Mitt Romnney Insults Latinos Again

Well, we all know that Mitt Romney has insulted Palestinians by suggesting that the reason why the Palestinian territories have a worse economy than Israel derives from culture.

But then he tried to make up for it by saying this:

After Mr. Romney’s remarks drew criticism, his campaign said that The Associated Press had “grossly mischaracterized” the remarks by not providing the full context. For instance, the campaign said, after mentioning the per capita G.D.P. of Israel and Palestine, Mr. 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.”

So that means that the reason why Mexico has worse economic performance than the United States is also due to “culture.”

Note to David Axelrod: millions of viewers of Spanish-language television should know that Mitt Romney thinks that their ancestral culture is inferior.  Just a thought.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

23 thoughts on “Mitt Romnney Insults Latinos Again”

  1. But can David Axelrod utilize the information in Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in a way that will put Romney on the spot and put forth a different explanation of the contrasts? That book rejects the cultural hypothesis in favor of an explanation in terms of extractive versus inclusive institutions, and explicitly compares Nogales, Arizona with Nogales, Sonora, which are on opposite sides of the US-Mexico border. Climate and cultural heritage are not different, but political and economic institutions developed differently in the past, with the extractive institutions being designed to extract wealth from the poor and transfer it to the privileged rich.

    Would this not potentially pose political liabilities if it were advanced by Team Obama, since it also has the capacity to offend people of different heritages? Romney’s ignorance is again revealed, but not, it seems to me, in a way that presents a gift to Axelrod and Company.

    1. Ed, you’re too smart for your own good (unless you’ve got some serious irony going there). This isn’t an academic debate: it’s a 30-second spot. And it has a simple sound bite message: Mitt Romney thinks that Mexicans have an inferior culture. We don’t want him as President. End of story.

      1. “Mitt Romney insults Latino culture today to pander to Republican racists, even though in the past his family went to Mexico to practice their Mormon faith. Ingratitude and hypocrisy are neither Latino nor presidential qualities. And, for the record, Senor Romney – we pay our taxes openly and honestly. Maybe that’s the biggest cultural difference we have with you.”

        Rinse and repeat.

  2. A gaffe most definitely. Wrong entirely? The wealth of any particular nation has to do with a lot more than a single variable, but I don’t think the coefficient for culture is tiny. You can break culture down into lots of smaller variables though, but the point remains. Assume you could copy/paste cultural aspects from any society to any other; would some societies profit by replacing the dysfunctional aspects of their culture with healthier ones? I for one think the US would be better off if some groups weren’t so hardline about their views concerning gay marriage or immigration. I even think there would be an economic benefit to a more tolerant and inclusive society.

    1. I would argue that this is more about a country’s economic structure and history. It can be really difficult to overcome problems in those areas.

      A good example is German reunification, which happened 22 years ago. Culturally, West and East Germany aren’t very different these days, but the economic disparities are still huge.

      In 2011, the GDP (per capita) of West Germany plus Berlin was 33,365 Euro. That of East Germany (without Berlin) was 22,234 Euro, or roughly two thirds (source). And it hasn’t changed much in recent years.

      That is after 22 years and a massive deficit spending program that Germany engaged in to try and bring the East German infrastructure up to par.

      1. I find your comment utterly agreeable. So much so, that I think your points reinforce mine.

        There was no real difference in culture between East Germany and West Germany when they were both just Germany. But, introduce the external influence of the Soviet Union’s economic structure to East Germany, and the external influence of the United States’ economic structure to West Germany, and voila, disparity. This disparity is not the fault of German culture, but it is the fault of culture, and sadly, it endures.

        Maybe we need to define what “culture” is. I would argue economic structures are a part. They stem from the society’s philosophies don’t they? (Except in cases like this, where outside systems subjugate others. But that only means one society was forced to adopt the philosophies of another, so it’s still culture.)

      2. Totally. People don’t talk about this nearly enough. And these are not just white people, but German white people we’re talking about. I doubt very much if people of color in the US ever got anywhere near that level of government attention/subsidy. And the Soviet Union is gone in a way that racial issues are very much *not* gone here. But still lots of people want to say that everything’s great now.

        Which is not to gloat over Germany at all, just in case that’s not clear. I have a lot of respect for German culture, especially the way they have dealt with their past, head and shoulders over the US approach, which is usually some variant of “my great great grandpappy fought for the Union, so what are you bothering me about?…” Like they’ve never heard of Jim Crow. Or even just, here, isn’t my Confederate flag pretty? I love the US, but basically most of us are out to lunch, on history and culture and anything else you’ve got.

        If Romney had just said, “political culture” instead, he might have saved himself a whole lot of trouble. Ed Whitney makes some great points.

        1. You know, the problem is more about integration, not so much just the amount of $$. That’s what we didn’t get right, quite, yet.

      3. So, didn’t a lot of the young people leave East Germany? It’s just my impression. That might be part of it.

        We should also be learning from German economic strategy. We need to send a bunch of our young policy people over there to just sit and watch, maybe.

  3. Conservatives and others who would fantasize about meritocracy and majestic freedoms must grapple with the fact of power, privilege and oppression. They must explain why different cultures and ethnicities have large wealth disparities. When structural inequalities and barriers to human/societal capital development represent critiques of the vaunted “market” that are too damning to entertain, appeals to race and ethnicity begin to make sense. One must never admit this (along with many right wing secrets), for fear of public shaming. But the logic is quite tight.

    1. “..They must explain why different cultures and ethnicities have large wealth disparities.”

      The economist Thomas Sowell has spent a large part of his career attempting to explain the cultural aspect. He disregards ethnicity as unimportant.

  4. I’m so confused:

    A) How does the rest of his statement (Chile et al) in any way mitigate the insult to the Palestinians?

    B) WTF? Is he saying that the geographical proximity of two cultures somehow causes one to prosper while the other languishes?

    1. I think I may have an answer to my 1st question: the AP “mischaracterized” Romney’s statement because he wasn’t insulting just the Palestinians. He was going for a broad swath and the AP should not have left that part out.

      But I’m still baffled by his new anthropological theory.

    2. I think there is an enthymeme in Rmoney’s [sic] argument: that being, “Geographic proximity ensures similar natural resources.” This isn’t necessarily true. Even if it is true, the resources may not be equally accessible. That fact might give modest support to Rmoney’s point, in that technology is a cultural construct. However, it another assumption that, “all other things are equal” and as we all know, all other things are never equal.

    1. This means that Romney believes that government regulation does not inhibit economic growth after all! It is culture, not regulation, that makes Gaza poor.

      But, as Jonathan points out, this needs to be made into a snappy 30 second spot for TV.

  5. I’m a liberal, but it seems obvious to me that cultures with an ethos of hard work, education, and entrepreneurialism might be better primed for economic success than cultures that privilege other values. This seems obvious.

    The gaffe that Romney made is in ignoring the historical oppression/suppression of the Palestinians. Noting that, as a result, Palestinian culture has suffered seems clear to me, and unimpeachable.

  6. Axelrod should point out that “culture” is a black box and therefore a pesudo-explanation. Romney might as well be explaining that a medicine puts you to sleep because of its dormative faculty. What is called for is a better micro-analysis of institutions, kinship structures, human capital development and path dependence.

    Seriously, though, are you sure most US Latinos will disagree with Romney? They came to the US for some reason, and its tendency to be more growth-favourable than Mexico might just be part of it. Secondly, do you think the Democrats can prevail among Anglo voters by arguing that Mexico’s problems are all a result of neo-colonial dependence? I just don’t see that line winning the swing states.

    Romney’s comment about the Palestinians was moronic and the Democrats are wise to confine themselves to point this out.

    1. I would guess that many Latino immigrants here came here because, day to day, it can be a much better life, and opportunity and better government (than, say, Mexico) is a part of that.

      But, just anecdotally, the Latin Am immigrants I’ve met are also generally much more knowledgeable about history and politics than the average American, and they tend to know a whole lot about the degree of US blame for the cr*p that they had to flee. Which is not so small. But, not necessarily determinative either. The US does plenty of harm, but I don’t know that, for example, we could be held to blame for 70 years of PRI, or stolen elections. Whereas, with drug violence, pretty much yes that’s our fault, imho.

      So, you do raise an interesting point.

      1. Yes, Mexican Americans are probably better informed than Anglos about the dark side of US-Mexican history. Outright Mexican nationalism exists, but I don’t think it is the mainstream view. One nuance is that perhaps Gringo culture is better suited for economic development, but there is more to life than economic development. Would many Mexican Americans diagree with that?

        Whereas it is obviously and abundantly stupid and crassly insenstive to say that the Gaza Strip is poor because of culture.

Comments are closed.