WARSAW, Poland — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Tuesday that Poland’s economy is a model of small government and free enterprise that other nations should emulate, an unspoken criticism of President Barack Obama’s policies in the wake of the worst recession in decades.
The former Massachusetts governor was ending a gaffe-prone foreign tour that he had hoped would show his diplomatic talents and readiness as a leader as he fights to deny Obama a second White House term in November. Instead, he drew massive attention for insulting Britain over its preparation for the London Olympics and angered Palestinians during his visit to Israel.
In the trip’s final day, the strain was showing. Romney’s travelling press secretary Rick Gorka said, “Shove it” when asked why Romney had taken just three questions from American reporters. He later called journalists to apologize.
Romney had ignored shouted questions from reporters about his comments attributing Israel’s strong economy to Jewish culture, with no mention of Israel’s harsh restrictions on the Palestinians. Palestinian officials accused Romney of racism.
His comments also drew criticism from China, which Romney has been highly critical of during his campaign. The country’s state-run Xinhua News Agency said Romney’s “hawkish remarks” could worsen an already tense Mideast situation.
On Tuesday, Romney told Fox News that he was not specifically talking about Palestinian culture. He downplayed his perceived missteps and blamed the media, saying reporters are more interested in “finding something to write” than in reporting on the economy and national security threats.
While foreign affairs dominated Romney’s tour, the presidential race hinges on which candidate voters think will best spur growth in the struggling U.S. economy. The election is expected to be decided by one of the narrowest margins in recent history.
Romney told a Warsaw audience not to heed “the false promise of a government-dominated economy.” That theme has dominated his campaign message in the United States, where he says Obama is determined to expand government involvement in the U.S. economy.
While holding Poland up as an economic example, Romney did not mention that the country’s unemployment is at 12.4 per cent. That is roughly half again as high as the 8.2 per cent rate in the United States. He also didn’t mention that the country has a system of mandatory health insurance, which Republicans oppose for the U.S.
Romney’s two-day trip to Poland was aimed at Polish-American and Catholic voters in the U.S. and highlighted Romney’s stance toward Russia. He has labeled Moscow as America’s “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” a characterization that is not unwelcome in a country that still fears Russia.
Poles generally have been skeptical of Obama’s “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations, and some in Poland were upset by the Obama administration’s decision to revise the Bush-era missile defence plan for Europe. The original plan included installations in both countries.
The deeply Roman Catholic country for years has favoured Republicans over Democrats. That is partly a legacy of President Ronald Reagan, whose efforts helped bring down communism across Eastern Europe, for which Poles remain grateful.
Poland has been a solid U.S. ally and significant contributor to military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Poland has excellent ties with the United States, regardless of which American party is in power,” Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told Romney on Tuesday. “We remember Ronald Reagan’s warm feelings for Poland’s Solidarity and also the fact that we joined (NATO) during Bill Clinton’s term.”
Campaign officials said Romney’s visit was at the invitation of Lech Walesa, the Polish labour leader who co-founded the Solidarity movement and served as president during the country’s transition out of communism.