Mitt Romney's remarks in London once more serve to underscore his social awkwardness. Though the comments were hardly harsh for Americans, the British perceived them as hectoring, unwarranted and most importantly unwelcomed. Romney violated a key principle of a foreign visit - first do no harm.
Indeed the presumption that he could critique British actions on British soil earned a rebuke from conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and another Troy Boris Johnson, the mayor of London. From his remarks about people's taste to his all-knowing swaggering style, Romney seems to indicate that graciousness is simply not in his DNA. Moreover, unlike Barack Obama's trip in 2008, he chose a pandering tour - Britain, Israel and Poland. Obviously, in the case of the United Kingdom, Romney failed on the first leg of the journey.
But what Romney's comments reveal is a yuppie, circa 1980 style - curt, clipped, ill-mannered and smug. One wonders whether he has a shred of doubt or whether he bothers to think things through. Everything seems to revolve around an ability to get things done - even if they might not need doing. For example, his going to Poland revolves around a missile system that George W. Bush contemplated and Obama rejected. The action, which was counter to American interest, underwrote allies in Eastern Europe that are hardly reliable. It also increased tensions with Russia, which is slowly becoming a haven for U.S. business interests.
In comparison, George W. Bush looks smooth and measured. Romney's mouth contains an impetuous tongue and reveals a careless thought process. He tells the British press that he was briefed by MI6, when such a meeting is in fact top secret. Honesty is a prized commodity in domestic life, but can be dangerous in diplomacy. In this way, he resembles Jimmy Carter insisting on talking about sensitive matters in public forums. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton knew better. When on foreign soil, silence is golden.
A pattern has emerged - Romney cannot stand his ground. He depends on a truth-impaired attack machine to do his dirty work. He is getting like his father, George, in that when he speaks, overstatements and misstatements just tumble from his mouth. Correspondent Jack Germond commenting on the elder Romney in 1967 said that the stumbles were so frequent that he decided to place a single key on his typewriter which stated, "Romney later explained."
But the root cause of these errors is that the former Massachusetts governor has decided to engage in the most intellectually vacuous campaign in recent times. He disavowed his past, took the pledge to never entertain a lucid thought ever again and vowed that when something popped into his head, he'd simply blurt it out. Slowly, but surely, he is becoming Rick Perry.
Of course none of this is necessarily fatal. With unemployment stubbornly high, Obama is vulnerable - very vulnerable. But it is risky to base a campaign strictly on dislike of the incumbent.
In 1980, Reagan was a known quantity - the leader of the conservative movement. Romney is more like Robert Dole - a fixer - but not particularly interesting. If he does not curb his errors - usually unforced mistakes - he will test the enthusiasm of his supporters. Simply, he does not strike anyone as a plausible president, but he has time enough to hone his message and manage to stick to a set of principles. But the London gaffes provide a warning that to just twiddle your thumbs and await another round of unemployment statistics is not good enough.