The press is having fun today amplifying the complaint of Palestinian "negotiator" Saeb Ereikat that comments Mitt Romney made in Jerusalem yesterday are "racist." What was Romney's offense? In the course of expressing amazement at Israel's economic miracle, he merely pointed out that cultural differences lead to differences in economic performance.
In Romney's own words:
"And as you come here and you see the GDP per capita for instance in Israel which is about 21,000 dollars [sic] and you compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority which is more like 10,000 dollars per capita [sic] you notice a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States. ... there was a book written by a former Harvard professor [David Landes] named ‘The Wealth and Poverty of Nations.’ ...and he’s in his early 70s at this point, he says this, he says, if you could learn anything from the economic history of the world it’s this: culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference. And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things."
The funny thing is, there's another candidate for president who has also made this point, and in fact made it repeatedly over the past few years. That candidate is the current president, Barack Obama.
In his famous 2009 “Speech to the Muslim World” in Cairo, he said:
“But all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century -- and in too many Muslim communities, there remains underinvestment in these areas.”
He pointed out that "a woman who is denied an education is denied equality... And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well educated are far more likely to be prosperous."
He added that he has "an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose...Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure."
Two years later, in another speech (this one on the Arab Spring), he told the U.S.-Islamic World Forum:
"Throughout the region, many young people have a solid education, but closed economies leave them unable to find a job. Entrepreneurs are brimming with ideas, but corruption leaves them unable to profit from those ideas."
Maybe Obama has read the same fine David Landes book that Romney cited – which discusses the importance to a healthy economy of women’s empowerment. Why might we think this? Because Obama said:
"History shows that countries are more prosperous and more peaceful when women are empowered… The region will never reach its full potential when more than half of its population is prevented from achieving their full potential."
Reading all this, one might even conclude that Obama has been quite a bit more critical of Arab societies than Romney has. One trusts it isn’t racist to point that out.