Shadow Government

Despite Team Obama's bluster, Romney’s foreign trip won’t show up In attack ads

The Obama team is bragging that Romney's recent foreign trip is a campaign bonanza for them. I am not so sure.

Romney's comments certainly generated negative press coverage, but were they really gaffes of the sort that can come back to bite a candidate in a presidential campaign?

Here are the supposed gaffes:

  • Romney said that there were concerns about whether London was fully prepared for the Olympics.
  • Romney said that Israel's strong economic performance relative to its Palestinian neighbors could be traced in part to cultural factors.

One way to measure a gaffe's potency is to assess whether directly quoting the alleged gaffe would fit nicely in a television advertisement. In some cases, the ads virtually write themselves. If you see an ad in which President Obama is telling reporters "the private sector is doing fine," you know it was paid for by Republicans. If you see an ad with President Obama telling small business owners "If you've got a business, you didn't build that," you know President Obama's campaign didn't run it.

By that standard, nothing Romney said on the trip would seem to make a good Obama attack ad. For starters, everything Romney said is true, even if some audiences did not want to hear it. More importantly, Romney's statements weren't insulting to actual voters, as candidate Obama's were in 2008 when he dismissed the concerns of Pennsylvania voters who preferred his rival, Hilary Clinton, as folks who are "bitter, [and] they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them..."

Romney's supposed gaffes from the trip fall well short of serious, but the controversy is not entirely inconsequential. The controversy matters because it means the trip was something of a missed, or at least a not-fully-realized opportunity. The trip was well-designed to draw attention to how President Obama's approach to foreign policy has managed to offend close friends and partners, all to no good end. Whether it was the trivial insults of Obama's tacky gifts to British counterparts, or the more consequential dismissal of missile defense commitments to the Poles, or the very serious mismanagement of U.S.-Israeli relations, Obama has repeatedly offended allies without accomplishing anything important for U.S. national interest in the process.

Romney's trip could have drawn attention to those facts, indeed was probably designed to do so. The media controversy, artificially hyped by Obama partisans, was designed to distract attention from those facts. At least for the most recent news cycles, it seems that Obama's designs trumped Romney's.

As for the larger effects on the campaign, it is doubtful this trip will have much lasting impact and, if it does, it probably marginally helps Romney. The negative spin from the trip is mostly artificially media-driven, and the press will quickly move on to some other controversy, faux or genuine. However, some voters care very deeply about Israel and Poland, and Romney's trip likely resonated with them more positively than the Obama campaign would like to admit. They may be the only ones who remember details from the trip and, if so, the details they remember may reinforce their inclination to cast a ballot for Romney.

Carsten Koall/Getty Images

Shadow Government

Dark days for India

The world's largest democracy is now suffering from the world's largest blackout. No one who knows India should be surprised. The country has long been choked by a bureaucracy that is still living in Jawarharlal Nehru's socialist neverland of the 1950s. Overstaffed and under-motivated, India's giant bureaucracy has rightly earned a reputation for being a mass producer of red-tape and little else. And it is complemented by a complex political system comprised of national and regional parties that has made it as difficult to pass legislation quickly through the parliament as to have it executed once passed.

As a result, India, despite its decade-and-a-half of impressive growth, remains stymied when addressing essentials for long term prosperity. These include, but are certainly not limited to: updating the electricity grid that has in the past few days left twenty states and 700 million people without power; upgrading a road network that is choked with too few driving lanes and too many vehicles ranging from camel carts to overstuffed buses; and fighting an illiteracy rate that still hovers around the 25 per cent mark.

And then there is the corruption. India seems to be plagued by corruption on a scale to match its size. In 2010 India ranked 87th on the world corruption index. Yet instead of cleaning up corruption, the government seems to have made it worse: India dropped to 95th on the 2011 index.

Billions have been lost in a multiplicity of scams that have kept India's office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) working non-stop. Prominent among these have been the so-called IGI Airport scandal in 2012 that, according to a CAG report in May, lost the government some $29 billion by leasing land to a private company at a bargain rate; various other recent land scams that total in the tens of billions; and the 2010 "2G spectrum" scam involving radio frequency allocation that cost the government anywhere from $5 to $32 billion and resulted in the arrest of A. Raja, then-Indian Minister of Telecommunications.

It should therefore come as no surprise that foreign investment in India has slowed to a crawl. Yet it could not come at a worse time for India. The country has been hit hard by the impact of the Euro crisis on its exports and has watched the rupee sink to its lowest level ever against the dollar.  

Moreover, it is sad indeed that many businessmen and investors prefer to deal with authoritarian China than with democratic India. At least in China, they say, things get done, however brutal the government might have to be to get them done.

It was not all that long ago that econometricians were predicting that India's gross domestic product could overtake that of China by the mid-to-late 2040s. Those predictions presumed a level of steady growth built on the efforts and successes of India's rising and expanding middle class. But that growth will be impossible to sustain if India's executive and legislative branches do not change the bad habits that are the legacy of the immediate post-colonial era. Unless change takes place, India will remain a nation with two systems -- a booming private sector and a hidebound public sector, with serious consequences for the country's long term prospects.

There is little that outsiders can do to help India reform itself. Foreign meddling is especially unwelcome in New Delhi. Nevertheless, friends of India should not shy away from prodding their interlocutors, whether in the private or public sectors, to clean up the mess that stands in the way of a true long term Indian economic boom. For at the end of the day, a buoyant Indian economy not only would be good for India, but for her friends and partners throughout the world, not least of which is the United States.