Romney needed some good press after critiquing the organization of the London Olympics, never a good way to win friends and influence people, even if it’s the same Olympics whose opening ceremony glorified the British public health system. (When I think of the UK’s contribution to the world I tend to think of parliamentary democracy, limited government, industrial revolution, abolition of slavery, and the fight against Nazism and communism. But maybe none of these are easily translated into a pageant involving Mr. Bean.)
After London, meeting with Lech Walesa must have seemed God-sent. Walesa, the leader of the “Solidarity” movement, Obama’s fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner, and a former president of independent Poland, is a perfect exemplar of the old Biblical adage that no one is a prophet in his own country. A controversial and polarizing figure at home, the former electrician turned a living symbol of the victorious struggle against communism nevertheless still retains some of his old-time mystique abroad. If Romney was hoping for some of it to rub off onto him, Walesa did not disappoint.
“He radiates values,” Walesa said about his American guest. “I see many similarities between the two of us. … Mitt Romney made a good impression on me.”
“It’s too early to declare support for this candidate. … I can’t get involved in internal American affairs,” Walesa protested too much before finally letting the world know what he really thinks: “I see [in Romney] a man who has the same philosophy as me – that the world should be build on values. … I can’t say the same about the other candidate [Obama].”
Had Romeny flown back home from Gdansk, his trip would have ended on a high note. But there were still a few important engagements awaiting in Warsaw, including a meeting with the American Enterprise Institute alumnus and current foreign minister Radek Sikorski, as well as a major foreign policy speech designed, in the breathless prose of the London Guardian, to “rekindle cold war spirit”.
As it turned out, the most influential Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza opined that all that Americans will remember from Romney’s trip to Poland will be Walesa and the “Kiss my ass” comment by Romney’s media man Rick Gorka.
In Gorka’s defense, Romney had just spoken to war veterans and put flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a monument made all the more sacred by the sheer number of unknown soldiers in Poland’s bloody history. Timing was poignant too, on the eve of the anniversary of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. When the traveling media started shouting questions at Romney about gaffes, breaking the spell of what has otherwise been a quiet and somber event, Gorka snapped: “Kiss my ass, this is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect.” Ill-advised but understandable.
Nomen omen, as Romans used to say; Gorka’s name means “little mountain” in Polish. Romney’s overseas foray might have been somewhat of an uphill affair, but let’s hope the view from the top will be worth it.