In his well publicised address to the Liberty University in May, US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney declared ‘culture matters‘ - going on to clarify his opposition to gay marriage.
This focus on culture has been highlighted in recent weeks - his statement that the difference between Israeli and Palestinian culture was ‘why there were such enormous disparities in the economic success of various countries’ turned heads, and attracted criticism.
Days before Romney’s Downing Street charm offensive backfired when he publicly questioned London’s preparedness for the Olympic Games. While the British themselves have been the most vocal critics of the G4S - London 2012’s much-vilified private security firm, Romney’s statements were the equivalent of being introduced to a party host and critiquing the way in which he’s organised his bash - only in this case, the party cost £9bn.
The latest gaffe - referring to the scene of a deadly gun attack at a Sikh place of worship as a 'sheik' temple (twice) - revealed Romney's lack of culture acumen, despite stressing its importance, leaving himself open to charges of hypocrisy, or at the very least, arrogance.
What’s remarkable is that it seems to not affect his popularity in the US - a country that not only has a more diverse population than the UK (we are 80% white compared to America’s 72%) - but also that the electorate will tolerate socio-economic amnesia (the global financial crisis) in an a period when all the growth is coming from communist China.
If such mistakes were made by a British politician, they would be called ‘out of touch’ and their judgement questioned. David Cameron’s media performance is rarely ruffled - his pastygate error, where he claimed to have eaten a pasty in a shop that didn’t exist - is an exception that proves the rule of his slick PR machine.
Indeed, the unwillingness of the American public to turn on Mitt Romney highlights the main difference between broad swathes of the American public and that of the UK.
America is founded on the basis of rugged individualism - the frontier spirit that drove west, and because of this the USA have a less communitarian approach to civil society - highlighted by their retention of the death penalty and broad opposition to universal healthcare.
And that is why Romney retains popularity despite these mistakes. American culture does not have a thousand years of heritage attached to the land, and as such is less secure in its ongoing dominance.
The American dream of free enterprise and self determination are what Romney is trying to highlight with his ‘gaffes’, and to swing voters saturated with stories of European bankruptcy, it reassures them of their economic dynamism and future success. This way critics look like whining nay-sayers, and Romney cultivates his role as punchy outsider.