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July 25, 2012

"Anglo-Saxon Heritage" Gaffe - Curtain-Raising for Romney's Tour of Allies
Posted by David Shorr

373px-A.D._500-1000,_Anglo-Saxons_-_022_-_Costumes_of_All_Nations_(1882)I can't really do justice in 140 characters to the Romney foreign policy advisers' comments to The Telegraph on the eve of his London visit. For those of you who actually have a life don't stay glued to your twitter feeds (or follow @David_Shorr), this was the money quote:

“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the adviser said of Mr Romney, adding: “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have”.

The Telegraph's reporter Jon Swaine noted that this remark "may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity." When you add Romney's depiction of President Obama as some kind of out-of-the-American-mainstream radical together with the word (white) that usually comes in front of "Anglo-Saxon" and yeah, a lot of people went there. Particularly after @DavidCornDC kicked off an extended run of good snarky fun with the hashtag #AngloSaxonHeritage

But stepping back from the snark, the advisers' comments warrant a more measured interpretation -- especially now that the Romney camp has just shifted into full damage-control mode and put distance between candidate and quote. Bottom line: Team Romney's message doesn't need to be racist to be bad foreign policy. 

First, the ambiguity of the term adviser, which can mean a lot of things in a presidential campaign. In terms of representing a real insider's view, there are advisers and there are advisers. You have to be careful about putting too much stock in statements from people who might not really be in the inner circle. On the other hand, usually it's not peripheral advisers who do interviews with national newspapers on the eve of a candidates visit. By the way, Swaine's piece made me wonder if he was interviewing both advisers on the same phone call -- which would make it less likely they were freelancing. But then there's this line, which is at least highly ironic: 

The advisers spoke on the condition of anonymity because Mr Romney’s campaign requested that they not criticise the President to foreign media.

Which begs the question of what the campaign requested them to do.

Second, is "Anglo-Saxon heritage" a racist dog-whistle and if not, what the hell is it? I'm inclined to say no, because I think I get what s/he was trying to say, in his/her dunderheaded fashion. This piece of the Romney foreign policy argument is all about standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the good guys who share America's values. To me the "Anglo-Saxon" reference sounds like faux gravitas mixed with unctuousness -- shared heritage, historical and cultural bonds, etc. (Ditto for "singing 'Land of Hope and Glory.'") Leaving me with a different question: are these ideas really a workable basis for 21st century foreign policy? My problem is that standing with the good guys isn't a framework for effective policies; it doesn't really offer practical guidelines for what to do about Afghanistan, Iran, China... That's why my critique of the VFW speech focused on its superficiality. 

Finally, a question from Democracy Arsenal's own Michael Cohen (aka @speechboy71): did the Telegraph bury the lede:

The advisers could not give detailed examples of how policy towards Britain would differ under Mr Romney. One conceded that on the European crisis: “I’m not sure what our policy response is.”

Didn't know what to say about the Eurozone! Really? Should've been an easy one: "Austerity will give businesses the confidence to invest and create jobs." Whew, I can't believe I know their talking points better then they do. Of course the problem is that austerity isn't really working out that way. For months, conservatives have been giving dire warnings about the danger of America becoming like Greece. As the British austerity policy drives it back into recession, do we want to become like the UK?

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