Is Mitt Romney a Fool or a Knave? Jerome Slater’s Question

I always appreciate Jerome Slater’s blog for his insights into the Middle East and enjoyed this piece on the latest Romney gaffe. Romney’s comment on the income differential between Israel and Palestinians, is a bit like telling the French in 1943 that they should pull their socks up and create as much wealth as those Germans (who happened to being occupying them).

The mystery: does Mitt Romney actually believe his endless absurdities, in which case he’s a fool, or does he know better but calculates that in the current political environment the absurdities serve his ambitions, in which case he’s merely an unprincipled liar? Since I keep reading about how, underneath it all, he’s really quite smart, I’ve been inclined to go along with the unprincipled liar theory. That was actually sort of comforting, since it would probably be less chilling to have an unprincipled liar as president than one who sincerely believes his stupidities.

However, even this small comforting thought may be denied us, for maybe Romney is both a liar and a fool. Yesterday, in his groveling political tour of Israel, Romney gave a speech claiming that the fact that Israelis have a much higher per capita income than the Palestinians–about twice as much, he said, but actually over ten times as much–proved that Israel had a superior “culture.”

This was too much even for the New York Times, which in both its news story and editorial pointed out that Romney had somehow ignored the Israeli occupation and its ongoing border closures and trade as well as other economic sanctions of the Palestinians. The news story quoted from a CIA assessment–no less–that in the West Bank “Israeli closure policies continue to disrupt labor and trade flows, industrial capacity, and basic commerce,” and that matters were even worse in Gaza, where Israeli economic warfare has, (in the CIA’s words), “resulted in high unemployment, elevated poverty rates, and the near collapse of the private sector that had relied on export markets.” Aside from Romney’s mind-boggling cultural explanation, the Times editorial observed that Romney had demonstrated “troubling ignorance” in “vastly understating” the Israeli-Palestinian income disparities.

In a normal political environment this should have been a Gerald Ford, possibly election-changing, moment. As will be recalled, in a debate with Jimmy Carter during the 1976 presidential campaign, Ford said “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.” Naturally, the Democrats gleefully jumped all over this, and many analysts believe that it tipped the electoral scales towards Carter.

My first thought was that the Romney “gaffe” demonstrated not merely that he was a shamelessly pandering liar but also a fool, because only a fool would fail to realize that his preposterous argument would hold him up to catastrophic ridicule, just as was the case with Ford.

But hold on! Maybe he’s not so dumb after all! Maybe he has cleverly and realistically calculated that he can get away with saying anything at all, so long as it is “pro-Israeli,” because Obama and the Democrats will not dare to point out the truth.

Such is the state of affairs in 2012 America. We have met the real fools, and they are us.

About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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