Mitt Romney has gotten a lot of heat over the past two days for suggesting, at a fundraising breakfast in Jerusalem, that wealth disparities between Israel and areas managed by the Palestinian Authority can be explained by cultural disparities between the two communities.
Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, characterized the comment as racist. Perceptive critics will point out that Erekat is technically wrong. Romney actually avoided a – these days taboo – direct critique of race when delivering his rambling diatribe.
While they are technically incorrect, a bit of keen insight guides those individuals who continue to hurl accusations of racism at Romney in response to his rather incoherent slur. Romney does seem to attempt to organize communities into inborn categories of inferiority and superiority.
Romney’s comments imply that the “culture” of a given population is not really shaped by, or even in dialogue with, circumstance (e.g. wars, conquest, disease, natural disasters, economic policy, trade, foreign relations, the weather, human error etc).
To the contrary, he believes that a hierarchy of, “culture makes all the difference.” And not just in the context of Israel-Palestine.
Perhaps in an attempt to appear somewhat even-handed on the issue of the Middle East conflict, Romney’s campaign responded to criticism by noting that the Republican candidate believes that defective “culture” is not just a Palestinian problem.
He applies these views globally, to other countries, “that are near or next to each other,” like, “Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.” In other words, flaws in Mexican and Ecuadorean “culture” prevent Ecuador and Mexico, from being as economically prosperous as their culturally superior neighbors.
It is perhaps the most remarkable and troubling point of the passing controversy that this even more insulting statement was the Romney campaign’s defense.
So what’s the takeaway?
According to Romney’s remarks some communities have better “cultures” than others. He insinuates that “culture” is an innate attribute of communities, the key to their destinies, and the best explanation for global order.
The speech wasn’t racist, but it might as well have been.