Sunday, September 9, 2012

Political Aside #1: Salt, Sugar and Mittens Abroad

Preamble: As a scholar and researcher by training, I tend to write informed, but lengthy blog posts. Because finding what I consider the “right” material for my latest post has been challenging [not to mention my being distracted by the US Open], I have decided to intersperse shorter posts so no one thinks that I have dropped off the face of the earth.

All of these shorter posts will contain the word, “Aside” in the title. This is the first "Aside:"  a political, and personal, take on Mitt Romney’s ill-advised comments about the London Olympics.


A month-and-a-half ago, Mitt Romney embarked on a foreign tour that was intended to be “an elaborate show of statesmanship,” as Maeve Reston wrote in the Los Angeles Times on July 22.

Now, we all know how this tour turned out, with most reports bemoaning his several gaffes in Britain, Israel and Poland.  Liberal blogger and talk host Leslie Marshall, for one, noted that “this [trip] was not a great success for Poland, Great Britain, or even Israel.  This was not a great success for Romney and his presence representing our nation as a potential commander in chief, nor for America and our reputation worldwide.”  In her opinion, “Mitt Romney set us back with one ‘world tour’ all the while the cameras were rolling.”

Visual Commentary on Romney's World Tour

 Of all Romney’s gaffes, his comments regarding the London Olympics received the most press and inspired an avalanche of hilarious “tweets” under the hashtags #RomneyShambles and #MittHitsTheFan. Among some 25 listed in a HuffPost article were the following: 

  • Next up: Driving around London with the queen’s corgis on the roof. @brx0 

  • England! We’re sending you Michele Bachmann next. We’ve got a million of them! @RustyCannon 

  • This is what happens when you send Mitt Romney to a place where the trees aren’t the right height. @jefftiedrich 

  • Mitt has proven that only his money is fit to leave the US @HaggsBoson 

  • The trip was meant to make him look presidential... it made him look like Mr. Bean @jonberrydesign 

  • “Mitt Romney Goes to London” is the Best Comedy of the Year by Far. I Smell an Oscar! @TheNewDeal 

  • Dear Great Britain: Yeah. We know. Sorry. Welcome to our world. --Signed, America. @leenie909 

This same HuffPost article also quoted a commentator from the British Telegraph who wrote: "Mitt Romney is perhaps the only politician who could start a trip that was supposed to be a charm offensive by being utterly devoid of charm and mildly offensive."

Now, after this lengthy build-up, one may find Romney’s actual comments rather tame.  He was being interviewed by NBC News anchor, Brian Williams, who had asked Mitt about the Olympics, given the fact that his wife, Ann, had entered a horse in one of the equestrian events.   In his reply, after admitting little knowledge about that equestrian event, Mitt Romney said that he saw “disconcerting” signs of a lack of preparedness “both in the nation’s security preparations and the public’s enthusiasm for the games.”

Given Mr. Romney’s position as a candidate for President of the United States, his gratuitous comments were insulting and undiplomatic.  It took Prime Minister David Cameron little time to respond with his own dig at Romney (who had run the Winter Olympics of 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah): "We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world," the prime minister said, pointedly. "Of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere."

Visual Commentary: Romney Wins Gold

 Essentially, this is the extent of that particular gaffe.  Even Obama merely gave it one sentence in his Convention remarks:   “You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally,” he said.

Had Romney been smart and not taken the bait, his impolitic remark would have faded away.   However, Mitt felt obliged to respond to Obama by defending his comments as if they were perfectly acceptable: “I’m very pleased that my Olympic experience allows me to talk about the Olympics in a straight talk manner.”

And this is where my “Aside” becomes personal.   Romney made an error in judgement (and he made several others in his statements in London, due to the different meaning of a particular word in our separate usages).  All these would have been forgiven. He should have admitted his error and moved on; but the man seems incapable of such admissions as well as of shedding criticism.   So, he pretended that he was right and what he did was intentional.

I did something like this as a student in my early twenties while doing graduate research in Scandinavia.   I had learned enough Swedish to get by quite well, and my pronunciation was good enough so that the Swedes thought I was Finnish. The Finns tend to place more stress on the sing-song aspect of the language, as I also did.   Anyway, I was proud of my ability to mask my true nature as an American while abroad. When traveling in Denmark, I could actually pass as a Swede, which naturally pleased me even more.

One night while I was eating, alone, in a Copenhagen restaurant, I ordered coffee with my dessert.  When the coffee was served, I reached for the fairly large bowl in the middle of the table, scooped out a heaping tablespoon of its white contents, and stirred it in my coffee.   I didn’t pay too much attention to a person at another table who seemed to be looking at me with some curiosity. But then, I took a sip of my coffee and quickly discovered that I had laced it with salt!

The generic Salt Shaker for Americans

Typical Scale for an American Sugar Bowl (but not necessarily for sugar in Denmark)

Not wanting to blow my good Swedish "cover,"  I proceeded to drink the coffee, pretending this was the way I liked it.

This is what Mitt Romney is doing in regard to his London gaffe: He is claiming that the entire thing was intentional; and now he must drink his metaphorical coffee laced with salt from now until election day.

My cover-up was immature. I was caught in an error and then pretended that I meant it.   But then, I was twenty-something. Today, I would have smiled at that other diner, admitted my error, ordered another cup of coffee, and engaged him in conversation. Mitt Romney, mature as he is in age at 65, still responds to issues in immature ways:   he blames others;   he rarely admits his errors;   he frequently tells outright lies.

Do we really want such a man to be president of the United States of America?