The Mexican Embassy isn’t buying Mitt Romney’s slur on Mexican “culture.” The man is such a foreign policy genius he can piss off countries without even visiting them. That’s not as impressive a feat as moving Ecuador next to Chile – on my rather old-fashioned map, there’s about 700 miles and a place called “Peru” in between them – but pretty impressive nonetheless.
If we want to play along with Daniel Drezner and pretend for a moment that Romney uttered an actual opinion rather than merely making a racist crack about lazy A-rabs, the actual opinion was pretty damned stupid. Of course culture is among the drivers of different levels of economic activity: compare the Chinese and Indians in Malaysia with the Malays, for example. But also note that, until very recently, the Chinese and the Indians – prosperous overseas – were dirt-poor at home. Russian and other Eastern European Jews have done pretty well for ourselves in the U.S.: not so much back where we came from. Culture matters, but institutions matter more.
Update Jared Diamond isn’t happy with the way Romney (mis)quoted him, and suspects that the candidate hadn’t actually read Guns, Germs, and Steel before flapping his jaw about it. Andrew Sullivan makes a point I hadn’t thought of:
I wonder when the last time was that Romney was personally and aggressively challenged about some platitude he just uttered. A long time ago, one suspects.
Romney’s plenty smart, but he rose in a culture where glib b.s. goes a long way, and then spent years being The Boss at Bain Capital, at the Olympics, and as Governor. McGeorge Bundy described his tenure at the Ford Foundation as “twenty years without eating a bad meal or hearing a harsh word.” That sort of thing can lead to intellectual laziness unless – like Bundy but, apparently, unlike Romney – you come to it with a strong faculty of self-criticism and a sense of humor.
Of the many deficiencies you’d like a President not to have, deficient reality-checking has to be close to the top of the list.