I’m not an expert on the British mindset. But as someone who lived in London for three years as a foreign correspondent, I can state with certitude that the Brits are fiercely proud – and fiercely resentful of insolent outsiders. The stupidest thing an American can do is to blunder onto the island and display bad manners. And if that American happens to be prominent, he will be savaged by a press corps that makes ours look tame.Enter Mitt Romney, the human derecho, who whirled through London yesterday wreaking rhetorical destruction.
This guy fancies himself to be an international statesman, with diplomatic skills superior to those of our current president, but, dare I say, it takes a very special talent to insult the prime minister – excuse me, the Conservative party’s prime minister – of our closest western ally, and to insult the British people as a whole, on the eve of an event, the summer Olympics, that will feature Britain on the world stage. Romney always claims that President Obama has lessened American prestige around the globe, but let it be said that no other presidential candidate in memory has ever reduced himself to an international laughingstock in such record time. Here’s a cursory sampling of London headlines – and these are from the conservative newspapers:Mitt the Twit…The Gaffes of Muddled Mitt…Nowhere Man Romney…Who Invited Party-Pooper Romney?Then came the conservative columnists:”Who does Mitt Romney think he is? There’s one thing Romney could learn while he’s in Britain this week: some manners.” And this beaut: “He’s devoid of charm, warmth, humor or sincerity.”Then came the conservative journalists on Twitter:”Can this get any worse for Romney?” and “Do we have a new Dubya on our hands?” and “Serious dismay in Whitehall (the British foreign affairs HQ) at Romney debut. ‘Worse than Sarah Palin.’ ‘Total car crash.’ Two of the kinder verdicts.”Oh, and did I forget to mention that after Romney publicly insulted the Brits, the British prime minister retaliated by publicly insulting Romney? As did the mayor of London, who mockingly invoked Romney in front of 60,000 people? The Daily Mail, a conservative tabloid, began its news story with this gem: “Mitt Romney suffered yet another humiliation as he was jeered by thousands of Brits tonight…an en tire city has appeared to turn against him.”If you haven’t been tracking the hilarity, let us quickly recap. In an interview early yesterday, Romney said that British security forces might be ill-prepared to handle the Olympics and that the British people might not be sufficiently enthused about the event. His words:”You know, it’s hard to know just how well it will turn out. There are a few things that were disconcerting, the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging.” As for the British people, “Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment? And that’s something which we only find out once the games actually begin.”It’s true, there were reports about the private security firm being ill-staffed. But the British government has since filled the gap with thousands of British soldiers. Rule one of diplomacy is, you publicly support your friends; if you have qualms and concerns, you discuss them with your friends in private. And you certainly refrain for insulting the entire populace, by suggesting that they might not be willing to “celebrate the Olympic moment.”Why would Romney say such things? Because, as we well know stateside, he is tone deaf. He’s also inordinately proud of his own Olympics tenure, so he thinks that gives him license to lord it over others. And, lastly, he thinks that the Brits are pissants; here’s what he wrote in his 2010 book, No Apology: “England is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn’t make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy.”(Huh? The “roads are small?” In point of fact, there are dozens of six-lane highways, none of which he has apparently driven. And he should’ve looked at a map, because the island includes Scotland and Wales, too.)It’s lucky for him that the British tabloids didn’t get wind of that No Apology passage.Anyway, Prime Minister David Cameron didn’t much care for Romney’s comments about the London Olympics. He fired back with a volley of quintessential British snark: “We are holding the Olympic games in one of the busiest, most active bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic games in the middle of nowhere.”I should also mention that Romney, while appearing publicly with Labor party chief Ed Milibrand, forgot the Milibrand’s name in the midst of his remarks and wound up calling him “Mr. Leader.” And that Romney subsequently tried to erase his Olympic insults by saying that “I expect the games to be highly successful.” (In response, the conservative newspapers mocked his “180-degree turn.” Apparently they’re not yet familiar with Etch a Sketch.)So it’s on to Poland and Israel…but wait, we’re not quite done yet. At the end of his London visit, still trying to kiss and make up, Romney said this: “I also feel, as Americans do across our nation, a special relationship with the nation of Great Britain.Uh, Mitt? Just FYI, there is no “nation of Great Britain.” Great Britain, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland constitute the nation known as the United Kingdom. It has been called the United Kingdom since 1801. The least Mitt could’ve done, as a supposed statesman, was to get the name right.But, hey, let’s cut him a break. At least he’s an Anglo-Saxon.——-What if the NRA produced a family sitcom? My newspaper column today envisions the results. The humor-impaired will hate it, much to my delight.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1