Wednesday, August 01, 2012

White Man's Burden

If you recall, Mitt Romney's original remarks about "Culture" and "Palestine" included comparisons between the U.S. and Mexico.

 I was thinking this morning as I prepared to come into this room of a discussion I had across the country in the United States about my perceptions about differences between countries. And as you come here and you see the GDP per capita for instance in Israel which is about 21,000 dollars and you compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority which is more like 10,000 dollars per capita you notice a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.

He tried to deny he'd said it, but now he's decided he likes the idea of superior cultures.

“During my recent trip to Israel, I had suggested that the choices a society makes about its culture play a role in creating prosperity, and that the significant disparity between Israeli and Palestinian living standards was powerfully influenced by it,” Romney wrote in the National Review. “In some quarters, that comment became the subject of controversy. But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture?”
Or the white man's burden?

But since Romney is only associated with a church which, until 1978, regarded African Americans as bearing the mark of Cain, and not openly racists groups like the KKK, this isn't racism.  Or rather, it is:

The statement, a suggestion that Israel had thrived while Palestinians struggled because of the innate superiority of the Israelis, was also something more. It was racist. There are two possibilities here. One is that Romney was given bad advice about what to say by his staff. The other is that he either ignored the advice he got or misunderstood it and was personally responsible for saying the stupid thing he said. (The likelihood of this latter possibility goes up, by the way, when it is noted that the language he used is similar to elements of his memoir in which he muses about the reason nations decline. In other words, he may actually believe the awful, damaging statement he made.) 

But who is going to say it is, or ask if Romney believes what he says (it might well be of a piece with his Mormonism, which would be even more awkward)?  How much analysis is going to be devoted to that issue, rather than to when Mitt Romney is going to release his tax returns, or what his next ad says about President Obama?  Three guesses, first two don't count.

Even David Kurtz at TPM, who recommended that link, elided the explosive topic of racism that is so blatant it really can't be ignored.  Racism is just so unseemly we can't talk about it unless the subject is clearly of a social and economic underclass.

I mean, it's not like Romney's a skinhead or a Southerner....


  1. A culture of of prosperity. That is what omatters to Mr. Romney. Not a culture of justice, or caring, or anything else. This very close to a theology of prosperity. I wonder if he thinks the prosperity is divinely given.

  2. Windhorse10:27 PM

    Romney:"During my recent trip to Israel, I had suggested that the choices a society makes about its culture play a role in creating prosperity, and that the significant disparity between Israeli and Palestinian living standards was powerfully influenced by it,"

    In context, this statement by Romney is not really controversial. The choices Israel's culture has made in placing economic embargoes on Palestine, freezing out its workers, and bombing it's infrastructure have definitely played a role in the disparity of living standards between the two nations. 

  3. But Windhorse, Israel didn't make those choices in a vacuum: Israel has also faced constant attacks and many of its actions, whether moral or even strategic, have occurred in response to attacks on it. If Palestinian living standards are so low due to Israel's actions, one could still ask how come Israel's living standards are so high in spite of near constant attacks on Israel?

    In a sense, one of the problems of Romney's comments is that they would have us ignore the role of individuals as well as institutional frameworks in determination of individual and social success by dismissing such effects as due to some ill-defined and possibly racist notion of "well, it's just their culture".

    Israel's success cannot be attributed solely to Jewish culture, whether by Romney or by some anti-Zionist seeking to (dis)credit Israel's prosperity to some "international Zionist plot" of whatever. Similarly, Palestinian failures cannot be attributed to "culture" when many factors, including Israel's actions but also the actions of individual Arab leaders in cynically choosing to use the plight of Palestinians to maintain a state of war with Israel (rather than doing something to actually help Palestinians have a state of their own).

    Of course, some of these decisions may be rooted in different cultural values in the Arab world vs. Judaism vs. "the west", but it isn't (just) culture, whether the Palestinians' or Israel's, keeping the Palestinians down. At some level the fault must lie with the various individuals and institutions (including the UN*). What would have happened to the Palestinian people if, instead of violently rejecting the UN partition, Arab leaders facilitated the creation of the first ever Palestinian state? What would have happened if Palestinian refugees would have been re-settled into Jordan (which was carved from the same mandate that Israel came from)? And there are so many what-ifs, only a few of which have to do with Israel's actual actions and almost none-of-which have to do with culture. I know when it comes to hypotheticals, my grand-father would always respond "well, what if donkey's had square assholes? would they shit bricks?". But still, I think it says something about the culpability of culture vs. individuals and even institutions that so many "what could have beens" concerning the status of the Palestinian people involve individual and institutional actions rather than matters of culture.

    * which recommended a partition that would create both Israel and a Palestinian state but then did nothing to actually facilitate the creation of that Palestinian state when the Arab world violently rejected the UN's recommendation but instead subsequently decided just to blame Israel for everything in terms of useless General Assembly resolutions and also maintains a policy that allows for the continued refugee status of too many Palestinians rather than treating them as they have other refugee groups and facilitating resettlement and otherwise actually helping them go beyond their refugee status