Something has been bothering me about the stylized "R" in Mitt Romney's campaign information. (I'm placing the image of it below the fold so that I don't have to look at it ever time I review my posts.) I've finally figured out what it is.
At first I thought it evoked the French flag -- perhaps as a sort of tribute to the country where Mitt Romney waited out the Vietnam War while on a religious mission. Then I realized that, while it is European, it's not French -- wrong orientation.
Why does Mitt Romney use a Dutch flag to symbolize his name? Why would he do that? Some thoughts below.
Netherlands (including North Holland and South Holland and ten other provinces), a constituent country (along with Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten) within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, might seem like an odd country for Romney to choose as his political symbol -- does he really want to remind people of the Netherlands Antilles in the Caribbean when he wants them to forget about the nearby Cayman Islands? -- but it is not an entirely inexplicable choice.
(I should note here that I mean no disrespect to the Dutch people in exploring this odd choice of Romney's. But, you know, you build up a world empire and you have to expect that there might be some lasting consequences.)
What does "the Netherlands" mean to Americans? Well, there are the terms "Holland" and "Dutch," for starters.
"Holland" makes it into American lingo mostly through Hollandaise sauce, one of the five French "mother sauces", defined as "an emulsion of lemon juice and butter, by way of egg yolk." (This would not be a bad start if one were to try to build a recipe to approximate Mitt Romney himself. A clue?) There are also many prominent public figures named "Holland" including the designer of the namesake Manhattan tunnel, Clifford Holland, the main road from the west towards Wall Street; the great female Polish director Agnieszka Holland, whose most prominent film until last year was Europa, Europa (significance self-explanatory!) and whose film In Darkness is among the five nominees for this year's Best Foreign Film Oscar (is the point mere foreignness, or is this some veiled Obama reference?); musician Jools Holland, a founding member of the excellent band Squeeze (another "threatened middle-class reference"? but why??); and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Latter Day Saints church (and thereby considered a prophet and seer)], former President of BYU Jeffrey R. Holland, but I know of no connection between the two men strong enough to justify that significant of a tribute.
That just scratches the surface. Plenty there for people to check out.
As for "Dutch" -- the mind reels at the possibilities! First, of course, "Dutch" was (occasionally) Ronald Reagan's nickname, so fashioning the "R" into a Dutch flag is obviously a bid to invoke the memory of the 40th President. (Doubling the "R" would have been more effective, but also more blatant. The understatement is probably wise.)
One would think that some of the other resonances of the word, though, might have given Romney pause. The Dutch are a particularly maligned ethnicity in American English jargon, what with "Dutch Treat" or "Going Dutch" ("everyone pay for yourself!"), "Dutch Auction" (starting out with an unreasonably high price and then lowering it until someone buys), "Dutch Book" (a series of bets or trades that necessarily leave one party better off), "Dutch Uncle" (giver of critical rather than avuncular advice), "Dutch Courage" (bravery attributable to drunkenness), "Dutch Metal" or "Dutch Gold" (a cheap copper and zinc alloy imitating gold, and/or a cheap imported beer) and the colloquial meaning of "Dutch Oven" (I'm not linking to it, but this page does.)
Whew! It's hard out there for a Dutch Boy! (By the way, "Dutch Boy" was originally the "National Lead Company." Yet another evocation for a leaden candidate to avoid!)
So why would Romney not avoid the Ditch of Dutchness by adopting that nation's flag? Does he really want us thinking of Duchesses, or passing the Dutchie on the left-hand side? (My guesses are respectively "no" and "NOOOO!") There must be a good reason for his not putting his finger into the dike -- no, I'm not going there -- holding back these mental associations before they flood through our minds! (Oh, great -- it also evokes global warming!)
One possibility is that Romney is simply using the Dutch flag imagery to signal to his conservative supporters aspects of the European affiliations that he otherwise hides. This serves two purposes. For liberals, it gives him some slight subliminal spoor of socialism, sort of hedging his bets on laissez-faire, as it ware. (He does know his way around hedge funds and hedging positions, after all.) But "Dutch" has another resonance to industrialists and students of American history: banking.
It was Dutch bankers, after all, who were convinced by John Adams to fund a significant part of the American revolution, as a way of tossing a Dutch Apple at their British commercial rivals. And, of course, the Dutch were big moneymen over much of the past 500 or so years, since tossing off the yoke of the Hapsburgs. They were the ones with the money to fund the Dutch Tulip Craze, for example -- the prototypical capitalist speculative bubble. (The United States, at least in the period before major encroachment into Native American and Spanish territory in the west and southwest, is largely thought of as being an extension of English and German culture, but there's a good case to be made that in a lot of ways, we're as much an extension of a Dutch sensibility as anything else. South Africa, of course, had some similar problems. Is part of the use of the Dutch flag also an evocation of the racism of old South Africa? Blatant -- yet subtle and deniable! Yes, that does sound like Romney.)
And that brings to the final reason that Romney may have wanted to evoke the Dutch flag with his campaign emblem: arguably the largest and most fearsome legacy that the Dutch ever set loose upon the world -- the Dutch East India Company.
The Dutch East India Company (Dutch: Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC, "United East India Company") was a chartered company established in 1602, when the States-General of the Netherlands granted it a 21-year monopoly to carry out colonial activities in Asia. It was the second multinational corporation in the world (the British East India Company was founded two years earlier) and the first company to issue stock. It was also arguably the first megacorporation, possessing quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts, negotiate treaties, coin money, and establish colonies.(Yes, Indonesia -- where Barack Obama was raised as a child.)
Statistically, the VOC eclipsed all of its rivals in the Asia trade. Between 1602 and 1796 the VOC sent almost a million Europeans to work in the Asia trade on 4,785 ships, and netted for their efforts more than 2.5 million tons of Asian trade goods. By contrast, the rest of Europe combined sent only 882,412 people from 1500 to 1795, and the fleet of the English (later British) East India Company, the VOC’s nearest competitor, was a distant second to its total traffic with 2,690 ships and a mere one-fifth the tonnage of goods carried by the VOC. The VOC enjoyed huge profits from its spice monopoly through most of the 17th century.
Having been set up in 1602, to profit from the Malukan spice trade, in 1619 the VOC established a capital in the port city of Batavia (now Jakarta). Over the next two centuries the Company acquired additional ports as trading bases and safeguarded their interests by taking over surrounding territory. It remained an important trading concern and paid an 18% annual dividend for almost 200 years.
Weighed down by corruption in the late 18th century, the Company went bankrupt and was formally dissolved in 1800, its possessions and the debt being taken over by the government of the Dutch Batavian Republic. The VOC's territories became the Dutch East Indies and were expanded over the course of the 19th century to include the whole of the Indonesian archipelago, and in the 20th century would form Indonesia.
Oh, Mitt Romney, you clever, clever man. With one small symbol -- one stylized letter "R" -- you've evoked the whole history of international corporate development, corrupt abuse of bankruptcy laws and government bailouts, obscene investment returns and privatized imperial hegemony. You sent the signal of what little was at your true core to those who needed to see it. The Dutch flag! Brilliant!
(But did he really think, though, that we wouldn't eventually notice it? Maybe not until after the election, is that what he thought? I know that these are extraordinary claims, but you'll have to admit that this is also pretty extraordinary evidence.)
Now, we must let the whole world know about it. I hope to see this on Tea Party websites by tomorrow morning. Intrepid readers, you know what you must do.