Mitt Romney’s recent comments about the power of culture in Israel and Palestine were not just a gaffe and not just political pandering when he said about the economic gap between Israelis and Palestinians that “Culture makes all the difference.” This is also supposed to include the difference between Chile and Ecuador, or the United States and Mexico. I’m sure that Romney really believes this. I’m also willing to bet that he believes that rich people are better than poor people; and corporations are people too, really superior people, more “vital.”
So what’s new? Rich people have almost always thought they are better than poor people. The difference is how this difference between the superrich and the rest of us gets carried over into politics. While politics and money have always been inseparable, what’s new, I think, is the way money is entering so baldly into political discourse. This would explain why Romney keeps saying stuff about Anne’s Cadillacs and his friends who own Nascar teams, and the withholding of his taxes, and so on and so on. The election is turning out to be about more than the economy. It’s turning out to be about money, or what Mark Taylor has called a “confidence game, ” the “search for religious certainty, moral clarity, and national purpose” in the face of “overwhelming insecurity” (Confidence Games: Money and Markets in a World without Redemption, p.1).
The problem then with so-called “Political Theology” is that it has always come up short in its refusal to look squarely at money, which is abstract and material, all at once. As Taylor writes, “In their long and tangled histories, it is often impossible to know whether money represents God or God represents money” (122). I suppose we are going to learn a lot more about how capital figures itself as absolute (Taylor, chp.3), how it makes itself, how it hides itself, how it shows itself, how it moves itself and pools itself, just like God in western theology after Ockham (about which Taylor also writes).
With Romney and his new pal Sheldon Adelson, we get to see it all creepy, in the flesh, the animate power of what we might have otherwise thought was inanimate stuff and inanimate function.
Why do America’s inner cities economically under-perform the affluent Suburbs? Well, it’s obvious, as Romney and so many others through the years, brilliantly remind us. it’s the culture of the poor that brings on their economic misery, not their economic misery that creates the culture of the poor. And did anyone ever notice that poverty can be enforced by military rule and occupation? So it’s not just Romney’s self-serving and ludicrous view that the rich deserve praise for getting richer. It’s his ignorance of recent world history. How did it escape him that Palestine is an Occupied Territory? And as the media focuses in on his remark about “culture,” his ignorance of the Massive fact of Military Occupation goes unnoticed. Let’s ask Romney if the ‘culture’ of the West Bank would improve if occupying soldiers left the West Bank. Or if the American economy would take a nosedive if Wall Street brokers and Fortune Five Hundred CEO’s and surrogates were arbitrarily detained and interrogated and randomly refused access to their places of work at military check points policing a green line around the financial district?
I’ve remained politically neutral so I can see and judge how candidates have been attacked. A lot of thoughtless and demeaning things have been said out of political passion. On that note, I refuse to reproduce the litany of ridiculous claims made against Romney on this account. I cast major suspicion on the PA’s statements about him – calling his a racist. I think this ‘culture’ (‘gaffe’) has been over-interpreted and used to falsely impute Mitt. Sorry. I find it surprising that no one in any of the big discussions on TV or in the NYT etc brought up Weber Protestant Workers Ethic or the American dream. Was Weber a racist, too? Is anyone who believes that American success is meaningful or success in general is meaningful, unethical? Is anyone with wealth the target of political theology? Or a post-Marxist ethic that insists that only social democrats or socialists can join the club? I find it ironic because in the Jewish oral tradition and in the Torah wealth is NOT consistently frowned upon. In fact, its a blessing. People who spread wealth and prosperity, like Yosef in Egypt, are praised. And didn’t RAMBAM say that the greatest kind of charity is one that gives a person who didn’t have a job the wherewithal to work? This is a Jewish value and it is an American value. Charity has one major end, not simply to help the poor but to help them work and spread the wealth. If they do, they to can do good. That said, is it wrong to say that Jews or Americans have a tradition of hard work. My family came to America from Europe in the early 19th century and worked hard. They passed that ethic on to their children. They believed in the American dream which as Edison tells us is based on the drive to innovate. It takes hard work and ambition 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Am I a racist for saying that American’s value hard work and ambition? Why blame an economy when we have hard evidence that hard work in a America did make a difference? Should we, as post-Marxist political theologians cast suspicion on these terms and associate them with nasty names? To cast Romney as an evil money monger who compares societies based on wealth is actually bizarre since we always compare nations in terms of wealth. What if the cause is a work ethic? To look at the economic conditions as proof doesn’t change a thing. Does the Palestinian culture encourage hard work and entrepreneurship? Isn’t the main focus the ‘end of the occupation’ which includes parades for suicide bombers etc? Does this kind of culture reward economic success?