The word “gaffe” is of obscure origins (possibly deriving from a French word for a boat hook) and means or at least used to mean a blunder. In recent years the word has been expanded to include something journalist Michael Kinsley once wisecracked: a gaffe is when a politician inadvertently tells the truth.
Over the last week or so the meaning of the word has, apparently, expanded once again to include telling uncomfortable truths. When Mitt Romney questioned the security arrangements at the London Olympics was it a blunder? An inadvertent telling of the truth? Or just plain telling an uncomfortable truth?
A day or so ago when Mitt Romney remarked that the reason that the per capita GDP of the Israelis was so much higher than that of the Palestinians was it a blunder? An inadvertent telling of the truth? Or just plain telling an uncomfortable truth? I think almost unquestionably the latter and, apparently, Marc Thiessen agrees with me:
The media is accusing Mitt Romney of having committed another “gaffe” abroad — this time when he suggested that cultural differences help explain why the Israelis are so much more economically successful than Palestinians.
One small problem with that: What Romney said was not a gaffe. He was absolutely right.
In reporting the so-called gaffe, the New York Times explained that Romney simply does not understand that the Palestinians’ economic problems are all Israel’s fault: “The Palestinians have long complained that their economy is in a chokehold from Israeli security measures,” the Times declared, adding “The West Bank is subject to trade restrictions imposed by the Israelis, while Gaza was subject to a near-total Israeli blockade on people and goods after Hamas took control of its government five years ago. Mr. Romney mentioned neither during his speech on Monday.”
But these security measures are the direct result of culture — the culture of terrorism that permeates the Palestinian territories. In 2009, the Pew Global Attitudes Project showed support for suicide bombing on the decline across the Muslim world, with just one lonely exception: the Palestinian territories: “[M]ajorities or pluralities among eight of the nine Muslim publics surveyed this year say that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians can never be justified to defend Islam; only in the Palestinian territories does a majority endorse such attacks.” [Emphasis added].
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I have little doubt that there’s a kernel of truth in the Palestinians’ complaint that the Israelis’ sanctions are suppressing their economy below what it otherwise might be. That could explain a fraction of the difference between the economy of the Palestinians and that of the Syrians or even the Lebanese. The sanctions do not explain the difference between the economy of Israel and those of Lebanon, Syria, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iraq, just to name a few of the countries in the region.
The Palestinians’ problems do not end with Israel’s sanctions. There’s also corruption, lack of liberty, cronyism, kleptocracy, and undercapitalization. That the Arab countries have a tradition of not lending money at interest, clearly a cultural difference, might have something to do with their inadequate capitalization.
Under this new definition of “gaffe” what isn’t a gaffe? Discrete lying by omission?