U.S. presidential hopeful Mitt Romney may be big with the Salt Lake City crowd but he’s clearly out of his depth away from his rah-rah followers. Tall, tanned and suited with the kind of finesse only money can buy, he certainly looks the part. But as my father always used to say, "don’t judge a man by the cut of his cloth." His problem is what comes out of his mouth — and what doesn’t. No wonder his campaign managers have been at their wits' end trying to reestablish what little credibility he has with American voters following his faux pas-strewn visits to the UK and Israel eliciting less than flattering headlines. They’ve got their work cut-out. The Obama camp is doing its best to paint Romney as an embarrassment, a man unfit to lead. When one remembers the rock-star-type adulation Obama received during his visits to Europe in the run-up to his inauguration — even if it turned out to be mostly undeserved given Obama’s backbone doesn’t match up to his rhetoric — they may have a point.
I mean what politician in their right mind crosses the Atlantic with the aim of courting Washington’s ally, the one with the oh so "special relationship," and goes on TV to criticize an event its prime minister calls “the Greatest Show on Earth” even before it's kicked off. If he imagined that David Cameron was his conservative soul mate, he was mistaken. The Olympics is austerity-ridden Britain’s international glory moment. The prime minister and London’s Mayor Boris Johnson weren’t about to allow some interloper with a tooth paste ad smile to cast aspersions on years of preparation without throwing barbs in his direction. It was easier to hold an Olympics in the “middle of nowhere” said Cameron alluding to Utah’s hosting of the 2002 Winter Olympics, a remark which invited a scathing riposte from the Mayor of Salt Lake City Ralph Becker, who offered Cameron a map “so he doesn’t run into trouble locating the middle of nowhere” and highlighted his city’s assets “that you’d be hard-pressed to find in London.”
That wasn’t, however, the first time that Romney has attempted to diminish Britain. He’s been quoted as saying it’s “just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn’t make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy.” That’s true. As millions of unemployed Americans have learned to their cost, as well as those now living in formerly bustling industrial heartlands now peppered with ghost towns, people everywhere are buying Chinese.
His gaffes didn’t stop there. He forgot the name of the Labour Party leader Ed Milliband so referred to him as “Mr. Leader”; thank goodness he didn’t say “Dear Leader.” He broke the mold of visiting presidential candidates by disclosing that he had met with the head of Britain’s secret service M16, an organization that traditionally keeps its meetings and activities under wraps. He announced that he was “looking out of Number Ten’s backside, a slang word that is used in the UK to denote an anatomical posterior not normally used in polite company. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the US was embarrassed “to have somebody that’s nominated by one of the principal parties to go over and insult everybody.” American Olympic veteran Carl Lewis said he shouldn’t be allowed to travel abroad.
One of his senior advisers lauded the US and Britain’s “shared Anglo-Saxon heritage” when both countries are known for their multiethnic, multicultural populations, a remark bordering on racist that didn’t go down well with President Obama according to reports — and provoked ire from Vice President Biden as well as White House adviser David Axelrod who characterized it as “stunningly offensive.”
One British Cabinet minister disclosed that even though the Conservative Party has a natural affiliation for Republicans, the Cabinet is rooting for an Obama electoral victory.
British newspapers weren’t amused. They’re ruthless. Woe betide any poor soul that they get their fangs into! The Sun printed the banner headline “Mitt the Twit.” The normally reserved Times dubbed him “Nowhere Man.” “Who invited party-pooper Romney?” asked the Daily Mail? In truth, Romney did Britons a favor. We’re not overtly patriotic. We’re not flag wavers. And moaning about the weather, the traffic, the government is almost a national sport. Interestingly, Mitt’s doubts about our ability to stage an impressive Olympics altered the focus of homegrown whiners and whingers now keen to see Romney proved wrong. And, indeed, he was. The opening ceremony was almost universally acclaimed as spectacular, quirky, a show that was uniquely British packed with the unexpected, such as Her Majesty’s acting debut with James Bond. The Romney campaign says Americans don’t care about the British press. Maybe not, but their own papers have also labeled Mitt as “incompetent” and “inexperienced.” The New York Daily News, for instance, has called the visit “flub-filled.”
Mitt’s begging-bowl trip to Israel hasn’t been gaffe-free either. He’s managed to infuriate Palestinians and Arabs by referring to Jerusalem as “Israel’s capital” where he’s pledged to relocate the US embassy were he to be elected. He’s been whispering sweet nothings in Benjamin Netanyahu’s ear about that evil place Iran. To cap it all, he told his potential funders this piece of inanity. “As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance in Israel which is about $ 21,000, and 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 such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality.” Wow! How incisive of him. Doesn’t he know that the Palestinians have been fighting to survive under occupation for over 60 years and have no control over their own borders or air space? Is he a klutz (to use an apt Yiddish word) or not? Mitt may have won the smarmy embrace of Mr. Netanyahu and a lot more than a fistful of shekels to take home with him — but whether he can seduce the 68 percent of American Jews who still back Obama is yet to be seen.
The writer is a columnist at the Saudi-based Arab News, where this article was published on July 31, 2012