Hearing the dog whistles in Romney's foreign tour 'gaffes'
Former Governor Romney’s diplomatic tour has thankfully come to an end, and while many may agree with Rep. Cummings that Romney is “not ready for prime time,” at least one of Romney’s Olympic-style gaffes may in fact pay some political dividends in the U.S.
Romney’s competency as a politician has been in question since the Republican presidential primaries. Over the course of his recent 3-country campaign tour, his skills as a diplomat seemed woefully underdeveloped. The cynics among us must be wondering how any campaign could have flubbed so many simple diplomatic situations. Criticizing Britain’s preparedness for the Olympics in the immediate run-up to the games seems idiotic, unless there is something to be gained via some constituency here at home. Clumsily entering into one of the most complex historical and religious regions in the world and making unsophisticated judgmental claims about culture is downright dangerous – unthinkable, even – unless there is something to be gained here at home.
Romney’s inability (and unwillingness) to simply apologize for these missteps signals a deeper, more contrived reasoning or strategy beneath the surface.
As many of the constituents among Romney’s conservative base believe that Europe is “to the left of the left” in America, there may be those who cheered Romney’s disrespect of Great Britain’s preparation for the games. Others are deeply invested in the George W. Bush era’s sense of national arrogance and isolationism, which has been repeatedly invoked, albeit subtly, by the Romney campaign and by Romney himself. This is politics as usual. Even the most cynical reading of Romney’s U.K. miscues are not so far afoot from the kinds of political maneuvers and calculations that 21st century pols will make.
Romney’s comments about culture in Israel reflect a darker moment in this political season. You don’t have to be an expert on the historical challenges between the Israelis and Palestinians to appreciate the ultra-sensitive nature of the situation. Lives are literally at stake. To suggest that Israeli culture is inherently more economically viable than Palestinian culture pricks the raw, unhealed wounds at the core of the conflict. As some have noted, it also smacks of some all-too-familiar anti-Semitic sentiments about Jewish folk and business, or money matters, more generally. This was a double-edged gaffe that, at least according to most media responses, was ignorant and unfortunate. But for the most zealous Zionists, aren’t Romney’s comments comparable to the kinds of racial red meat so deliberately deployed by Romney’s opponents in the Republican presidential primaries? Those not-so-subtle dog whistles of a “food stamp president,” who could never be invited to Niggerhead, but who is always willing to give entitlements to “blah” people?
Romney’s cultural (and economic) bias will also play well amongst the Birthers – who not only believe that our President is not American and therefore not really our President, but also believe (like some 40 percent of conservative republicans) that Barack Obama is Muslim. For the Birther “movement” to have any meaning at all, its constituents must also believe that Islam is inferior to Christianity and that being Muslim is inferior to being a white American Christian.
Imagine Romney super-donor Sheldon Adelson’s delight at the prospect of his proven capacity to fund candidates who will in fact function as his own personal mouthpiece. In the final analysis, Romney’s mistakes pay huge dividends among a handful of some of his most important monetary supporters. It also does exactly what his campaign has been trying to do all along: pander to a small, racist base of the Republican party in order to construct a façade of authenticity that simultaneously ‘otherizes’ President Obama, and scores deeply cynical political points.
Dr. James B. Peterson is the director of Africana Studies and an associate professor of English at Lehigh University. Follow James on Twitter at @DrJamesPeterson