Mitt Romney, Cultural Warrior


When Mitt Romney made an impolitic remark as he began his overseas effort at statesmanship last week, he explained it as the consequence of straight talk.

"I tend to tell people what I actually believe,” he said in response to the ruffling of British feathers caused by his doubt over whether the Olympics would run smoothly, expressed on the eve of his arrival in London.

It was an eyebrow-raising assertion, as one of the Republican presidential candidate’s chief liabilities is his perception as a flip-flopper – massaging his views on issues including abortion, health insurance mandates and immigration over the course of his political career.

But then Romney backtracked on his own steadfastness when later in his six-day trip he reversed course on controversial comments he made about the Palestinians.

At a fundraising breakfast in Jerusalem on Monday, he pointed to differences in culture as a key factor in disparities between the booming economy in Israel and the struggling economy under the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian political advisor Saeb Erekat quickly labeled the remarks “racist.”

The campaign and candidate’s first response was to accuse the media of taking the comments out of context.

He told Fox News that he “did not speak about the Palestinian culture or the decisions made in their economy. That''s an interesting topic that deserves scholarly analysis, but I actually didn''t address that.”

He continued, “Certainly I don''t intend to address that in my campaign. Instead, I will point out that the choices that a society makes has a profound impact on the economy and the vitality of that society."

Leaving aside whether he’s actually denying his denial in that last sentence, the first sentence only held for mere hours.

Less than one news cycle later, an op-ed under Romney’s name appeared on the National Review website title “Culture Does Matter.”

“What exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture?” he asked.

He also reiterated his statement at the fundraiser that Israel’s culture has been crucial to its success.

“Like the United States, the state of Israel has a culture that is based upon individual freedom and the rule of law,” he wrote. “It is a democracy that has embraced liberty, both political and economic. This embrace has created conditions that have enabled innovators and entrepreneurs to make the desert bloom.”

Another deeply embedded aspect of Israeli culture: straight talk.

- Hilary Leila Krieger