Week In News: Romney's Olympic Woes

The debate over which country hosted the better Olympics opening ceremony — China or the U.K. — has begun, and one person who's finished making comments about London is presumptive GOP candidate Mitt Romney. His thoughts about the games in London were not well-received. Weekends on All Things Considered Guy Raz speaks with James Fallows of The Atlantic for his perspective.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

QUEEN ELIZABETH II: I wish you - and your countries - successful, enjoyable and memorable games.

RAZ: That's Queen Elizabeth, welcoming the world to London for the 2012 Olympic Games. We'll go to London in a moment, to catch up on some of the day's events. But first to James Fallows at The Atlantic, who joins us now, as he does most Saturdays. Jim, hello.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Guy.

RAZ: Jim, I know you were in China during the 2008 games, and there's already been a lot of comparisons between the two opening ceremonies. Beijing, sort of synchronized extravaganza; and then last night's, in London, which was almost deliberately chaotic but fun.

FALLOWS: It was. And I've gone through several permutations of my reaction to the - last night's opening ceremonies. When I was in Beijing and they had the opening ceremonies four years ago, my main feeling when it was over - and they had this kind of ramshackle intro to what the London games are going to be like - my main thought was oh, those poor Brits, you know; what - how are they possibly going to be following this, you know, the whole extravaganza the Chinese put on?

And I'll confess that for some times last night, I was wondering, what is going to happen next? We have Mr. Bean, and we have the queen and her dogs, and we have a hundred Mary Poppins out of the sky, you know, etc., etc.

But I ended up thinking that number one, these are the two opening ceremonies you're going to remember in the long haul - most of them are just like half-time shows; and that they're a really interesting contrast because everything about the Chinese spectacle, as you well know, was designed to say, we can do these things. We've made it. It's, you know, power and pomp and control and precision. And even the little girl singer they had there was lip-synched, and there was controversy about that.

And I actually ended up liking the confidence of the British chaos - and making fun of themselves, making fun of the royal family, making fun of their history and their pop culture; and having everything from, you know, William Blake to the Eurythmics. So I say, well done, Brits.

RAZ: I was - I think not just me; many of us were particularly interested in the 10-minute song and dance number that celebrated Britain's state-run health service, the NHS. I know people in the U.K. love it, but wow. I mean, it would be a little like Julie Taymor being commissioned to do a Broadway musical based on Medicare. Do you think they would sell tickets?

FALLOWS: Who knows? I've been to county fairs, as you probably have, where they celebrate the Rural Electrification Administration. So maybe that would be our closest counterpart there.

RAZ: Fair enough. Jim, a bad experience for Mitt Romney, of course, this past week. Really dragged through the mud by Britain's famously unforgiving press, for the mere suggestion that perhaps they weren't entirely ready. You know, we'd been hearing about six-hour lines and traffic stalls.

I read an article this morning that compared Romney's experience to his dad, George, in 1968 when he was running for president, saying he was brainwashed by the generals on Vietnam. That, of course, sunk his candidacy. Are we talking that big of a gaffe?

FALLOWS: It's impossible to say because it - as you know - is almost never one of these things that does the job. It's an accumulation of them, and when they connect with something that people already feel. And I'll think back to the time when I worked for Jimmy Carter. When he was running for re-election, he had one unfortunate episode where he got very hot and almost passed out while doing a long-distance race. And then he was attacked by a perhaps rabid rabbit.

RAZ: Swamp rabbit.

(LAUGHTER)

FALLOWS: The swamp rabbit - the killer rabbit, as it was cruelly called. It all became part of the narrative, the unfair narrative, that he was being overwhelmed by events. So I imagine what's on the mind of the Romney campaign right now, is whether there's going to be an accumulation of episodes suggesting a certain lack of instinctive emotional rapport with the people he's dealing with; in this case, the host country that's about to put on their Olympic Games the next day. So he's tried to recover, and we'll see what the next days hold.

RAZ: Indeed. He heads to Israel, and we'll be talking about that on the program tomorrow. That's James Fallows. He's national correspondent for The Atlantic. You can find his blog at jamesfallow.theatlantic.com. And his new book is called "China: Airborne." Jim, thanks.

FALLOWS: My pleasure, Guy.

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