MoDo loves alliteration. In “Gadding of a Gawky Gowk” she addresses The Marble Man: Wherever Mitt goes, whatever he does, he’s always posing as a statue of himself. The Moustache of Wisdom has a question: “Why Not in Vegas?” He says Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel shows just how much of a wedge issue the Republican Party has made of Israel. It also shows what a gaffemeister Mittens is. Here’s MoDo:
Remember when Janice Soprano shot her fiance to death after he punched her in the mouth? Then she calls Tony to come over and help her. He mops up the blood and has his thugs chop up the body.
“All in all, though,” Tony tells his sister sincerely, as he drops her at the bus station, “it was a pretty good visit.”
By Sopranos standards, all in all, Mitt Romney had a pretty good visit overseas. But by political standards, it was more like Munch’s “The Scream.”
When Barack Obama went abroad in July 2008, searching for some foreign policy cred, European leaders smothered him with love and respect.
More than 200,000 Germans thronged to the Victory Column in Berlin, hailing him as “Redeemer” and “Savior.” In a joint press conference in Paris, a smitten Nicolas Sarkozy was so touchy-feely that even Obama looked a little embarrassed.
“You must want a cigarette after that,” I teased Obama on the plane to London later.
Poor Mitt Romney had no such magic carpet ride. He insulted the British and infuriated the Palestinians while pandering to the Israelis and American Jewish voters, including donors like the Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson who tagged along.
Egged on by some of the same neocon advisers who brought us the Iraq pre-emptive invasion, Romney offered “Go ahead, make my day” diplomacy, signaling he would support Israeli action to pre-emptively strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.
In an inadvertently hilarious grand finale in Warsaw, where Romney was pandering to American Catholics by dropping Pope John Paul II’s name every chance he got, his spokesman insulted the traveling press clamoring for a rare dollop of attention from the Republican contender.
Obama gave four press conferences and plenty of individual interviews when he went abroad as a candidate. But when reporters traveling with Romney mutinied as Mitt left a wreath-laying at a war memorial in Pilsudski Square, pressing on the gaffes and on why they were being shut out, campaign spokesman Rick Gorka shot back crudely that the press should kiss a part of his anatomy, noting incongruously: “This is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect.”
The true measure of how inglorious the trip was? Senior Romney strategist Stuart Stevens assured the press how glorious the trip was.
He took the cascade of chuckleheaded moments and tried to plant the crazy idea in our brains that they were a mark of Romney’s steadfast character.
“He has a tendency to speak his mind and to say what he believes,” Stevens said, “and whenever you do that, there will be those that disagree with you, and there will be those that agree with you.”
Romney himself tried the same silly spin with ABC News, telling David Muir when asked about the damaging headlines: “You know, I tend to tell people what I actually believe, and referring to the comments that were made in the media is something which I felt was an honest reflection of what was being concerned, or what was concerning folks.”
That quote is alarming on two levels: First, Romney never seems to say what he actually believes, and, second, he doesn’t seem to actually speak English.
Mitt’s foray showed some new colors, as he intended, but they were not flattering ones. We now know how little he knows about the world, how really slow on his feet he is, what meager social and political agility he has.
Wherever he went, whatever situation he was in, he remained frozen in himself. It was reminiscent of the stinging review of an Oscar Wilde lecture by Ambrose Bierce, who wrote that Wilde was a “gawky gowk” who “wanders about posing as a statue of himself.”
The odd odyssey underscored Mitt’s off-putting mix of opacity and insularity. Weren’t American elites once more worldly, like the Kennedys and the Harrimans? Romney was in the forefront of a revolution in American finance, he was the governor of an important state and he was an elder in the Mormon Church. But that’s all the stuff he doesn’t want to talk about, so we’re left with a narrow spokesmodel, banally handsome with an empty look; not like President Obama and Bill Clinton, where you always see the brain whirring behind the eyes.
Barack Obama created a character called Barack Obama, a remote, superior sort who comes down from the mountaintop during campaigns to assure us that he’s just like us.
Romney is not on the mountaintop. He’s here, mingling among us, present but absent. A fence wrapped around a wall.
Stuart Stevens is right when he says it’s easy to imagine Romney in the White House. I can visualize him right now, lapidary and frozen, in the Rose Garden. A statue of himself.
Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:
I’ll make this quick. I have one question and one observation about Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel. The question is this: Since the whole trip was not about learning anything but about how to satisfy the political whims of the right-wing, super pro-Bibi Netanyahu, American Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, why didn’t they just do the whole thing in Las Vegas? I mean, it was all about money anyway — how much Romney would abase himself by saying whatever the Israeli right wanted to hear and how big a jackpot of donations Adelson would shower on the Romney campaign in return. Really, Vegas would have been so much more appropriate than Jerusalem. They could have constructed a plastic Wailing Wall and saved so much on gas.
The observation is this: Much of what is wrong with the U.S.-Israel relationship today can be found in that Romney trip. In recent years, the Republican Party has decided to make Israel a wedge issue. In order to garner more Jewish (and evangelical) votes and money, the G.O.P. decided to “out-pro-Israel” the Democrats by being even more unquestioning of Israel. This arms race has pulled the Democratic Party to the right on the Middle East and has basically forced the Obama team to shut down the peace process and drop any demands that Israel freeze settlements. This, in turn, has created a culture in Washington where State Department officials, not to mention politicians, are reluctant to even state publicly what is U.S. policy — that settlements are “an obstacle to peace” — for fear of being denounced as anti-Israel.
Add on top of that, the increasing role of money in U.S. politics and the importance of single donors who can write megachecks to “super PACs” — and the fact that the main Israel lobby, Aipac, has made itself the feared arbiter of which lawmakers are “pro” and which are “anti-Israel” and, therefore, who should get donations and who should not — and you have a situation in which there are almost no brakes, no red lights, around Israel coming from America anymore. No wonder settlers now boast on op-ed pages that the game is over, they’ve won, the West Bank will remain with Israel forever — and they don’t care what absorbing all of its Palestinians will mean for Israel’s future as a Jewish democracy.
It is into this environment that Romney wandered to add more pandering and to declare how he will be so much nicer to Israel than big, bad Obama. This is a canard. On what matters to Israel’s survival — advanced weaponry and intelligence — Defense Minister Ehud Barak told CNN on Monday, “I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.”
While Romney had time for a $50,000-a-plate breakfast with American Jewish donors in Jerusalem, with Adelson at his elbow, he did not have two hours to go to Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, to meet with its president, Mahmoud Abbas, or to share publicly any ideas on how he would advance the peace process. He did have time, though, to point out to his Jewish hosts that Israelis are clearly more culturally entrepreneurial than Palestinians. Israel today is an amazing beehive of innovation — thanks, in part, to an influx of Russian brainpower, massive U.S. aid and smart policies. It’s something Jews should be proud of. But had Romney gone to Ramallah he would have seen a Palestinian beehive of entrepreneurship, too, albeit small, but not bad for a people living under occupation. Palestinian business talent also built the Persian Gulf states. In short, Romney didn’t know what he was talking about.
On peace, the Palestinians’ diplomacy has been a fractured mess, and I still don’t know if they can be a partner for a secure two-state deal with even the most liberal Israeli government. But I do know this: It is in Israel’s overwhelming interest to test, test and have the U.S. keep testing creative ideas for a two-state solution. That is what a real U.S. friend would promise to do. Otherwise, Israel could be doomed to become a kind of apartheid South Africa.
And here is what I also know: The three U.S. statesmen who have done the most to make Israel more secure and accepted in the region all told blunt truths to every Israeli or Arab leader: Jimmy Carter, who helped forge a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt; Henry Kissinger, who built the post-1973 war disengagement agreements with Syria, Israel and Egypt; and James Baker, who engineered the Madrid peace conference. All of them knew that to make progress in this region you have to get in the face of both sides. They both need the excuse at times that “the Americans made me do it,” because their own politics are too knotted to move on their own.
So how about all you U.S. politicians — Republicans and Democrats — stop feeding off this conflict for political gain. Stop using this conflict as a backdrop for campaign photo-ops and fund-raisers. Stop making things even worse by telling the most hard-line Israelis everything that they want to hear, just to grovel for Jewish votes and money, while blatantly ignoring the other side. There are real lives at stake out there. If you’re not going to do something constructive, stay away. They can make enough trouble for themselves on their own.