Even before it began, a distracting etiquette gaff marred Mitt Romney’s trip to London. Were that not enough, he added a controversial pre-departure interview with The Daily Telegraph. In it he spoke of his special connection with the Brits because of our shared Anglo-Saxon heritage. To make certain that was clearly understood, an advisor added that The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have. Of course, its current occupant isn’t an Anglo-Saxon, which I would guess would explain the claimed disconnect. Here we go again, a not so thinly veiled code for what has become a recurring theme if not in, then certainly around, the Romney campaign. Of course, perhaps these statements aren’t meant as code but that, as suggested in an earlier post, Mitt is just out of touch — so clueless that he knows not of what he speaks. I don’t know what’s worse. You be the judge.
That brings me to the curious but also transparent Israel trip. Both presidential candidates have been raising money abroad, largely from ex-Pats and Mitt pulled in a pile of dough from a $2,500 a head gathering in London. But the trip to Israel was something else entirely. In what looked to me more like a United Jewish Appeal (UJA) mission for the well healed than a maiden trip abroad as the presumptive nominee, Romney actually brought the donors with him. The UJA mission type entourage was led by gaming king Sheldon Adelson, the GOP’s new super star sugar daddy (Frank Rich’s designation). 25% of the Jerusalem speech audience, one of the few he delivered, was made up of those American donors who had come to the Holy Land specifically to give Romney money.
If you don’t quite see this as a faux religious fundraiser, consider Romney’s remarks to the assembled. I am overwhelmingly impressed with the hand of providence, whenever it chooses to apply itself, and also the greatness of the human spirit, and how individuals [donors] who reach for greatness and have purpose above themselves are able to build and accomplish things that could only be done by a species created in the image of God. Wow, divine instructions to fill the candidates coffers and almost in sight of the Western Wall, newly stuffed with a Mitt prayer. This will certainly go down as one of the greatest fund raising props ever used by a candidate for the American presidency.
There was an unmistakable smell of pandering in the Romney visit — pandering combined with etch-a-sketch. The first came with Romney’s proclaiming his support for the military action rightist Israeli leaders talk so loosely and regularly about but which flies in the face of American policy. While leaving no option off the table, our current focus is on diplomacy and sanctions. It should be said that, red meat Republican rhetoric aside, most American voters are tired of wars and, based on recent experience, have good reason to wonder if they work.
Then came the comments true to what has become Romney’s etch-a-sketch MO It can be simplistically described as flip-flopping but more accurately is reflective of a man who seems totally lacking of conviction. Romney, as Massachusetts governor, signed what would become the model of the national Affordable Care Act. Then presidential candidate Romney disavows and vigorously denounces exactly what he signed into law. Finally, in full pandering mode, he tells an Israeli audience that they have healthcare that is superior to ours. Come again, Israel has universal health care with a mandate to boot. I can only paraphrase the question Joseph Welch asked Senator McCarthy nearly fifty years ago: have you no shame, sir?
The White House shouldn't feel singled out by that pre-London Anglo-Saxon remark. Romney it seems can’t help himself. At one point during his Israel visit, he drew a cultural differences distinction between Israelis and Palestinians suggesting that they accounted for the success of first and the lack thereof of the second. Forget that he then offered statistics that were inaccurate or that he ignored that one group ruled its own country while the other lived under military occupation. For the Palestinians there was no code involved, just a clear message which Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to President Mahmoud Abbas simply called racist. A really good start in foreign relations, Mr. Romney — a really good start.
Finally, again out of sync with US policy, Romney referred to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and promised to move our embassy there when he was president. Our bi-partisan policy is that the designation of a capital would have to await negotiations since both parties now claim it. But what struck me was that just days before Mitt set off for the Holy Land the New York Times carried an op-ed penned by Dani Dayan, Chairman of the Yesha Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria, the place most of us know as the West Bank. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Dayan, no relation to the fabled Israeli General, is a high tech entrepreneur who opposes a two state solution and, while secular, is a leader in the largely ultra-orthodox settler movement. As Tom Friedman points out in his column, Dani Dayan reads the Romney trip, and most especially the rise of influentials on the right like Adelson and Aipac, as a victory for the settlers. Indeed a Romney presidency would rekindle the rightist axis that existed between his host and former Boston Consulting colleague Bibi and the Bush-Cheney administration. Yes, Obama and Netanyahu aren’t warm pals, but under his presidency Israel has actually received more military aid than from any other. As I have written before, the single state solution far from strengthening the Jewish state is likely, in the long run, to destroy it.