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Romney: Blue States Are Culturally Superior

August 4, 2012

Mitt Romney created a stir this week with his remarkable statement to Israelis that “culture makes all the difference.”  Israelis are economically more successful than Palestinians, he opined, because Israel is culturally superior to Palestine.

It doesn’t take a lot of thought to realize how vapid and simplistic this idea is.  I’ll limit myself to the observation that if culture is the factor that determines the economic well-being of a country above all other factors, then North and South Korea, having both arisen from the same Korean cultural history, ought to be doing equally well, economically speaking.  Same with any other country that was once united and then divided.


Obviously culture doesn’t make all the difference.  Foreign intervention can make quite a big difference.  Just ask the North Koreans or the former East Germans.  Or the Palestinians.  Indeed, by Romney’s own measure, Romney’s presidential run is futile – if culture is destiny, then it doesn’t really matter who is the president.  Policy is irrelevant if culture means everything.

There were lots of scary elements to the Romney comment.  It was simplistic well past the borderline with naivete.   An inability or unwillingness to accommodate complexity and nuance – a desire to boil the world down to an aphorism – is a really bad trait for an American president.

The remark was  offensive.  West Bank officials called it “racist.”  The American president has to have basic credibility with both Israelis and Palestinians if the president is to have any hope at all of furthering the cause of peace in the Middle East.

The remark was stupid, since any candidate for president ought to be smart enough to know that credibility with both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is essential.

The remark was ignorant, reflecting a disturbing lack of knowledge of Palestinian culture, history, education, economics, and achievement.

Musing about the Romney remark led me to another thought:  I wonder if Romney would apply his “culture means everything” analysis to American states.

The ten states with the lowest per capita income are deeply red:  Louisiana, South Carolina, Montana, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Mississippi.  Eight of the states with the highest per capita income are blue:  Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, California, and Delaware.  (Virginia has risen to eighth in income, and is increasingly blue.  Alaska ranks fourth and is unquestionably, but idiosyncratically, red.)

So it seems only fair to infer that Mitt Romney regards blue states as culturally superior to red states.  They are economically more successful, and by his own reckoning, culture is the only possible explanation.

I’m just saying.

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