Faint praise and public profanity at a "holy site" leave blot on candidate's last foreign campaign stop
Even if Obama's presidency has been a no-hitter in many ways, he sure scored at Berlin's Victory Column in 2008
I ALWAYS ENJOY A funny story, and yet I’m really glad that Mitt Romney wasn’t given permission to speak at the Brandenburg Gate (I wrote about it HERE) and subsequently decided to give those ungrateful Germans a miss altogether. The rest of his foreign campaign tour has been such a catastrophe that I can’t begin to imagine the collateral damage the man would have caused if he had been allowed to self-destruct in such a historically volatile venue. I wonder if “German-American friendship” could have survived the experience. I mean, just look what he has done to himself in Britain, Israel, and now Poland. It hasn’t done the rest of us any good, either.
It doesn't always have to be this way. Candidate Barack Obama’s visit to Berlin on July 24, 2008 was an inspiring experience. While he too was denied a podium at the Gate, he instead spoke in front of the nearby Victory Column to a crowd of 200,000, electrifying an entire nation like no other American politician since John F. Kennedy. The fact that most people here, yours truly included, now regard him as a disappointment of historic proportions is neither here nor there. The stunt paid off.
You can say all you want about Romney, but one thing is certain: When it comes to running a presidential campaign, he is no Obama. Romney’s downward spiral began in Britain last week. As Michael Tomsky of the Daily Beast writes,
It should be the easiest thing in the world for a presidential nominee: a trip to England. The mother country, the shared tongue, our firmest ally. And it should have been easiest of all last week, happening as it did on the eve of the Olympics. Just praise everything you see. Limn London as one of the world’s great cities, invoke the spirit of the British people that lives on from the glorious days of the blitz. Praise the bangers and mash and the pasties if you have to. Nothing to it.
Instead, Romney arrogantly insulted the UK’s preparations for the Olympic Games – which he was attending as a guest – and effortlessly managed to insult an entire nation, earning the nickname “Mitt the Twit” in a headline in the right-wing Sun.
In another bizarre incident, an adviser managed to flub praise for the "special relationship" and shared cultural heritage between the US and Britain with an anachronistic reference to Romney's "Anglo-Saxon" racial stock as opposed to that of Mr. You-Know-Who. While that might not have been the deliberate intention, the rhetoric was too close to the old language of scientific racism for comfort. The British sure understood the dog whistle, even if Romney's American supporters tried to play innocent.
In Israel he pandered to the Likud hard right – as well as American conservatives and fundamentalist Christians – by glibly trashing decades of US foreign policy and calling occupied Jerusalem the capital of the Jewish State and essentially giving Prime Minister “Bibi” Netanyahu a green light to nuke Iran, while bizarrely praising Israel's socialistic state care system. He also offended the entire Palestinian people, claiming that their underdevelopment was caused by “culture” and not by generations of war and occupation. He even said their standard of living was half that of Israelis, whereas it is in reality a mere twentieth of what Israelis get. He was preaching to the peanut gallery, of course, but his remarks hardly indicated an instinct for diplomacy.
Romney won't be getting the British vote
So after being chastened by these gaffes and provocations, you might think Poland would be a cinch. All he had to do was to keep his mouth shut and smile a lot, as he should have done in Britain.
Actually, things started off well enough, with a visit to the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk and a meeting with former Solidarnosc union leader and ex-president Lech Walesa, an Obama critic, who gave him a courteous welcome. In a speech in Warsaw today, Romney said, “I think we must be faithful to those who are loyal to America,” referring to Poland’s participation in the disastrously unpopular Afghan War. “Solidarity was a great movement that triggered the nations. Solidarity is what will help Poland and the United States to meet the challenges of the future.”
But whatever enthusiasm the Poles might ever have felt for Obama’s contender had cooled long before his plane’s tires hit the runway. The Solidarnosc trade union, which once faced down the Soviet colossus, disassociated itself from the business-friendly Republican with his message of “freedom”: “In relation to Lech Walesa’s meeting with Mitt Romney, a candidate for President of the USA, I wish to inform that NSZZ ‘Solidarnosc’ is in no way involved in the organization of this meeting nor had the initiative to invite Mitt Romney to Poland,” wrote Andrzej Adamczyk, head of the union’s International Department.
Regretfully, we have learned from our friends in the American trade union central AFL-CIO, representing over 12 million workers, about Mitt Romney’s support for the attacks against trade unions and labor rights. In this respect, I wish to express, on behalf of the President of NSZZ ‘Solidarnosc’ Piotr Duda, our solidarity with American workers and trade unions. NSZZ ‘Solidarnosc’ will always support the AFL-CIO in their struggle for the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively.
But it’s not just Polish lefties who are skeptical. Even his supporters, who are many, are more polite than passionate about him. I’ve spent the morning perusing editorials in Poland’s top five daily papers and found not a single genuinely warm word for the candidate. Most dwell on his previous gaffes and remind readers that despite his pro-Polish and anti-Russian rhetoric ("without question our number one geopolitical foe"), a Romney presidency would be a bit of a non-starter for Poles. “A visit to Poland on Romney's part is certainly a nice gesture, but we should not give it too much importance,” is the best that Marek Magierowski of Rzeczpospolita could muster.
Well, so what? Romney isn’t expecting any votes in Warsaw and Poznan, but rather in Chicago and Buffalo, where - his advisers imagine - there are Polish-Americans waiting to be weaned away from the Democratic Party, and Catholics everywhere who were undoubtedly tickled by the confessing Mormon's genuflection before the memory of Pope John Paul II. But that might be a little harder now that Romney’s press secretary Rick Gorka told pushy American journalists to “kiss my ass” after a visit by Romney to the war memorial on Warsaw’s Pilsudski Square. “This is a holy site for the Polish people.” Gorka told another journalist to “shove it.” What a delightful way to show respect at “a holy site for the Polish people”! Not that any of his supporters will mind, of course.
It’s understandable why the journalists were demanding answers: After his London debacle, Romney abruptly stopped taking impromptu questions. But why should he bother when his staff is eager to commit gaffes all by itself?
At least he didn’t come to Berlin. If his European tour is any indication of what kind of President he would be, maybe he should give Washington a miss too.