Romney: Cultural Warrior

Mitt Romney thinks that the Palestinian people are culturally inferior to the Israeli people because Israel economically outperforms the Palestinian territories. Romney writes

“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 some quarters, that comment became the subject of controversy. But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture?”

Well that’s an interesting assertion. It ignores the 64 year history of epic conflict in the territory formerly known as the Palestinian Mandate, not to mention millenia of ethnic and religious strife between people of different nationalities, and among the three major monotheistic faiths. To simply denigrate Palestinians as ethnically or culturally inferior to any other culture is, simply put, chauvinism. 

Germany is currently economically outperforming the United States, despite Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. By Romney’s logic, Germany’s culture is superior to America’s. 

tl;dr, Mitt Romney is a cheap chauvinist idiot. 


  • Alan,  almost but not quite.

    –not “sixty-four years of epic conflict,” but sixty-four years of ethnic cleansing, a series of Israeli wars of expansion, and one attempt by Egypt and Syria to take back some stolen lands, and some terrorist attacks on both sides. The expulsion of the Palestinians has been an “epic conflict” in much the same was as the Cherokee Trail of Tears was.
    –not “millennia of strife,” at least not among Levantine Muslims, Christians, and Jews. One of the great unmentionable facts about the occupation is that, before 1948, the three faiths co-existed peacefully, for the most part, in Palestine (as in Golden Age Spain, under Muslim rule). Ask any Palestinian who lived in Mandate Palestine, and you will hear about cross-faith friendships. The conflict began heating up one hundred years or so ago, when Britain began promising land that didn’t belong to it (Palestine) to another people (world Jewry outside Palestine) without concern for the rights of indigenes.
    –when people denigrate the cultures of others this way, the term typically used is “racism.” The astonishing cultural brilliance of oppressed Palestinians during this period resembles nothing so much as that of oppressed Jews. One of many ironies.
    –Romney isn’t an idiot, at least not in this regard: he was auditioning for Sheldon Adelson’s money, and he passed the test–much as Barack Obama did in December of 2008 and January of 2009, when he couldn’t spare a word for the 1300 Palestinians being murdered by Israel’s unprovoked rampage in Gaza.

  • I am not a Romney supporter, but I think there may be another angle as illustrated by Max Weber’s essay on The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Weber wrote that capitalism in northern Europe evolved when the Protestant (particularly Calvinist) ethic influenced large numbers of people to engage in work in the secular world, developing their own enterprises and engaging in trade and the accumulation of wealth for investment. In other words, the Protestant work ethic was an important force behind the unplanned and uncoordinated mass action that influenced the development of capitalism.
    As to Jim Holstun’s ethnic cleansing comment, if you want to really see ethnic cleansing in action, look at what befell Jewish communities in Muslim countries, or what is currently happening to Christian communities in Muslim countries.

    •  And Paladin makes one million exiled Palestinians disappear from the discussion (“If you really want to see. . . .”), as Israel made them disappear from Palestine. But I’m not sure what s/he is arguing: that all these groups should have been ethnically cleansed, or that none of them should have been? I’ll take the latter.

      I’ll also take R. H. Tawney over Weber here: the Northern European (and specifically English) ruling class was more adept at stealing peasants’ land and turning them into wage laborers–and then set about doing the same thing in the rest of the world, including North America. I.e., a theft ethnic, not a work ethic. The idea is not to work hard yourself, but to make others work hard for you.

  • Heron Simmonds-Price

    Who can argue with the assessment of Romney as a jerk? I agree with most of what is written, but I want to dissent from Holstun’s point about racism over chauvinism.  This is a marginal point because in context either term could suffice, but chauvinism is linked to particular nations, whereas racism is linked to races which are transnational.  So in the context of Bedenko’s short piece it seems the more appropriate term.  Niman in his article uses the term racism but he focused on Romney’s psychic estrangement from several groups, the Palestinians, Jews, and Mexicans (this could be extended to include the British, and most other humans), whereas Bedenko focuses more narrowly on the national conflict between Israel/Palestine.  

    There is a lot of misuse of the term racism, especially on the right, where often any use of a term that identifies a person as white is taken as racist.  So I for one was happy to see some semantic stretching out.  That said there is a lot of overlap between racism and chauvinism; consider the use of the notion of American exceptionalism.   This is always chauvinistic and often racist.

    • Don’t really get this, since Palestinians have no nation (thanks to the US and Israel), and both Jews and non-Jews are transnational, and the former have special rights in Israel, while the latter have diminished rights or no rights. Israeli Jews ethnically cleansed (and still cleanse) only non-Jews.

      • Dear Mr. Holstun,

        The main reason why Palestinians have no nation is that they refused to accept the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine.   The Plan was described as a Plan of Partition with Economic Union which, after the termination of the British Mandate, would lead to the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem.  On 29 November 1947, the General Assembly adopted a resolution recommending the adoption and implementation of the Plan as Resolution 181(II).

        Part I of the Plan contained provisions dealing with the Termination of the Mandate, Partition and Independence. The Mandate would be terminated as soon as possible and the United Kingdom would withdraw from Palestine no later than the previously announced date of 1 August 1948. The new states would come into existence two months after the withdrawal, but no later than 1 October 1948. The Plan sought to address the conflicting objectives and claims of two competing movements: Arab nationalism and Jewish nationalism (Zionism). Part II of the Plan included a detailed description of the proposed boundaries for each state. The Plan also called for Economic Union between the proposed states, and for the protection of religious and minority rights.
        The Plan was accepted by the leaders of the Jewish community in Palestine, through the Jewish Agency. The Plan was rejected by leaders of the Arab community, including the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee, who were supported in their rejection by the states of the Arab League.
        Next I suppose you will assert the myth that prior to the 20th century, there were few if any Jews living in Palestine.  As early as 1517, there were at least 5,000 Jews living in what is today the State of Israel.  In 1860, there were over 60,000.

        • Relatively few Jews, yes, compared to Palestinian Muslims and Christians. The Jewish Virtual Library (strongly Zionist source) says 24,000 Jews and more than ten times that many non-Jews in 1882, so I think your numbers are off. But in any case, one-person, one vote is a good, non-racist rule. If Palestinian non-Jews were in the majority in 1947 (and they were), and they owned the vast majority of land (and they did), and they didn’t want partition, then there shouldn’t have been a partition, right? I mean, unless you reject the idea of democracy and self-determination and think that some ethnic groups have more rights than others do. Do you? I don’t.

          Do a little more reading and you’ll find out that David Ben-Gurion, the George Washington of Israel (and this is true, in every way) accepted the partition as a stopgap on the way to the total ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Arabs and a massive land grab.

      • Heron Simmonds-Price

        Nation is ambiguous, it can be short for nation-state, as you just used it, or to collections of people related by region and culture, this is how I mean it.  The Palestinian nation does not have a state, but few deny them the status of a people (Gingrich is a notable exception).  Surely you can see my point that chauvinism is a more focused term whereas racism is broader and subject to greater controversy?  I am ignorant about the issue of ethnic cleansing as it relates to Jews as perpetrators, but I can see why such a thing would lead you to want to use the term racist, which is linked to violence in a way that chauvinism is not (ironic since Chauvin was a French war hero).

  • Everyone would be well-advised to avoid arguing with Jim Holstun, who cannot possibly imagine any historical account that doesn’t portray the US/Israel as the embodiment of evil, with the Palestinians (or any Islamic state, for that matter)  playing the role of hapless, innocent victim.

    I would never argue that the US or Israel are without fault in terms of foreign policy, but anyone who makes the “Islamic peoples are always good and the US is always bad” argument comes across as a naive college freshman.

    •  God, Mike, what a brilliant comment. And let me just add that people should refrain from arguing with anybody like Mike Chmiel who makes the “I kill puppies, and think everyone else should do so too.”

      No, really, Mike, what an inspired and witty comment.

      • I will guarantee that we see eye-to-eye on 90% of most foreign policy issues. No question, the US (and its allies) are usually the aggressors and quite often at least partially responsible for most of the war and brutality that takes place in this world.  I just think you often takes things too far.  Have you ever found fault in the actions of any Islamic nation or group of people? Not being a smart ass – just curious if you even rationalize the actions of terrorists.

        • Mike, maybe we are closer than you think. If anybody writes in to defend Saudi Arabia, for instance, I promise you’ll hear from me. I’ll talk about this “moderate” Arab ally of the US, which maintains vicious theocratic and family rule (no shit, a country named after a family: just think about that), oppression of Shia Saudis in the East, vicious treatment of South Asian workers who run the place, a thoroughly corrupt kleptocracy and patriarchy, generous funding for Salafist monsters like OBL and his gang. Certainly a candidate for the most depraved country on the face of the earth–and of course, a prime US ally, whose asses Barack and Hilary kiss on a regular basis.

          I think Americans should deal with our own crimes first, not try to
          even up the score of crimes with every other criminal regime around the
          world. The depravity of the Saudi leaders isn’t a good excuse for Israel shooting Palestinian civilians, or even American ones (Furkan Dogan, whose murder Obama has yet to condemn), or for the US opening the gates of hell onto the people of Iraq.

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