The presidential campaigns spent a solid 24 hours indulging in speculation over the statement allegedly made by a Romney advisor to the British newspaper Daily Telegraph. (For those who missed it: “We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special. The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.”) Was this some sort of insidious race baiting? Was the advisor misquoted? Or is this an instance of the nefarious British press fabricating a source out of thin air? Since the source material is an anonymous quote in a foreign newspaper, it’s a safe bet that we’ll never know the full truth.
Which is why I’d like to suggest my interpretation of the real meaning of the offending quote. Let’s direct our attention to the middle part of the quote, sandwiched between the two morsels of cultural insensitivity: “He feels that the special relationship is special.” Sound familiar? Yes, that succinct tautology has an important precedent in US-UK exchange—it comes, almost verbatim, from a scene in the celebrated Christmas-themed romantic comedy Love, Actually.
In one plotline of this classic, Hugh Grant plays the affable new Prime Minister of Britain who falls in love with his secretary Natalie. Early in his term, the (presumably Republican) President of the United States—played by Billy Bob Thornton—comes on a diplomatic visit to London. After pushing through set of pro-American policies—and putting the moves on the PM’s beloved Natalie—the President answers questions at a press conference, rattling off a handful of vague statements and clichés. “We got what we came for,” Thornton’s character says of the visit. “And our special relationship is still very special.”
Perhaps, by obliquely referencing the empty rhetoric of the American president in the movie, the anonymous Romney staffer was actually offering an implicit critique of his boss, whose most recent foreign policy speech leaned heavily on prosaisms about American greatness. A bit of subterfuge delivered by way of Billy Bob Thornton.
Of course, this is assuming that there’s an especially special relationship between the anonymous Romney staffer quote and the line from the movie. But you know what they say about assuming…