What is it about Mitt Romney and Italians? The Republican presidential candidate seems to be possessed of a sublime capacity for, well, pissing them off.
He was at it again on Thursday in Roanoke, Virginia, where he was reported by the Italian news agency Ansa as having asked his audience: "If you're an entrepreneur and you're thinking of starting up a business, you need to ask yourself: Is America on the same road as Greece? Are we on the path to an economic crisis like that we're seeing in Europe, in Italy and Spain?"
Italians, who thought they'd just put the worse of the eurozone crisis behind them, are not exactly thrilled at being mentioned in the same breath as the Greeks. The Republican candidate's remarks were picked up by news websites here and given front-page prominence. La Repubblica ran an aggrieved comment from one of its correspondents in the US:
"The American right needs enemies. Italy, along with Spain and Greece, is the ideal bogeyman … the negative paradigm, the model of all that should not be done in terms of statism and nanny-statery."
If reaction in Italy seems a bit OTT, you have to bear in mind that only four days ago their flagship auto manufacturer was targeted (along with President Obama, of course) in a Romney ad that claimed "President Obama… sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build jeeps in China" – a claim swiftly denied by Fiat's CEO, Sergio Marchionne.
If that were not enough, there is the involvement of Bain Capital in a privatisation deal that would bring cheer to the face of a Russian oligarch. The firm (of which Romney was chief executive) bought a telephone-directory company from the Italian government that it sold two years later for about 25 times what it paid – a coup that left Italian taxpayers feeling they might just have lost out.
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image: © Gage Skidmore