Instead, the candidate is writing essays and engaging news coverage about the right way to understand "culture's" role, especially in the Middle East and Latin America. If I were the Obama campaign team, I would encourage Romney to keep writing such essays. That way he is not talking about people who have lost their homes and jobs in the United States.
4) Cultural references as symptoms of tin ear. Political talent includes the ability to tell your immediate audience things it wants to hear -- without offending people beyond that audience, who in today's panopticon age will inevitably hear anything troublesome you say. At its crass extreme, this is the "dog whistle" -- sending a coded signal that the general public will miss but only a select group of listeners will hear. Less crassly, it is a skill both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton demonstrated in managing to appeal to some groups without alienating too many others. Barack Obama took such heat for his "people get bitter" comments four years ago because they violated this rule. For him, it was a rare exception.
Romney violated this rule at just about every stop on his foreign trip. He told an American TV interviewer that the Brits might not be ready for the Olympics -- and, of course, the Brits heard and took offense. He told the audience at an Israeli fundraiser that the Palestinians had cultural barriers to success, but, of course, many people outside that room heard what he said. He extended the comparison to cross-border differences between the U.S. and Mexico, which are real. But resting the explanation for that difference on culture -- rather than on rule of law, accountability, land-ownership patterns, and so on -- can be tricky when it is heard by the many U.S. citizens who are proud of the American system but also of their Latino cultural identity.
Here is the point I am building to: Three months before the election, it is fair to wonder about Mitt Romney's basic skill level as a politician. I am not talking policy and substance, which I will do later. I'm talking about the counterpart to what coaches call "overall athleticism," "court vision," "ball sense," even "football IQ." In politics, this includes an ability to read audiences, to self-edit and self-correct in real time, and to sense effortlessly how your words will sound to people on the other end. Right after Sarah Palin's pick four years ago I guessed that she was going to have trouble with the surprisingly onerous demands of a national campaign. Now I am struck that we're still seeing indications of limits on Romney's "political IQ."