In responding to my recent article on Obama’s incapacity for high office (Don’t Mess with Mr In-Between, 26 July) one contributor made the following observation about Mitt Romney’s supposed London Olympic gaff during his recent foreign tour:
…Mr. Romney goes to London on his first foreign visit as a presidential candidate and he insults our greatest ally. He went on a soft-ball tour and screwed it up. He showed he's not even qualified to be a foreign service officer never mind the president of the U.S.
This is a subject I intend to return to, a Michigan Yankee in the Court of Queen Elizabeth, but first I really want to focus on the subject of political gaffs, not Romney’s supposed faux pas, but that of the Man in the White House, who, when it comes to this sort of thing, for once makes his opponent look like a rank amateur.
I read today that Americans still love Sir Winston Churchill just as much as we do in the land of his birth. The Morgan Museum and Library in New York is presently running an exhibition entitled Churchill: the Power of Words. It’s caused quite a stir in Midtown, with more than 30,000 people visiting in the first six weeks, some fifty percent in excess of the curators’ expectations.
America’s fascination with Britain’s greatest ever wartime leader, the only man ever to be accorded honorary American citizenship while still alive, is really not that surprising. After all, quite apart from the citizenship, he was half-American by ancestry. Jennie Jerome, his mother, was born in Brooklyn. His story is an American story, if one step removed.
There is one man who does not admire Churchill. There is one man skilled in undiplomatic skills. There is one man who, in his conceit and arrogance, was prepared to offer a gratuitous insult to America’s most consistent ally. That man is Obama, so far as I am concerned the most un-American American ever to occupy the White House.
No sooner did he take command in 2009 than he ordered Jacob Epstein’s bust of Churchill removed from the Oval Office. Previously loaned by the British government to President George W. Bush, officials offered to let the new President hang on to it for another four years. Thanks but no thanks, was the response. At a time when British soldiers were fighting and dying alongside their American comrades in Afghanistan it was an act of breathtaking insensitivity, a clear and direct snub.
Reacting in anger to Mitt Romney’s recent announcement that he intends to restore the exiled Sir Winston if elected in November, officials said that the bust was still in place, that it had never been removed, that it was all an urban myth. Dan Peffer, White House Communications Director, attacked Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor, for daring to suggest that Sir Winston had gone AWOL.
“This is 100 per cent false” he declared, “The bust is still in the White House.” Unfortunately for him Krauthammer was 100 per cent correct; the bust is not in the White House but in the residence of Sir Peter Westmacott, the British ambassador, as embassy officials confirmed. Peffer at once had to eat crow, issuing a grovelling apology on the White House blog. The whole thing has become something of a pantomime along the 'oh, no, it isn’t, oh, yes, it is' lines, an American, sorry, Obama farce at its most farcical.
We are becoming used to Obama’s clumsiness and numbing insensitivity. He’s on record as referring to “Polish death camps” during the Second World War, causing huge offence to the Poles. Meeting David Cameron, the British Prime Minister earlier this year he promised stop pressing for negotiations between London and Buenos Aires on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, only to go back on his word and join with Argentina on calls for a ‘negotiated settlement.’ The feelings of the people who actually live in these islands is clearly a matter of no importance.
Enough of Obama. Let me get back to the Churchill show. Among the exhibits are his notes for a speech he made in the House of Commons on September 11, 1940. The Blitz had just begun, German bombers pounding the city night after night in the months to come. “Adolf Hitler”, Churchill said, “hopes by killing a large number of civilians, and women and children, that he will terrorise the people of this mighty imperial city…Little does he know the spirit of the British nation”.
Americans in general and New Yorkers in particular have not failed to notice the significance of the date and the significance of message about the futility of terrorism; the message about the strength, the spirit and the determination of a great city and a great nation. Most understand Churchill, even if their President does not.