Mitt Romney felt the need to write an op-ed clarifying what he meant when he was talking about, but also not talking about, the differences between Palestinian and Israeli cultures the other day.
Romney was speaking to a group of wealthy donors on Monday when he made some questionable comments about the differences between the two countries. "As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality," he said. Unsurprisingly, the Palestinian government was pissed. After taking some heat for his comments, Romney told Fox News that he wasn't talking about culture at all (emphasis ours):
"I'm not speaking about it, did not speak about the Palestinian culture or the decisions made in their economy." Instead, he said he's pointing out "that the choices that a society makes has a profound impact on the economy and the vitality of that society."
But, less than 24 hours later, Romney dropped this National Review op-ed where he explains what, exactly, he was talking about.
During my recent trip to Israel, I had suggested that the choices a society makes about its culture play a role in creating prosperity, and that the significant disparity between Israeli and Palestinian living standards was powerfully influenced by it. In some quarters, that comment became the subject of controversy.
But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture?
Oh, so you weren't talking about culture, except for when you were. Got it.
Romney explains how the American economy is fueled by a particular brand of American culture. "The American economy is fueled by freedom. Free people and their free enterprises are what drive our economic vitality," he explains. He talks about how freedom allowed the American economy to become the best in the world. Then the real doubling down starts. He explains exactly what it was he meant on Monday:
Israel is also a telling example. Like the United States, the state of Israel has a culture that is based upon individual freedom and the rule of law. It is a democracy that has embraced liberty, both political and economic. This embrace has created conditions that have enabled innovators and entrepreneurs to make the desert bloom. In the face of improbable odds, Israel today is a world leader in fields ranging from medicine to information technology.
As the case of Israel makes plain, building a free society is not a simple task. Rather, it is struggle demanding constant courage and sacrifice. Even here in the United States, which from our inception as a nation has been blessed with freedom, we faced monumental challenges in harmonizing our ideals with our institutions. We fought a bloody civil war against slavery and it took a nonviolent civil-rights movement to bring political and social equality to all Americans. In these epic struggles we changed our “culture” and vastly improved it.