Can California take a joke?
Or have we become, collectively, one of those guys who flies off the handle at one unkind word? You know.
Because the response to an off-hand comment from Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has been over the top.
Romney told Iowa voters that the country needs to respect foreign investors--or risk losing the confidence of markets.
His quote: "Entrepreneurs and business people around the world and here at home think that at some point America is going to become like Greece or like Spain or Italy, or like California - just kidding about that one - in some ways."
Romney is not a funny man, but he made plain he was making a joke, and distinguishing California, correctly, from those troubled European countries.
But Californians didn't get it. Headlines quickly moved over stories suggesting Romney was dissing California. A spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown offered a rebuttal. Various experts have held forth about how wrong it is to compare California to Greece.
Twitter was atwitter.
None of these things needed to be said. Whatever your views on Romney, it's totally unreasonable to believe he thinks California has the economic problems or public debt of those European countries. Heck, as a part-time resident of La Jolla, Romney seems to understand California's virtues well enough to have invested here.
But that doesn't stop the freakout -- not in a political era where discourse has been replaced with waves of freakouts.
There are two lessons to take away from this. First, Romney should avoid making jokes -- humor is not what businessfolk would call one of his "core competencies."
And Californians might stop listening to Mitt Romney. He's not campaigning for our votes anyway.
Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).