So much for that shared “Anglo Saxon heritage.” Mitt Romney is getting roasted across the British press and political establishment for arriving on the shores of the United Kingdom armed with a critique of London’s capacity to host the 2012 Olympic Games. In a moment displaying a political ear made of the finest tin, Romney told NBC’s Brian Williams, “It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out. There are a few things that were disconcerting: the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging.”
Now newspapers and politicians from across the political spectrum are making Mitt Romney look less presidential and more like a well-coiffed punching bag. The last time an American has been beaten so badly by Brits, Bob Fitzsimmons was knocking the stuffing out of Jack Dempsey.
Of all the insults he endured in the press, none is quite as memorable as the Daily Mail headline, “’Devoid of charm, offensive and a ‘wazzock’: Romney’s disastrous day in London after saying he didn’t know if Olympics would be a success.” (A “wazzock” is “an idiot” or a “daft person” in Brit-speak.)
Even Tory Prime Minister David Cameron got into the act, smacking down Romney’s experience organizing the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Games by saying tartly, “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”
The biggest issue is neither the gaffe nor the demonstrable fact that Romney is in fact a “wazzock”. It’s that he is dead wrong about the UK’s preparedness, and this is actually unfortunate. The UK is not under-prepared but over-prepared.
I was in London in May and want to share what “over-prepared” means. Over-prepared means that cameras are absolutely everywhere. Over-prepared means more troops on the ground than the UK has ever had in Afghanistan. Over-prepared means a gunship in the Thames, efforts to attach missiles to the roofs of residential apartment buildings, and the use of unarmed “surveillance drones.” Over-prepared means hundreds of members of the “brand-police” making sure that no one is using the symbol of the Olympic rings unlawfully or drinking the wrong soft-drink or wearing something with a Nike swoosh (Adidas is the official sponsor after all). Over-prepared also means the harassment of peaceful protests.
As Jules Boykoff wrote, “[Scotland Yard] highlighted ‘four key risks to the Games’—terrorism, protest, organised crime, and natural disasters. Singling out protest as a ‘threat’ and then sandwiching it between terrorism and organised crime was revealing. For political activists it was ominous. Security officials should most assuredly do their best to prevent acts of terrorism—that’s their job—but this does not give them carte blanche to conflate activism with terrorism and criminality. Keeping the Games safe from terrorism is one thing—green lighting the squelching of individual freedoms and human rights is another entirely.”
Yes, Mitt Romney humiliated himself by suggesting that the UK is under-prepared. He also showed that he doesn’t realize or care that the over-preparedness on naked display comes at the cost of civil liberties and personal freedom and the expansion of militarism of our daily lives, three issues that are clearly very low on his personal priority list. For the people of the UK, these issues matter. Which is why there will be a protest gathering this Saturday, July 28, at Mile End Park in defense of the very human rights the presence of the Olympics disrupts. Here’s hoping they are allowed to gather in peace.
Here’s also wishing best of luck to the Romney family’s personal Olympic Dressage Horse Rafalca, in her quest for gold. Let’s hope he doesn’t strap her to the roof of his private plane for the trip home.