September 18, 2008

McCain on Spain is mainly in pain

20060814032138-zapatero-osama.jpg Yesterday I would not have had much to say about John McCain's confusion over whether Spain is either a U.S. ally or a European nation (he seemed to suggest the answer was neither). Clearly, as most bloggers suspected, he simply misheard or misunderstood the question.

Then came today's explanation: Yes, McCain knows Spain is in Europe. No, he does not necessarily consider it an ally.

"The questioner asked several times about Senator McCain's willingness to meet Zapatero (and id'd him in the question so there is no doubt Senator McCain knew exactly to whom the question referred. Senator McCain refused to commit to a White House meeting with President Zapatero in this interview... If elected, he will meet with a wide range of allies in a wide variety of venues but is not going to spell out scheduling and meeting location specifics in advance. He also is not going to make reckless promises to meet America's adversaries. It's called keeping your options open, unlike Senator Obama, who has publicly committed to meeting some of the world's worst dictators unconditionally in his first year in office."

So Zapatero might (or -- to be fair! -- might not) be as bad as some of the world's worst dictators? A follow-up, if I may: If Spain is invaded, would John McCain commit America to defend it? As, you know, the NATO charter requires? Or is he going to leave that option open too? As even Joe Klein can see, "putting a chill in the relationship with one of our NATO allies simply because McCain misheard a question is going a bit far."

So the question is why the campaign chose this bizarre defense, rather than admitting McCain misheard. One possibility is that they are truly terrified of the perception that McCain is a deaf, confused old man. I don't think this incident reveals that, but it could be spun that way, and they'd rather have him perceived as an ultra-hardline neocon.

Another, or perhaps a concomitant, fear is that the campaign is aware that McCain is not actually all that strong on his supposed strong suit, foreign policy. If they were truly confident that nobody would ever think that John McCain doesn't really know who the president of Spain is and whether he's an ally, it wouldn't harm them to say he misheard. But with his history of foreign policy gaffes, they may think he's actually vulnerable on that front -- as he should be.

Update Yglesias writes:

I think there are two things going on here, one fair and one unfair. One is that when you have a strong ex ante belief that someone is well-informed about a subject, you tend to overlook their mistakes as not indicative of any larger trend. And that seems like a fair procedure. If I were to say “RSS” when I meant “HTML” you’d think I misspoke — I’m a blogger, I know what HTML is and I know what RSS is. But if McCain were to do something like that, we’d say this is another example of him genuinely not understanding information technology. Nothing wrong with a double standard.

The problem is in the underlying assumption that McCain has some deep underlying national security expertise. In conventional Washington terms, expertise and credibility on security issues basically just requires you to (a) enjoy talking about security issues and (b) support starting wars. Support for launching a war that turns out well is the best thing to do (+5 cred points), but support for launching a war that doesn’t get launched is pretty good (+3 cred points), and even support for launching a war that turns out poorly is okay (+1 cred points) — the important thing is to support launching wars.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


I like "plainly insane" better myself.

What's funniest about this is when the interviewer says "What about Europe?" and McCain says, "what a... his worldview?"

Oh, and:

We have always been at war with Spain.

It doesn't help that the McCain camp thinks Spain has an Presidente, a gaffe in refutation of a gaffe, if you will.

Also, McCain clearly has no foreign policy expertise, since there isn't a single island in Arizona with a view of Russia for maybe 45 days out of the year.

Hey, I hate to be the voice of reason here, given the slightest provocation I'm more than happy to grab my pitchfork and run, but I think all he's done here is not hear the question well, decide to respond vaguely, and so say something that covers both sides. He does not say Spain is our enemy, he says if Spain is our friend I will meet with them, if not, I will "stand up" to them. And keep in mind it's clear he doesn't know Spain is the country he's talking about. He gives a two-part bullshit response and we all jump only on half of it. It's a little bit in bad faith, as I see it. Look, no one wants to see this man and his party banned or expelled from America more than I do but until we start heading down that path deliberately misinterpeting a bland situation in the hopes it gains traction somewhere beyond the already convinced is not really of much use getting them unelected. Ah, but monsieur, you say, the GOP explanation is worse than the gaffe! Not quite, it is, as I see it, exactly the same as Ludendorff's original bullshit filler. Spokesman says they will meet with allies, they will not meet with perceived enemies. There is no textual reason to believe the spokesman considers Spain to be in the latter category and not the former. Hang 'em high, gang, hang 'em high, but for the right reasons.

Also it is the interviewer, no doubt confused about an alien process, who makes the "President" mistake.

And furthermore, "Senor Moment" is the best pun for the situation. And all others.

Remember that Curb Your Enthusiasm when the chef at Larry's fancy new open-kitchen restaurant has Tourette's and when he starts screaming curses in the middle of the grand opening, Larry and everyone else in the place start yelling "Cock Licker!" in order to cover for him?

Clearly McCain's staff is pretending they're more confused than he is in order to make him appear less confused.

Please note that "president" was not a gaffe by either McCain or the reporter. He's the prime minister, but they tend to call him 'president.'

And TGG, you're erecting a little bit of a straw man. Nobody's seriously saying that because of this, a McCain administration would start off with a war footing towards Spain. The fact remains, though, that his campaign is lying about what happened, and future dimplomatic relations will be informed by this newly articulated "position" toward Spain, in contrast to his previous explicit statements that he wanted Zapatero to come to the United States so they could work through their differences: "I am very interested not only in normalizing relations with Spain but in obtaining good and productive relations."

So yeah, it's kind of a big thing. I agree, though, that it's unlikely to get any traction with mouth-breathing "undecideds."

I also agree on the "Senor Moment" issue.

I don't think there is any new position on Spain. He didn't say anything about Spain. He and his staff made two bland, bullshit statements of total genericity, nothing new, nothing to pounce on. That is a problem but if people really cared about bullshit we wouldn't even remember what a Republican was.

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