Mitt Romney, the businessman with an eye for what’s going wrong, can’t resist the temptation to critique what he sees. A cliche-monger would call him a “problem-solver.” Others would call him a pain in the neck.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee arrived in London this week, took a quick look around and observed the obvious, that neither our English cousins, nor the London Olympics appear to be quite ready for prime time.
The man credited with saving the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics called the well-known problems with security, traffic and a threatened strike by immigration officers “a bit disconcerting.” The very word “disconcerting” is prim enough to suit the diplomats who know which finger to crook over a cup of tea, but not David Cameron, the prime minister who scolded Mr. Romney for his plain language.
Many of the thousands of reporters in town naturally called Mr. Romney’s remarks a “gaffe,” and suited up in their goggles and flying suits for duty with the dreaded Gaffe Patrol.
A true gaffe is when a politician unexpectedly tells it like it really is, so this may be an authentic gaffe. The run-up to the London Olympics has been a cluster of migraines for nearly everyone. They’re enough to make an Olympian forget where he put his shot.
The prime minister, in his return fire, cited all the good things his government has done to make the London Olympics succeed, such as firing up enough enthusiasm to recruit 8,000 “ambassadors” to be nice to visitors, and sending the Olympic flame on a 70-day journey through the isles on its way to the stadium for Friday’s opening ceremony.
Even Mr. Romney mellowed his critique of Britons as the Olympic torch, which originated at the site of the original Olympics in Greece, approached the stadium. “Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment?” he asked. “That’s something which we only find out when the games actually begin.” He made nice as well with 10 Downing Street, while slipping the needle to President Obama, telling a fundraiser rally for Americans in London that he is “looking forward to the bust of Winston Churchill being in the Oval Office again.”
The bronze, by Sir Jacob Epstein, was loaned to the White House in 2001 at the request of President George W. Bush, an admirer of all things British, and sent back to London at the request of Mr. Obama, who is not much of an admirer of many things British.
Controversy is nothing new to the Olympics, which has from its origins, renewed with the founding of the modern Olympics in 1896, nourished the conceit that the games are a force for peace, justice and other nifty things. “The day [the games are] introduced, the cause of peace will have received a new and strong ally,” said Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the French organizer on the day the modern games opened.
Not much peace has happened since, though the Olympian bureaucracy still smears such treacle on the games. “Through the Olympic spirit, we can instill brotherhood, respect, fair play, gender equality and even combat doping,” Jacques Rogge, the current president of the International Olympic Committee, said during the planning of the London games. Not a lot of all that so far, either.
“Far from finding ‘a new and strong ally’ in the games,” writes the historian Andrew Roberts in the Wall Street Journal, “the cause of world peace has been betrayed by the International Olympic Committee time and again.” He cites the example of the Berlin Olympics in 1936, which der Fuehrer tried to make a showcase for his racist theories. He was thwarted by Jesse Owens, who gave the name “a goin’ Jesse” new meaning by winning four gold medals while Hitler watched sullenly from the grandstand.
Though those games were awarded two years before Hitler came to power in 1933, Mr. Roberts observes that 114 anti-Semitic laws were put on the books by 1936, and the International Olympic Committee resisted withdrawing the games from Berlin. Avery Brundage, an American who chaired the committee, argued that since only 12 Jews had ever participated in the Olympics, nobody could blame the Nazis if no Jews showed up for the 1936 games.
This year the committee refused to make any recognition of the 1972 Olympics, where Palestinian guerrillas killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches in Munich. Mr. Obama joined the international demand for some sort of remembrance in London. The committee, in the name of world peace, said no. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Some world, some peace.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.