationals, international agencies, and people armed with cruise missiles in these new days–who have regularly appeared offshore in boats, often with non-friendly intent. To try to tell the story of attempted assimilation and attempted rejection without placing Europe at the pivot is to tell it wie es eigentlich gewesennicht [translation: as it actually was not].
Romney disregards in his speech, as Landes disregarded in his book, the factors of imperialism in the under-development of nations. In response to Romney’s citing of The Wealth of Nations I offer a title: How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney. While not without its problems, Rodney’s book offers a non-Eurocentric critique of how European nations amassed their wealth. The processes Rodney describes in his book include the stolen labor of African slaves in the production of the so-called superpowers we know in the world today.
Suffice to say, it is more than “culture” that has caused the nations Mitt Romney derided to be where they are economically and politically. To say culture and providence is what underdeveloped Palestine, Mexico, and Ecuador, is a concerted effort to hide his own participation in the vulture style business tactics that have ruined so many of the world’s economies. It is also extremely offensive and racist to suggest a nation’s culture is what caused it to be economically and politically disadvantaged. I suggest Mitt Romney get better talking points if he is to mount a serious contest against President Obama in 2012 unless his sole line of attack is to gather all those who believe only Jewish people and their Anglo-Saxon protectors have the culture it takes to lead the world.
Since this post was published the author of the second book Romney cited has published an editorial in The New York Times saying that the candidate completely misread and misinterpreted his book. Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, called out Romney for his mischaracterization of the work. Here’s a small excerpt from the editorial:
It is not true that my book “Guns, Germs and Steel,” as Mr. Romney described it in a speech in Jerusalem, “basically says the physical characteristics of the land account for the differences in the success of the people that live there. There is iron ore on the land and so forth.”
Diamond goes on to question if Romney even read the book:
That is so different from what my book actually says that I have to doubt whether Mr. Romney read it. My focus was mostly on biological features, like plant and animal species, and among physical characteristics, the ones I mentioned were continents’ sizes and shapes and relative isolation. I said nothing about iron ore, which is so widespread that its distribution has had little effect on the different successes of different peoples. (As I learned this week, Mr. Romney also mischaracterized my book in his memoir, “No Apology: Believe in America.”)
Here’s the kicker. Diamond reasserts what I and MANY other scholars, activists, and just about anyone not living in Romney’s “Red Dawn” America, have stated: culture is not what determines success or wealth. Here’s Diamond’s take on Romney’s culture of poverty argument:
That’s not the worst part. Even scholars who emphasize social rather than geographic explanations — like the Harvard economist David S. Landes, whose book “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations” was mentioned favorably by Mr. Romney — would find Mr. Romney’s statement that “culture makes all the difference” dangerously out of date. In fact, Mr. Landes analyzed multiple factors (including climate) in explaining why the industrial revolution first occurred in Europe and not elsewhere.
Romney is not only trying to turn world politics back a few decades, he’s trying to do the same with our understandings of culture. Romney is wrong on foreign policy, and definitely wrong culturally. But, mostly, he is the WRONG choice for president.
Watch Mitt Romney’s speech below:
Here’s a funny take from the Daily Show via Pocho.com: