Mitt Romney, in op-ed, doubles down on comments about culture

WASHINGTON—Mitt Romney on Tuesday night doubled down on his argument that “culture” has played a role in making certain societies more prosperous, comments that ignited a firestorm of controversy while he was in the Middle East.

Romney, upon concluding his foreign trip and arriving back in Boston, had an op-ed published in the National Review Online that was headlined, “Culture Does Matter.” The piece came about 36 hours after he angered Palestinians when he told a group of Jewish donors in Jerusalem that Israelis’ culture had helped them become more economically successful than the Palestinians.

Romney’s campaign pushed back against news reports on his comments, saying they were being taken out of context and pointing out that he had also referred to the gaps of unequal wealth between other neighboring countries, including Chile and Ecuador, and Mexico and the United States.

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“During my recent trip to Israel, I had suggested that the choices a society makes about its culture play a role in creating prosperity, and that the significant disparity between Israeli and Palestinian living standards was powerfully influenced by it,” Romney wrote in his op-ed. “In some quarters, that comment became the subject of controversy.”

“But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture?” he added.

Romney argued that having a culture that promotes freedom is what drives powerful economies.

“Economic freedom is the only force that has consistently succeeded in lifting people out of poverty,” he wrote. “It is the only principle that has ever created sustained prosperity. It is why our economy rose to rival those of the world’s leading powers — and has long since surpassed them all.”

Without naming the Palestinians, he praised Israel for its democratic values and for having “a culture that is based upon individual freedom and the rule of law.”

“It is a democracy that has embraced liberty, both political and economic,” he wrote. “This embrace has created conditions that have enabled innovators and entrepreneurs to make the desert bloom. In the face of improbable odds, Israel today is a world leader in fields ranging from medicine to information technology.”

Palestinians were outraged at Romney’s comments on Monday, saying they were racist, harmful to the peace process, and ignored the impacts of Israeli control over border crossings in the West Bank and Gaza. Romney didn’t get into that specific debate in his piece, but did suggest that other countries learn from the path taken by the United States.

“I am always glad to return to American soil,” Romney wrote. “On this occasion, I am only strengthened in my conviction that the pursuit of happiness is not an American right alone. Israelis, Palestinians, Poles, Russians, Iranians, Americans, all human beings deserve to enjoy the blessings of a culture of freedom and opportunity.”