If we are to err as Americans on any side in our critique of other countries, it should be in the direction of being...
Mitt Romney lurched through his trip overseas from gaffe to gaffe--making himself a lightening rod for mockery in London when he publicly questioned the city's readiness for the Olympics, then praising socialized medicine for keeping so many Israeli citizens healthy at such a low cost compared with this country (hey, why don't we try that here? . . . oops!). He wound up his tour of the Middle East backpedaling frantically, denying what he said about Palestinian cultural inferiority being responsible for the territories' economic hardships.
This last remark, which Palestinian officials immediately denounced as racist, was the most revealing.
Remember that, as Romney's started his tour abroad, one of his foreign policy advisers told a British paper that Romney understood America's "Anglo Saxon heritage" better than Obama, who
"didn't fully appreciate" the special kinship between England and the United States.
That coded racial slur, an important part of the Republican campaign strategy, formed a neat bookend with Romney's comments at the end of his trip about how some cultures are superior to others.
“Culture makes all the difference,” Romney told a friendly crowd at a fundraiser in Jerusalem. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”
He went on to riff on the differences in culture between the United States and Mexico, Chile and Ecuador--other places, where, presumably, a culturally superior people are economically dominant over their culturally inferior neighbors.
As much outrage as Romney managed to provoke abroad with his Ugly American routine, citizens of the United States should be the most worried.
The writing is on the wall.
Romney's thoughtless and inconsistent embrace of Republican free-market canards, combined with his dismissal of the struggles of the economically disadvantaged as somehow due to their inherent inferiority tells you all you need to know about how his administration would govern.
The Olympics gaffe, featuring Romney strutting about managing a Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, forgetting that his whole trip was supposed to showcase his skills at diplomacy, was a mere sideshow. (Although, admittedly, an entertaining one, especially when Prime Minister David Cameron shot back that "of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.")
Romney's real business in London was the $2 million he raised in fundraisers with the heads of the very same banks that are embroiled in the LIBOR scandal--raising the money while promising even less regulation than the anemic checks the banks currently face in the United States.
Promising to deregulate the financial industry in the midst of a scandal in which the banks thwarted regulators, offending our biggest ally, setting off sparks in the Middle East. Yup, Mitt had quite a trip.
Romney's disastrous trip exposes how little he really knows or cares about his own political ideology. He's just cruising along on his money and a vague notion of cultural superiority.
Too bad he left London before the Olympic Opening Ceremonies, featuring a tribute to the British national health care system. It would have been interesting to hear him react. After all, he helped craft Romneycare before Obamacare became the Republicans' public enemy number one.
Can you imagine an American Olympic tribute to our health care system? It might look a bit like the Industrial Revolution segment of the most recent pageant, with health insurance executives in top hats denying coverage to the sick and dying, while the uninsured scramble underfoot.
Romney managed to make a health care gaffe anyway. He couldn't help observing that Israel spends just 8% of its gross domestic product on healthcare, and is a "pretty healthy nation."
In the United States, by contrast, "We spend 18% of our GDP on healthcare," Romney pointed out. "Ten percentage points more. That gap, that 10% cost, let me compare that with the size of our military. Our military budget is 4%. Our gap with Israel is 10 points of GDP. We have to find ways, not just to provide healthcare to more people, but to find ways to finally manage our healthcare costs."
How does Israel do it? With universal, national health care funded by taxes, managed by the government. All citizens are required to buy into one of a handful of available plans. Uh oh.
Romney's handlers must be relieved to have him back in the United States where they can keep him on a tighter leash.
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Republicans For No Health Care."
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter