Mutt Romney

The crassness of Mitt Romney continues to amaze Europeans. (It also amazes some Americans, but a surprising proportion of their electorate seems to think that he might be a serious contender for President.) Before his European and Middle East trip the idea that he might win in November was scary enough. Now, it looks like a nightmare or — as Maureen Dowd said in the NYT, “more like Munch’s ‘The Scream'”.

The strangest thing of all about Romney is that, as the saying goes, “there’s no there there”.

There’s a political joke doing the rounds in the US.

A liberal, a conservative and a Tea Party fanatic come into a bar.

Q: What does the barman say?

A: “Hi Mitt!”

Or, as Dowd puts it,

Wherever he went, whatever situation he was in, he remained frozen in himself. It was reminiscent of the stinging review of an Oscar Wilde lecture by Ambrose Bierce, who wrote that Wilde was a “gawky gowk” who “wanders about posing as a statue of himself.”

Dowd quotes a remark by Stuart Stevens [Romney’s Press spokesman] observation that “it’s easy to imagine Romney in the White House”. “I can visualize him right now”, says Dowd, “lapidary and frozen, in the Rose Garden. A statue of himself”.

Romney was annoying and gaffe-prone in London, but that was small beer compared to his irresponsibility in Israel where he effectively egged on the Israelis to launch an attack on Iran and made some unbelievably stupid comparisons between the innovativeness of Israeli high-tech industry and the alleged backwardness of the Palestinians. “As you come here”, he said at a $25,000-a-head fundraising dinner in Jerusalem,

and you see the GDP per capita for instance in Israel which is about $21,000 and you compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality.

He then went on to cite what he sees as the unique factor in this contrast. ”Culture makes all the difference” he said, a phrase that was immediately — and understandably — interpreted as racist, and not just by Palestinians.

As usual, Romney got his facts wrong. According to the World Bank, Israel’s per-capita GDP was about $31,000 in 2011, while the West Bank and Gaza’s was just over $1,500. And he conveniently ignored the fact that the West Bank and Gaza are territories which are effectively being throttled by Israel.

Romney’s observations about the differences between Israeli and Palestinian economic success emanate from a crass (mis)reading of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years. In an excruciating dissection of Romney’s errors in yesterday’s NYT, Professor Diamond writes:

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 difference in the success of the people that live there. There is iron ore on the land and so forth”. That is so different from what my book actually says that I have to doubt whether Mr Romney read it.

But, says Diamond, “that’s not the worst part”.

Even scholars who emphasize social rather than geographic explanations — like the Harvard economist David S. Landes, whose book 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.