Mitt Romney is being criticized for remarks he made equating cultural differences to economic success after he contrasted Israel and Palestine. Palestinians were quick to rebuke him for his comments. Not nearly as much attention has been paid to the other countries that were included in the comparison.
“Culture makes all the difference,” Romney said. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”
Romney added that this cultural difference is reflected in the G.D.P per capita of Israel compared to Palestine and other neighboring countries as well.
“And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States,” he said.
Some say the inclusion of Mexico and Ecuador, particularly the U.S. neighbor, which is a big trading partner, is a foreign policy flub.
“His comparison is basically saying Palestine is like Mexico and Israel is the United States,” says Kristian Ramos, policy director of the 21st Century Border Initiative at NDN/New Policy Institute. “Mexico’s economy is growing faster than Brazil’s. And its middle class is growing exponentially right now. He went to bolster his foreign policy credentials, but to insult our third largest trading partner is mind-blowing.”
Danny Vargas, Republican strategist and former national chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, says Romney could have done a better job of delivering statements on how culture can affect economic outcomes.
“Culture is not just a snapshot in time — cultural differences in societies adapt and change over time,” Vargas says. “You could have said the same thing about the U.S. 150 years ago, but we developed a stronger free market culture and were able to grow the economy. It’s less about geography and more about the willingness of the society to make the changes they need to provide their citizens with a higher quality of life.”
Romney, in an appearance on Fox News, said he wasn’t talking about culture.
“That’s an interesting topic that deserves scholarly analysis, but I actually didn’t address that,” Romney said. “Certainly don’t intend to address that in my campaign. Instead, I will point out that the choices that a society makes has a profound impact on the economy and the vitality of that society.”
Stephen A. Nuño, a political scientist at Northern Arizona University and NBC Latino contributor, says Romney’s comments abroad show that he is a “believer in tribalism reaffirmed by American firepower, ” according to Nuño.
“The only “culture” that is inherently damaging to Mexico is the US’s culture of insatiable thirst for drugs and cheap labor,” Nuño states, adding ”Mexico certainly has it problems, but you can’t understand Mexico’s problems without understanding the role we play in them.”