LONDON — The conventional wisdom in the British press was that Mitt Romney’s visit to London was a gaffe-filled disaster. The mainstream media in the U.S. quickly cottoned on to this unexpected windfall as evidence that Mitt Romney is not fit to be commander in chief of the United States of America
The uproar surrounding Romney’s visit began when Romney told NBC‚??s Brian Williams that given the state of Olympics preparations: ‚??it’s hard to know just how well it will turn out.‚?Ě
Romney added: ‚??There are a few things that were disconcerting, the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging.‚?Ě
Granted, it’s unlikely that someone with the natural political instincts of a Bill Clinton would have uttered those words–even for domestic consumption as Romney did.
Still, although I first came to London in 1996, even I was shocked by the snarky anti-Romney vitriol these comments produced.
London Mayor Boris Johnson rallied Londoners in a cathartic anti-American cheer: ‚?ĚThere’s guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know if we are ready!‚?Ě bellowed the ex-U.S. citizen Johnson in front of a crowd of 60,000 people in Hyde Park.
Prime Minister David Cameron was hardly less gracious, belittling Romney’s management of the Salt Lake City Olympics, snidely noting that it was easy to manage an Olympics in the ‚??in the middle of nowhere.‚?Ě
The entire British media–across the entire political spectrum–turned into a phalanx of Rachel Maddows on an MSNBC newscast. Ed Luce of Financial Times and Andrew Sullivan writing for the Rupert Murdoch-owned Times of London could barely contain their collective glee in skewering Romney for his gaffe.
‚??Tough luck, Mitt, Brits fight dirty,‚?Ě opined Andrew Sullivan.
So when Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman wrote in an anti-Romney diatribe yesterday, that the London Olympics is ‚??the most successful event ever staged in the history of the world, and let no foreigner ever suggest otherwise,‚?Ě I would have once thought he’d be doing so with his tongue firmly in his British cheek.
Today, I’m not so sure.
Here’s my view…
The British press had long decided that it would not like Romney, no matter what he did.
This is in sharp contrast the blind eye the British press turned to the repeated social gaffes of Barack Obama. Obama gave the Queen an iPod she couldn’t plug in. Michelle Obama held on to the Queen’s arm for several minutes, ignoring centuries of protocol.
Imagine the outrage if Romney had done the same…
As for the substance of what Romney said, well, as one who lives in London, I can tell you that Romney was simply repeating what the British press had been saying.
The week prior to Olympics, the head of the security company responsible for Olympic security was pressured to resign, having delivered 3,500 fewer security than he promised.
And the border staff was set to strike on the eve of the Olympics, threatening chaos at a highly over-stretched Heathrow airport.
And it’s not like the Olympics have gone off without a hitch.
Arenas at the London Olympics have been as embarrassingly empty. You can see half a dozen pictures here.
My favorite comment?
‚??Perhaps Mitt Romney should straighten out the mess.‚?Ě
If Romney made a mistake it was the same one that I made when I first moved to the UK in 1996.
First, Romney assumed that a common language with the U.S. also implied a shared set of (dare I say) ‚??Anglo-Saxon‚?Ě values with Great Britain. Not so. I grew up in an immigrant family and didn’t speak English until I was seven years old and I am a more ‚??Anglo-Saxon‚?Ě in my values than 90 percent of today’s Brits–at least in the way Romney would define it.
Second, Romney wrongly assumed that modern Britain has a culture of self-reliance and entrepreneurship like the U.S.
Well, it does, sort of.
But it owes much of that to its relatively liberal immigration policy, which has harnessed successfully the creative energy of immigrants–many of whom are no longer welcome in the U.S.
One of the many things one reads–but cannot repeat if one is a U.S. Presidential candidate–is that British employers prefer to hire foreign workers. For one thing, they have a better work ethic.¬† For another, at least they can speak English.
No, that’s not a misprint.
Last year, Australian real estate developers had to hire Polish students to teach the local British staff basic language and math skills so that they could work the cash registers at a newly built mall outside the Olympic village.
No wonder Romney’s very American message that self-reliance and private enterprise builds better countries resonated so much better in his subsequent trips to Israel and Poland.
The bottom line?
Mitt Romney was right about the Olympics.
Just don’t expect the Brits to admit it.