When culture, context, and cowardice collide

Updated
 

Mitt Romney caused quite a stir this week, appearing at an Israeli fundraiser where he argued Palestinians have a weaker economy because of its “culture.” The comments have drawn sharp rebukes on both sides of the Atlantic and made an already-disastrous foreign trip even worse.

What’s more, as Kevin Drum explained this morning, it wasn’t a gaffe. “This was a deliberate pander to the conservative base in the U.S., which pretty strongly believes that the Palestinian culture is indeed corrupt, indolent, and sullen,” Kevin noted. “Romney knows this perfectly well. He was demonstrating once again, in a very concrete way, that he’s no RINO.”

Today, however, Romney insisted with Fox News that he didn’t say what he actually said.

“I’m not speaking about it, did not speak about the Palestinian culture or the decisions made in their economy,” Romney told Carl Cameron. “That’s an interesting topic that deserves scholarly analysis, but I actually didn’t address that. Certainly don’t intend to address that in my campaign. Instead, I will point out are that the choices that a society makes has a profound impact on the economy and the vitality of that society.”

As far as the Republican is concerned, the media is simply engaged in a coordinated effort to “divert from the fact that these last four years have been tough for our country.”

Apparently, Romney’s foreign screw-ups are the result of a pro-Obama media conspiracy.

As you might have noticed, there are a few problems with this.

First, when Romney told Fox he “did not speak about the Palestinian culture,” he’s simply not telling the truth. NBC’s Mark Murray and Garrett Haake, relying on the transcript released by the Romney campaign itself, published a report that removes all doubt. The presidential hopeful was talking about the relative size of national economies, and he made the direct connection to competing cultures.

It’s not even a close call. The relevant portion of the speech is a little long, but since Romney is denying the facts, it’s worth setting the record straight:

“I was thinking this morning as I prepared to come into this room of a discussion I had across the country in the United States about my perceptions about differences between countries. And as you come here and you see the GDP per capita for instance in Israel, which is about 21,000 dollars, and you compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority which is more like 10,000 dollars per capita, you notice a dramatic, 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. […]

“I noted that part of my interest when I used to be in the world of business is I would travel to different countries was to understand why there were such enormous disparities in the economic success of various countries. I read a number of books on the topic. One, that is widely acclaimed, is by someone named Jared Diamond called ‘Guns, Germs and Steel,’ which 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. And you look at Israel and you say you have a hard time suggesting that all of the natural resources on the land could account for all the accomplishment of the people here. And likewise, other nations that are next door to each other have very similar, in some cases, geographic elements. […]

“But then there was a book written by a former Harvard professor named ‘The Wealth and Poverty of Nations.’ And in this book Dr. Landes describes differences that have existed – particularly among the great civilizations that grew and why they grew and why they became great and those that declined and why they declined. And after about 500 pages of this lifelong analysis – this had been his study for his entire life – and he’s in his early 70s at this point, he says this, he says, if you could learn anything from the economic history of the world it’s this: Culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference. 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.”

Romney “did not speak about the Palestinian culture”? Please.

For that matter, it’s kind of amusing to hear the former governor suggest news reports had taken him out of context, given that his entire campaign message is based on rhetoric that’s been taken out of context.

As for Romney’s suspicion of a media conspiracy, it wasn’t news organizations’ fault when he insulted the British; it wasn’t news organizations’ fault when he misquoted the Australian finance minister; it wasn’t news organizations’ fault when his campaign kinda sorta gave the green light on a unilateral strike on Iran; it wasn’t news organizations’ fault when he used borderline-racist language at his Israeli fundraiser; it wasn’t news organizations’ fault when he praised a socialized health care system he claims to abhor; and it wasn’t news organizations’ fault when his press secretary said, “Kiss my ass. This is a Holy site.”

Take some responsibility, Mitt. Blaming the media is lazy and wrong.

Mitt Romney

When culture, context, and cowardice collide

Updated