Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, August 2012
Mitt Romney: The Know-Nothing Candidate
By Lawrence Davidson
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, August 14, 2012
The know-nothings, then and now
There is a universal phenomenon that I call natural localism. The majority of people, wherever they might live, are affected by this condition. It results in limited knowledge – knowledge of what is local, and ignorance (often breeding fear) of what is not local. Unless countered by positive education and tolerance, natural localism can result in aggressive behaviour toward the unfamiliar.
In 1849 natural localism was institutionalized in a small nativist party
in the United States called the
American Party. It was basically an anti-immigrant affair. White men who
were ignorant and fearful of outsiders came to see Catholic immigrants of
all descriptions as undermining the true character of the US, the party was
powerful for a short time, particularly in the northeastern states, electing
candidates to local office throughout the region.
Ignorance was the hallmark of the “know-nothings” and, while they never did capture national power, they never went away. Today you can find their successors throughout the land, fixated on a wide range of issues:
Actually the list is nearly endless. And, given that Americans know so little about so much of what they have strong opinions about, it is inevitable that know-nothingness should contaminate the politics of the nation. For instance, the Republican Party plays the role of today’s know-nothing party. Strong evidence for this conclusion comes from the circus that was the Republican presidential nominating campaign. Since almost all the contenders for the nomination were self-congratulatory know-nothings, it is no surprise that the man who won that contest, Willard Mitt Romney, is one as well.The know-nothing candidate
Romney affirmed himself as the standard bearer of America’s modern know-nothing party during his recent trip to England, Israel and Poland. Here is how it went:
This statement was so outrageous, so historically off the mark, that one might wonder if it was just a publicity stunt to win favour with a monied crowd. But that is doubtful. Romney had long ago aligned his views with his friend Israel’s right-wing prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu comes from a long line of fanatical Israelis who see the Palestinians as inherently inferior. And, there is the fact that Romney has publicly stated that his thinking about Israel and the Jews has been shaped by a book written by Don Senor (now a foreign policy adviser to the Romney campaign) titled Start-Up Nation – the Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle. This book suggests that Israel succeeded economically because of genetics: Jews are born smart and entrepreneurial.
Of course, this is just rubbish. Israel is a “donor state”. That is, from the beginning of its modern history and to a great extent today, it continues to thrive because of a huge annual influx of foreign aid. Billions of dollars pour into Israel every year from the US government, donations from elements of world Jewry and also from crazy Christian Zionists. Given the level of these handouts, any relatively stable nation with a highly educated citizenry could do what the Israelis are economically doing – no Jewish genes required. Yet, just as the reality of occupation is absent from Romney’s frame of reference, so is the largess that has sustained Israel’s economic “miracle” for over 60 years.
Willard Mitt Romney knows about what has been local in his life. He knows how to be a particularly negative businessman, the kind who takes corporations apart and exports their jobs. He also appears to know how to make a lot of money and not pay taxes on it. As a politician he can glad-hand you in order to get a donation and play the chameleon so you are not sure what many of his positions are. He probably knows the other local things that most of us also know: how to balance a chequebook, drive a car and stay clean, etc.. Beyond this, however, it is a safe bet that he is a know-nothing. Worse yet, he is prone to fill his void of ignorance with magical thinking. For instance, that declaration that Israeli success is not only based on cultural superiority, but is also a function of the “hand of providence”.Conclusion
Now the know-nothing candidate wants to be
president. And he may well succeed, depending on just how many other
Americans know nothing in ways that make them comfortable with Mr Romney’s
ignorance. For instance, we know that Christian Zionists (who outnumber the
American Jewish kind) are the same sort of know-nothings and magical
thinkers as Romney. They will vote for him. The infamous 1 per cent, many of
whom agree with Mr Romney’s assertion that
people too” and have the same rights as individuals (more magical
thinking) will vote for him. The “American firsters”, many of whom think
Barack Obama is a closet Muslim and no US citizen at all, will vote for him.
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