Romney world tour 2012: gaffepalooza
How is Mitt Romney's summer vacation going? Fine, except for frequent pauses to remove foot from mouth.
He began his "Look At Me, I'm a Statesman" overseas tour by offending the people of the United Kingdom. To put it mildly, Romney is no genius at reading the mood of an audience. But even he realized things were not going well when he saw tabloid headlines such as "Mitt the Twit" and "Nowhere Man."
Romney's offense — he said there were "disconcerting" signs that London might not be ready to host the Olympics — was silly but not inconsequential. It actually revealed quite a lot about how the candidate sees himself and his place in the world.
What Romney knows about running the Olympics is exceeded only by what Romney thinks he knows about running the Olympics. As Prime Minister David Cameron obliquely noted, staging the games in London isn't the same as staging them in Salt Lake City. British organizers are working amid the bustle of one of the great cities of the world, Cameron said, not out in "the middle of nowhere."
Such distinctions are lost on Romney, about whom it is becoming possible to make a few generalizations. He tends to be arrogant about his accomplishments and dismissive of those who, in his estimation, fall short. He does not regard disparities in circumstances as relevant. Anyone who falls short of his achievements must be insufficiently smart or not a hard worker, and perhaps suffers from some moral debility as well.
Thus it doesn't matter if you're operating within the context of a small, empty city or a big, crowded one. It doesn't matter if you are, say, the son of a wealthy corporate titan who became a prominent governor, or the son of a single mother who lives in public housing. Romney earned $250 million and has a dressage horse competing in the Olympics, and, therefore, you can too.
Some will accuse me of attributing views to Romney that I can't possibly know he holds. My response is that I base this on what I can observe, while working with limited information. I'll be happy to make a reassessment as soon as we get a look at those tax returns Romney is so determined to hide.
Even if you grant Romney's Olympic expertise, what in the world was he thinking when he reached London? Given the context, anyone trying to show how well he can represent his country abroad — in fact, any polite human being — would know to give an anodyne response about how great the city looks and how wonderful the games will surely be.
After being ridiculed by the British press and dismissed by London Mayor Boris Johnson as "a guy called Mitt Romney," the candidate left without even seeing his dancing horse perform. His next stop was Israel, where his mouth continued to outrace his mind.
Romney's purpose there was, and let's be honest, to pander. His aim was to cut into President Obama's big lead among Jewish voters, and he sought to do this by trying to sound more hawkishly committed to Israel's security without actually departing from Obama's policies, which are as pro-Israel as those of any U.S. administration.
Romney did this pretty well, for a while. He managed to win headlines by declaring that "any and all measures" should be used to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons — which is precisely the Obama position. When a foreign policy adviser, Dan Senor, suggested that Romney would support a unilateral Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, Romney stuck to his tough-sounding but vague position. Romney also promised to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — something George W. Bush promised in 2000 but never quite got around to doing.
But Romney strayed from the script at a fundraiser when he said that culture was a prime reason why Israel was so much more prosperous than the occupied territories under control of the Palestinian Authority. "I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things," Romney said.
Palestinians noted that one of those "few other things" is the decades-long Israeli occupation that strictly controls the movement of goods and people. Romney's riff on culture "is a racist statement," said Saeb Erakat, a longtime Palestinian official.
Romney wants to project bold confidence. Instead, he radiates blind certainty. All around the world, people can tell the difference.
Dana Milbank is on vacation. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.