Quote of the Day: Romney Says Culture, Providence Explain Israel's Success

Critics accuse him of racism, but the comment appears to just be an awkward commentary on economic success.


Gaffe or not, it looks like Mitt Romney has another firestorm on his hands over comments made on his overseas trip. Although he's moved on to Poland, remarks he made in Israel are causing a kerfuffle. Here's a snip of what he said, with emphasis added:

But then there was a book written by a former Harvard professor named The Wealth and Poverty of Nations .... [H]e says, if you could learn anything from the economic history of the world it's this: culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference. 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. One, I recognize the hand of providence in selecting this place.

The Romney campaign seems worried, as it blasted a transcript out this morning, offering "the FULL context of Gov. Romney's remarks." And it's easy to see why. A charitable reading -- such as the one advanced by my colleague Max Fisher -- is that Romney was simply commenting on the remarkable economic success that Israel has enjoyed over the last half-century, moving from a nation of similar status to its neighbors to a powerhouse, even as surrounding Arab nations fell behind. If that's the case, Romney perhaps worded it poorly, but Barack Obama is hardly immune to inarticulate phrasings. Less charitable commentators are furious, pointing out that assigning cultural superiority to some nations and not to others would form a dangerous basis for conducting a foreign policy and open a door to racism. After all, the idea that certain cultures were inherently better than others was a key basis for European colonialism.

The truth is probably closer to the former, though that doesn't make the statement unproblematic. While Israel's economic success is clear, it's goes without saying that it's impossible to make an apples-to-apples comparison between Israel and the occupied, frequently blockaded, non-sovereign Palestinian rump state. (Romney also understated the size of the GDP gap). And Romney's suggestion that providence is responsible may be a questionable basis for policy, but it's not out of line with comments by many American evangelical leaders.

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David A. Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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