Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Romney should have stayed home

Mitt Romney's overseas trip had to be designed to add a bit of gravitas and foreign relations credibility to his resume. It hasn't worked out quite the way the strategists imagined.

If he never had opened his mouth on his tour of England, Israel and Poland, he might have been better off. Every time he delivered a speech or made casual remarks, it seems, he ended up with his foot in his mouth. He angered the mayor of London and the prime minister when he responded, frankly, that he wasn't sure that London was quite ready for the Olympic Games, citing some snafus regarding security. Then he upset Palestinians when he referred to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (the United States recognizes Tel Aviv as the capital) and then suggested that "culture" explains Israel's higher standard of living compared to the Palestinian territories. In Poland, his spokesman shouted vulgarities at the press corps, adding to the campaign's bad publicity.

In defense of Romney, there was good reason to have doubts about whether London's security around the games was adequate, but a presidential nominee should be smart enough to hold his tongue over such concerns. And it is true that culture, broadly defined, contributes to economic vitality. Culture in this sense includes such things as a tradition of bribery and kickbacks, equality of opportunity, a fair and trusted justice system, and a work ethic that includes striving to move up in the world. Israel has that; the Palestinian territories and most Arab countries do not.

Even if he's telling the truth and making accurate observations, Romney is not making much headway in this trip. As November draws near, he might regret spending time in Europe while he was losing ground among U.S. voters.

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