Not ready for prime time

Romney’s visit to Israel was an exercise in pandering

Mitt Romney and his crew tripped up several times during his trip to Europe this week, which suggests he’s not quite the organizational wunderkind he’d like us to think he is.

I mean, it’s OK for the British to criticize their planning for the Olympics, but, as my mother always said, a guest never speaks ill of the host’s silverware.

And Romney’s remark in Israel—that the economic success of the Israelis, compared to the Palestinians’ poverty, was somehow due to their superior culture—was stupidly bigoted. Unlike the Palestinians, the Israelis haven’t been forced to live under oppressive occupation for 50 years. But then Romney made no effort to understand the Palestinians, declining to visit the West Bank or meet with Mahmoud Abbas, the duly elected president of the Palestine Authority.

Romney’s comment was of a piece with the shameful pandering he began doing the moment he arrived in Israel. Everything he said was carefully calibrated to appeal to right-wing Israelis and right-wing American Jews like Newt Gingrich’s pal Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate—now under investigation for allegedly bribing Chinese officials in Macau—who is talking about donating $100 million to the Romney campaign.

It’s distressing, also, that Romney held a fundraiser in Jerusalem and excluded the press, and that Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is openly favoring him over President Obama. Most disturbing is that Romney has promised, in effect, that he will take America to war on Israel’s behalf by backing an Israeli first-strike attack on Iran.

The last time an American president promised his pro-Israel supporters a war, his name was George W. Bush, and we got Iraq.

He’ll say anything: Newsweek caused waves this week by putting Romney on its cover and asking about the “wimp factor”—whether he lacks the cojones to be president. But the real question is whether he can be trusted not to lie.

I’ve never seen a candidate change his positions on significant issues so often and in such transformative ways. On abortion rights, gun control, health care, immigration and taxation, Romney has done a complete flip-flop in order to appeal to the farthest reaches of the right wing in his party.

He’ll do anything, apparently, to get elected. Does that lack of political backbone make him a wimp? You decide.

Crunching numbers: Bill Bradley, who writes the New West Notes blog on the Huffington Post and once wrote for this paper, points out, correctly, that I got my cost figures messed up last week when talking about the high-speed-rail line and the peripheral tunnels.

The state hasn’t committed to $82 billion to build the two projects, as I wrote. Voters have approved a $10 billion bond issue for the $68 billion rail project, with matching funds coming from the federal government. More will be needed from both sources, of course. And water users will pay for the tunnels ($14 billion), though taxpayers will have to come up with an estimated $10 billion to repair the Delta itself.

It’s still a boatload of bucks, just not as big a boat as I said.

Robert Speer is editor of the CN&R.