The Washington Post

The real question of the Romney tour

(The only one who escaped the curse.)

Europe is a touchy place. Just look at what happened in 1914. You assassinate one archduke and within a few weeks everyone in Europe is shouting incoherently and shoving their most promising youth into trenches to die miserably. They actually fought a Hundred Years’ War. We don’t have the attention span for that sort of thing. The closest thing we have is the war on women — or, 90 years from now, the War on Terror.

But maybe the perspective is a little off.

When was the last time an American went abroad and it went well?

President Obama’s Tour Of Dreams And Hope And Magic, during which he cured centuries of European grudges using only the force of his personality and the adulation of the media, was the exception, not the rule. Were it not for Benjamin Franklin, our excursions might be a net negative. He went to France in a fur hat and soon his picture was on everyone’s snuffbox. And they meant it as a compliment!

Other Americans were less impressive. John Adams spent the greater part of his stint as a diplomat complaining grumpily to Abigail by letter. Admittedly, this was how he spent the greater part of his life. Ronald Reagan gave Mikhail Gorbachev some loud remodeling suggestions, which was impolite.

Compared to these, Mitt’s trip caused nary a ripple.

But these days a ripple is all you need.

During campaign season, constructing mountains out of molehills is an unofficial sport.

It’s not a question of what he’s said so much as of what has echoed. You say dozens of things right, you congratulate everyone on their economic success, you watch the Olympic Opening Ceremonies politely, but let the word “disconcerting” pass your lips a single time, and everyone is at your throat. Just let a single aide say, “Kiss my ass. This is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect” to reporters and suddenly no one is paying attention to your speech anymore.

Romney is not the only man to have had problems while traveling around Europe. Show me someone who has had a uniformly good time in Europe and I will show you a European. And barely even then. Consider what happened to poor Napoleon. Even Obama made his share of Europe-related gaffes, with “Polish death camps” still hovering uncomfortably in recent memory.

The real question is if anyone will care.

As Chris Cillizza points out, only 1 percent of responders in a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll deemed foreign policy the most important factor in deciding on a candidate. For all we cared, Romney could have personally told the British to shove it.

The only thing people care less about is “leadership,” for which I do not blame them.

Sometimes we care what is happening overseas. Other times, World War I happens, and we scarcely notice.

Besides, it could have been worse. At least no one introduced himself as a jelly roll.

This post has been updated.

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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