Mitt Romney's disastrous trip abroad has been -- and continues to be -- filled with abhorrent, shocking and embarrassing statements that fail even the most elementary tests of diplomacy.
However, one thing should be made clear: they are not gaffes.
Instead, they are, quite simply, a true expression of his nature as a businessman whose success has never been dependent upon a sensitivity to others' feelings, concerns or perspectives.
In short: Romney doesn't get diplomacy because he has never needed to be diplomatic in his Darwinian capitalist drive, nor is it his nature to understand the importance of diplomacy.
This is precisely the point that Fred Kaplan made yesterday in Slate in a piece entitled "Romney's World."
After examining Charles Krauthammer's utter dismay at Romney's behavior in London, Kaplan explains:
The thing that Krauthammer doesn’t get is that Romney is not the sort of businessman—that his brand of capitalism is not the sort of enterprise—that requires even the most elementary understanding of diplomacy, courtesy, or sensitivity to other people’s values, lives, or perceptions.Which is why, in retrospect, it should not be a surprise that Romney is performing so horrendously abroad -- denigrating his hosts, revealing secret meetings and breaking protocol by criticizing President Obama on foreign soil. See, he was built to fall flat on his face in such diplomatic settings.
The American capitalists-turned-statesmen of an earlier generation—Douglas Dillon, Averell Harriman, Robert Lovett, John McCloy, Dean Acheson, Paul Nitze—took risks, built institutions, helped rebuild postwar Europe, befriended their foreign counterparts: in short, they cultivated an internationalist sensibility at their core. Whatever you think of their politics or Cold War policies generally (and there is much to criticize), financiers formed an American political elite in that era because finance (through the Marshall Plan, the World Bank, the IMF, and so forth) was so often the vehicle of American expansionism.
By contrast, private-equity firms, such as Bain Capital, where Romney made his fortune, tend to view their client companies as cash cows, susceptible to cookie-cutter formulas from which the firms’ partners reap lavish fees, almost regardless of the outcome. Their ends and means breed an insularity, a sense of entitlement, a disposition to view all the world’s entities through a single prism and to appraise them along a single scale.
Now, Romney's trip was obviously intended to demonstrate that he has the capacity to lead on the world stage. That he can be comfortable, confident and loved when in the company of world leaders.
What it has done is demonstrate exactly the opposite. He is awkward, clumsy and not well-liked for the very same reasons he has succeeded in business.
He doesn't understand anyone's self-interests but his own.
Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG
Paul Krugman apparently likes Kaplan's analysis as much as I do, and after praising his piece, he noted:I would only add that the bankers of yore operated by building relationships; Bain made its investors money in large part by breaking relationships, e.g. by walking away from implicit promises to workers. It’s not a style that makes for good diplomacy.