The opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games displayed Britain’s contemporary cultural relevance and glorious heritage.
Which makes it all the more puzzling why Mitt Romney shied from embracing the so-called "shared heritage" comments London’s Daily Telegraph attributed to one of his staffers last week.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul distanced the Republican presidential challenger from the comments in a hasty bid to stanch the Obama campaign’s predictable misrepresentation of the words.
Romney this week defended comments he made in Jerusalem about Israel’s “economic vitality” compared to the poor Palestinian economy, saying his subsequent focus on the importance of “cultural differences” was not an indictment of Palestinian culture.
But on the “shared heritage” comments, Saul succumbed to leftist political correctness because any honest analysis of both their substance and syntax shows there was nothing exclusionary or elitist about them. In fact, they’re reflective of why freedom-loving Americans of any ethnic background should be happy to elect Romney to the presidency.
According to the report by Telegraph Washington correspondent Jon Swaine, the Romney staffer suggested that his boss had a better understanding of the close traditional ties between the United States and Britain than does President Obama.
The aide was speaking of Romney when he told Swaine, “We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special.”
The aide added, “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.”
Swaine mischievously highlights that Obama’s father was from Africa as he suggests the comments could “prompt accusations of racial insensitivity.”
But it’s doubtful the Obama campaign needed any prodding to pounce on the remarks.
Top Obama strategist David Axelrod called them “stunningly offensive,” and Vice President Biden issued a statement accusing the Romney campaign of “playing politics with international diplomacy.”
Such righteous indignation. The anonymous Romney staffer’s comments were historically sound, observationally accurate and clear of any racial undertone.
The United States and Britain share a heritage that permeates throughout all English-speaking peoples, regardless of their racial make-up. This heritage is marked by a historical march toward freedom and rule of law — starting with the Magna Carta and the first parliament, and spreading out through the First and Second British Empires, the Commonwealth and, very much so, the United States as leader of the free world. The French had their philosophers and their revolution. But then they got the Terror, followed by Napoleon. The Germans did well in America — not so well in the land of their fathers. The Spanish? Just look at their legacy in Latin America, which only recently has begun to embrace true democracy — with difficulty in some parts.
Being able to celebrate America’s Anglo-Saxon heritage has nothing to do with whether one’s father was from Africa. It has everything to do with adhering to the economic and political freedoms that were embraced by peoples whose collective heritage reaches back to the islands where the Germanic Angles and Saxons began arriving in the fifth century.
Romney adheres to many of the values of that same liberal heritage. Obama has a statist bent — the degree to which might be far greater than he has so far demonstrated.
Romney is also more likely to value the U.S.-U.K. special relationship, which Winston Churchill most famously underscored in his 1946 Fulton, Mo., speech, but which had become a practical reality many decades earlier. Indeed, Romney’s decision to visit Britain, Israel and Poland — three of America’s staunchest allies — contrasts starkly with Obama’s documented habit of undervaluing America’s best friends while extending all sorts of courtesies to U.S. enemies.
There would, of course, be less room for criticism if the words “Anglo-Saxon” were not commonly (and mistakenly) used to denote the shared heritage of English-speaking peoples. Even England was never exclusively made up of Angles and Saxons.
The title of Churchill’s four-volume A History of the English-Speaking Peoples shows which term he preferred. “There is no other that applies both to the inhabitants of the British Isles and to those independent nations who derive their beginnings, their speech and many of their institutions from England, and who now preserve, nourish and develop them in their own ways,” he wrote in the work’s preface.
If the Romney camp, for expediency, renounced the staffer’s “Anglo-Saxon” reference, Romney himself later demonstrated that he does indeed hold the special relationship and, by extension, the two countries’ “shared heritage,” in esteem.
He said he was “looking forward to the bust of Winston Churchill being in the Oval Office again.” President George W. Bush had received the bust from British Prime Minister Tony Blair as an expression of U.S.-U.K. solidarity. But upon entering the White House, Obama swiftly returned the artifact, which had officially been on loan from Britain.
Now, that was an act that many thought was “stunningly offensive.”
Steven Edwards is a New York-based writer on international issues. Follow him on Twitter: @stevenmedwards