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Mitt Romney is now going about the business of inflating Israeli expectations as being their most staunch of friends. He had just been in London for the Olympics opening ceremony. He saw fit, on his visit to Blighty, to comment on the inadequacy of security preparations and for that matter preparations in general. “It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out. There are a few things that were disconcerting.”
To be fair to the dizzy eyed politician (let’s adopt the vernacular – a “wazzock”), this may constitute fair comment – at least in part. London 2012 has not gone well for the security establishment, and the military has had to be called in not merely to fill a security gap, but empty seats. Organisation at stages is sketchy, and more of this is bound to surface.
In the words of the nauseatingly smarmy Piers Morgan, CNN’s most insufferable host, “It’s no secret over here that for the last three weeks the security around the Olympics has been a shambles.” Then, the rub. “He’s run an Olympics, so I thought he was perfectly entitled to be critical.”
Morgan, having himself swum with the tabloid fraternity, should hardly be surprised by the reaction of his colleagues to Mitt’s reception. And it was strong. The Sun baptised the Republic politician “Mitt the Twit”, while The Telegraph decided to pinpoint Romney’s tendency for gaffes on the international stage. The “special” relationship Britain and the US share is evidently not so special to the Republican contender for the White House. After all, Britain is merely that “small island” that “doesn’t make things that other people in the rest of the world want to buy.” Those words come straight out of that embarrassing screed No Apology: The Case for America’s Greatness.
The politicians were happy to take a snap of off Romney’s credibility. Prime Minister David Cameron took a few well aimed shots at a person he would subsequently meet. “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course, it’s easier if you hold an Olympic games in the middle of nowhere.” Another official fired a salvo into the mix, assessing Romney’s character as being “apparently devoid of charm, warmth, humour and sincerity.”
Boris Johnson, the brimming, colourful Mayor of London, happily weighed in as well with a certain Obama-styled echo before 60,000 gathered in Hyde Park. “There’s a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know if we are ready. Are we ready? Yes we are!” No one will remember Romney in London – even if things go pear shaped.
Much of the criticism was based, presumably, on Romney’s own aggrandizing role organising the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. That role itself has already taken a battering at the hands of his current supporter Rick Santorum, who dismissed Romney’s efforts as a dear earmark for taxpayers. John McCain regarded it as “the worst boondoggle in earmark history”.
The tabloid swirl was evidently too much for some commentators. John Lillpop of the Canada Free Press (Jul 29), a dubious outfit claiming that “because without America there is no Free World” called the reaction a “sophomoric greeting”. But it is a bit hard not to be sophomoric when a Presidential contender forgets the names of the worthies he meets, most notably the opposition leader Ed Milliband (“Like you, Mr Leader, I look forward to our conversation this morning.”) Or, for that matter, overlooks the protocol that meetings on secret intelligence briefings are, unsurprisingly, secret. (Presumably, meetings with “island” officials don’t count.)
Romney’s skills in finding every pothole on the way proved too much even for one of the Olympic Games’ greatest athletes. “Every Olympics is ready,” explained Carl Lewis, “I don’t care whatever he [Romney] said. I swear, sometimes I think some Americans shouldn’t leave the country. Are you kidding me, stay home if you don’t’ know what to say” (Telegraph, Jul 27).
While much of the reaction is farcical and cringe worthy, a point well made is this: Romney is unsteady, confused and markedly misplaced. Flipping and flopping with great energy, he wanted to calm his hosts and dig his hole deeper with well minted insincerity. He was, after all, “a guy from Great Britain” who was “married to a girl from Wales.” “So I feel like this is home too, I guess.” He has his great-great-grandfather, a carpenter from Preston, to thank for that. Given the liberal way ancestry is idealised in the US, Romney might well have deluded himself into thinking that made any difference at all.
Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org