Mitt Romney and Spain:
Is Ours a Failing Brand? (El Pais, Spain)
could have used other examples, but he didn't; he gave the example of Spain,
and everyone seemed to understand the subliminal message behind his comment.
... That Spain should be put forward as the implicit example of what a world
power should not be, and that everyone understands what this elliptical reference
means, should make us think ... a lot."
The only reference to a foreign country I heard in yesterday's
debate between Obama and Romney - and almost the only international reference -
was to Spain. For Romney, Spain is the counter-example, something that
Americans should endeavor not to emulate: a country that "spends 42
percent of their total economy on government," as the United States is, according
to the governor. We don't know exactly what Romney was referring to, but we can
assume that what he had in mind was our country's public expenditures as a
percentage of GDP, which is roughly that figure.
Why cite Spain? Clearly, the reasons are much more profound
than mere statistics, if one takes into account that there are countries in which
public spending is higher, like Sweden (53.1 percent of GDP), Norway (46
percent of GDP), and even the Britain (51 percent of GDP).
Posted by Worldmeets.US
So Romney could have said: "Obama is leading us into a
situation like Sweden's, which spends even more than we do on government,"
or "Obama is leading us into a situation like the U.K.'s, which spends ..."
If he had done so, would his audience have found the reference off target?
U.S. debates are won and lost on such details, and I can imagine the headlines
the next day: Romney Doesn't Know Where
Sweden is or Romney, in Blunder, Offers
Sweden as Example of How Not to Be, or, to be even more cynical, Romney Confuses Sweden with Spain.
Obviously, Romney could have used other examples, but he
didn't; he gave the example of Spain, and everyone seemed to understand the subliminal
message behind his comment, i.e.: not what he was saying literally, but what he
was referring to without saying so directly. I watched the debate along with a
number of my colleagues from Princeton University, and when he made reference
to Spain, some of them signaled a message of solidarity with me: "sorry."
And basically, Romney wasn't only saying that he doesn't want to spend as much "on
government" as, for example, Spain. And he said nothing insulting,
outrageous, or anything of the kind. If Romney had added a qualifier, such as
"decadent," people might have understood. But what Romney did was
quote a fact. So why the expression of solidarity from my colleagues?
Obviously, we all know the answer to that question. Spain
has gone from being cited as an example of success, to an example of failure.
If the reaction of [People's Party chief] María
Dolores de Cospedal is all we have right now ("the four corners of Spain are not aflame"), then we had better start being quicker
on our feet. That Spain should be put forward as the implicit example of what a
world power should not be, and that everyone understands what this elliptical reference
means, should make us think ... a lot.
*Antonio Estella is Jean Monnet Professor of
European Union Law and Professor of Administrative Law at the Universidad
Carlos III de Madrid. He is a Doctor of Law at the European University Institute
and holds a Master in European Law from the Free University of Brussels. He collaborates
with various think tanks, in Europe and internationally, and has been a
consultant in European and international affairs.