Romney and his teleprompter in Jerusalem.
Mitt Romney had quite a few interesting things to say during his visit to Israel, with much of the focus on his perspective on Iran. But there were a couple of other quotes -- one amusing, one not -- that are nearly as important.
At his Jerusalem fundraiser last night, for example, the Republican candidate spent quite a bit of time praising the Israeli health care system, which covers more of the nation's population than we do, while spending less as a percentage of GDP. Romney may not have thought this one through -- Israel has a socialized system and a national mandate. The kind of health care policy he was praising in Israel is the same kind of policy he routinely condemns.
But that's not all he said at the fundraiser.
"Culture makes all the difference," Mr. 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."
"As you come here and you see the G.D.P. per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000, and compare that with the G.D.P. per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality," he said.
There's quite a bit wrong with this. For one thing, Romney's figures are inaccurate. For another, it's curious to hear him praise Israel's GDP, given that Israel has a top marginal income tax rate of 48% on income over $125,000. Isn't this the sort of economic policy that offends Romney to the core?
But even if we put those details aside, the argument Romney presented -- Israel has the superior "culture," which is why Palestinians have less money -- is simply offensive on its face.
It clearly displays a degree of ignorance about "the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority," where economic activities are restricted and opportunities to create a robust GDP are limited. But also note the underlying elitism -- inferior cultures, Romney seemed to argue, are the ones with lower per capita GDP.
Does the presidential hopefully really want to stick to this line? Given that here in the U.S., "blue" states tend to have higher per capita GDP than "red" states, does Romney believe this is the evidence of the superiority of cultural differences?
Pressed for an explanation, the Romney campaign said the former governor had been taken out of context (there's a lot of that going around). As campaign aides explained it, after mentioning the per capita GDP of Israel and Palestine, Romney also said, "And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States."
Hmm. So to downplay the ugliness of the underlying argument, the Romney camp wants reporters to know he also believes Chile has a superior culture to Ecuador, and Mexicans are inferior, too, by virtue of the size of their economy.
I'm beginning to think Romney isn't good at being a presidential candidate. He might win anyway -- bad candidates have succeeded before -- but that doesn't change the fact that seeking high office doesn't seem to be one of his strengths.