Was Romney’s Culture Comment a Gaffe?

I am sympathetic to Shmuel Rosner’s claim that we should not call Romney’s argument about Israel, Palestinians, and economics a gaffe. Romney argued that Israel’s economic success is largely due to culture, and he has been widely criticized.

Rosner said that is not a gaffe:

But we have to be more precise about the ‎meaning of a gaffe in the political context in which Romney was speaking. The ‎political gaffe is the gaffe that might hurt the candidate – that might give his rivals ‎more ammunition for attacks against him. I’d be surprised if Romney’s blatant ‎assessment of Palestinian culture is going to hurt him politically. Americans don’t hold ‎Palestinian culture in high regard, and might agree with Romney. Americans tilting ‎towards voting for Romney (namely, Republicans and Republican-leaning ‎Independents) probably agree in even higher numbers with such a position.

I think he is correct by that standard.

But I think we should add another angle as well. Part of what people are communicating by calling it a gaffe is that Romney said something that offended people; it looked undiplomatic. First, he gets the British all in huff. Then he angers the Palestinians. If this a goodwill tour, where is the goodwill?

Now maybe a trip building goodwill is not a proper expectation. Maybe we need a president who can speak the truth abroad, not pander. But I suspect (that is, the following is totally speculative) many people look at Gov. Romney and wonder why he keeps pissing off foreigners when, as a candidate, he is supposed to make nice.

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One thought on “Was Romney’s Culture Comment a Gaffe?

  1. In as far as Romney’s words represent the missionary-imperial strand of American Christianity, they were certainly not misspoken. The use of the word ‘providence’ is the key here. As far as hurting him, it probably will not. It could even be a net positive for his image in the United States.
    I don’t think any meaningful portion of the Christian voting public will be offended, I don’t see any reason why Jewish and pro-Israeli voters will be put off, and the Palestinian and Muslim political constituencies in the United States are poorly organized by comparison.

    Given that it was intended as measured political speech, it suggests to me that a Romney presidency would be troubled by rhetorical missteps of the kind that plagued George W. Bush, e.g. the post-9/11 ‘crusade’ quote, at least until he begins employing more sympathetic handlers.

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