“The fundamentals of the economy are strong.” The moment those words left John McCains lips four years ago almost to the day, his bid for the White House was over. It took a few weeks for the reality of that to sink in, of course, abetted by the continuing unraveling of our economy. His subsequent bizarre two day suspension of his campaign to fly back to Washington, roll up his sleeves, and help avert economic disaster only exacerbated the disaster (the political one, not, presumably, the economic one).
He uttered those words in response to the growing panic triggered by the Lehman Brothers filing for bankruptcy, an event that itself sent shock waves through the economic firmament that continue to be felt to this day. Now, four years later, Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has helped to further immortalize McCains gaffe by making a statement so incongruous that it is being described as a ‘Lehman moment.’
After the horrific events at the Benghazi consulate in Libya, in which four American citizens lost their lives, it was obviously a time for Americans to reflect on the sacrifice of the individuals, whether service members, staffers, or diplomats, who seek to further our foreign policy and relationships with the nations of the world. It was a time to contemplate why America is often viewed negatively in parts of the world, and what we can collectively do to help others understand the fundamental values that we espouse, ideally creating a better, more tolerant image of America abroad. Values which can empower both the best examples of what freedom of speech and expression can produce, and also the depths of cynicism and manipulation that were embodied in the anti-Islamic video which ostensibly was responsible for the violence which cost those four lives.
Instead of doing any of those things, Mitt Romney took a calculated political chance to try to score points in the election by pandering to the baser elements of American nationalism. First, let’s understand what happened.
An idiot, exercising his rights for freedom of speech and expression, made a very distasteful film about Islam. This was posted to YouTube. It was obviously done, once you understand the people behind it, to not only create controversy, but quite likely violence. Islam is possibly the fastest growing religion on the planet, with 1 in 4 living people being Muslim. As with any movement, there are extremes. Extremism in Christianity gave us the Crusades. Extremism in Islamic context gives us the equally ugliness of violent Jihad. Mocking and politicizing the religion of a quarter of the people on the planet is a right given to us by our freedom of speech, but it has consequences.
As this video was generating increasing tension and violence throughout the Middle East and Africa, the Egyptian embassy put out a statement chastising the ‘misguided individuals’ who had created this video. Let’s imagine that neo-nazis painted swastikas on a synagogue… you might be inclined to say ‘that was a misguided thing to do.’ The Egyptian embassy did this before the attack on the Libyan consulate, and without clearance from Washington.
The next day, a very well armed and coordinated attack on the Libyan consulate in Benghazi Libya left 4 Americans dead, including two Marines and the Ambassador to Libya. This is the first time since 1988 that a US Ambassador to a foreign nation has been killed in the line of duty. While the violence appeared to at least be related to the protests and outrage over this video, there is growing speculation that there was at least a component of organized and targeted violence as well.
Apparently shooting from the hip, with precious little information, Romney issued this statement:
“It is disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”
To make matters worse, he double down on his criticism the next day. This seems to indicate that this may not have actually been just poorly planned, poorly thought out politicization of a tragedy, but rather a calculated ploy that, if it reveals anything, reveals that Romneys advisers do not believe that his campaign can win the election without manufacturing a game changing event.