School started a couple of weeks ago, and all that that entails. For the past couple of days, it has entailed a lot. I'm just getting out from under a mountain of stuff, but I wanted to say hi, throw up an open thread, and while I'm doing so, ask: do any of you speak Spanish? If so, what do you make of this story? What little Spanish I have does not work for interviews that are (a) rapid-fire, and (b) in Spanish laid on top of English, which is too distracting to those of us who would struggle to understand it without the English underlay. But my utterly feeble and inadequate take on the interview is the same as Josh's:
"In the interview, McCain is asked about Hugo Chavez, the situation in Bolivia and then about Raul Castro. He responds to each of these with expected answers about standing up to America's enemies, etc. Then the interviewer switches gears and asks about Zapatero, the Spanish Prime Minister. And McCain replies -- very loose translation -- that he'll establish close relations with our friends and stand up to those who want to do us harm. The interviewer has a double take and seems to think McCain might be confused. So she asks it again. But McCain sticks to the same evasive answer."
But if anyone with a better grasp of Spanish would care to listen to it and correct, translate, chime in, or whatever, that would be wonderful. The interview itself is here; the relevant bit is at the end.
"And the way it's being interpreted in the Spanish press is that McCain got confused about the fact that Spain is a country in Europe, rather than a rogue state in Latin America."
This is one of the things that isn't clear to me. It could be that he's confused about who Zapatero is, and which country he's the
head Prime Minister of. [UPDATE: No disrespect meant to Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias, whose name I adore. END UPDATE.] The interviewer does say something about Spain at the beginning of her question about Zapatero, but possibly McCain just wasn't sure who he might be committing himself to meet with. This seems to be the interviewer's take: my rough translation of the bit in Josh's screen shot is: "I had the feeling McCain didn't know who I was talking about." Here, I'd love to hear from someone who speaks the language well, as the nuances are lost on me.
In any case, however, this is a big gaffe. It's not like Bush's not knowing who the head of Pakistan was in 2000. In that case, Bush was asked a surprise question. In this case, McCain was being interviewed by Spanish media. If he wasn't briefed on Spain, including the name of its Prime Minister, before he sat down for that interview, then he has completely incompetent staff, who should be fired on the spot. (Avoiding mistakes like this is part of what they're paid for.) If he was briefed on that, then it's not just that he forgot, in the sense of not being able to recall the name when asked. That happens sometimes, but it's not what happened here. Here, he didn't recognize the name when someone else said it.
In my experience, that's a lot harder to do, if you know the name to start with, especially if you're in a context in which that person might be brought up in conversation. -- It sometimes happens to me that I fail to place someone when they appear in a completely unexpected context: when one of my students (in Baltimore) appears at the wedding of an old family friend (in Boston), for instance. But, again, this is not a context in which mentioning the Prime Minister of Spain is in any way unexpected.
If my understanding of the interview is correct, and if McCain was briefed on this, then I think it's very worrying.
So: anyone want to help me out with the first "if"? (If any of our readers can tell me whether or not McCain was briefed on this before the interview, that would, of course, be nice too. But somehow, I don't expect any McCain staffers to turn up in comments...)
N.B.: Not posting this at the Monthly until I understand this better. Here, everyone knows me, and so I have more confidence that if I post something saying "I have no idea whether my take on this is right or not, please help!", I will be taken at my word, and not thought to be spreading a story that I don't know enough to be confident of yet. There, I'm still new to the audience, and on this point, I would rather not be misinterpreted.