The Washington Post

Mitt, the Brits, and Anglo-Saxon problems

Here’s Mitt, not overseas yet. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) (Justin Sullivan/GETTY IMAGES)

If I’d said a thing like that, I’d want to be anonymous too.

The Romney campaign has recoiled from this statement the way you generally recoil from lepers holding poisonous snakes. “If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Governor Romney or anyone inside the campaign,” they announced.

Even leaving aside the more obvious political ramifications of this remark, I don’t know why an appreciation for a group of marauding Germanic invaders would be expected to win points. Especially when you remember all the atrocious things the Angles and Saxons did, writing Beowulf and coining words like “badger.” As far as I can tell, they did nothing of use, but marched around doing unspeakable things to the language and inspiring dreadful puns — “Not Angles, but Angels!” cried Pope Gregory I, laying eyes on them. Why anyone would admit any shared heritage with them whatsoever, unless menaced with a pike, is beyond me.

This being said, I like the idea of getting back together with Great Britain. Remember when the Brits gave President Obama some sort of stately, well-thought-out gift made from the thigh of Edward the Confessor, or something, and he responded with some DVDs that didn’t work in England? That was mortifying. We are supposed to have a special relationship! After all, this is one of the few foreign countries where people address you in English without your having to yell at them first. Special might not be exactly the right word; we have the same special relationship with them that one has with an eccentric parent. We are glad that the ocean is there, but every few years we call them up to joke about how crazy things were when we lived under the same roof. Then they try to invite us over for breakfast, and we pretend to be busy.

And I like Romney’s idea of reinstating the Churchill bust in the White House. If most veteran quotation-droppers are to be believed, Winston Churchill said everything. Besides, if Franklin Roosevelt stumbles upon you bathing in the altogether and your response is, “Come right in! The Prime Minister of Great Britain has nothing to hide from the President of the United States!” you deserve some sort of permanent monument.

So it’s a shame that this Anglo-Saxon quote turned up at such an inopportune moment. Politics are supposed to stop at water’s edge. If not they get damp and wrinkle and dry in strange shapes. This is why you never see people invading over oceans. Certainly not Germanic tribes.

I wonder what the Anglo-Saxons would have made of all this. Their idea of a gaffe was chopping the wrong person’s arm off when he burst into your mead-hall unannounced. Go on a family vacation with your dragon strapped to the top of the cart, breathing fire and wreaking havoc everywhere? Why not? In debates, when people pointed to the infrastructure and lovely system of roads and walls and said, “You didn’t build that,” they grew quickly confused. “Of course we didn’t,” they said. “The Romans did.”

In the mean time, I wouldn’t care to be the anonymous gaffer. The Anglo-Saxons may have vanished beyond the mists of time, but the memory of how to wield a pitchfork lingers.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".


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