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September 18, 2008

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Per the post title, I will strike yet another blow against mindless Manicheanism. John McCain is dangerously ignorant AND recklessly irresponsible.

It's been clear to me since at least "We are all Georgians" that McCain might make us long for the sane leadership of Dubya. "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb bomb Iran" was an early clue.

I'm sticking to my theory: McCain is just a bit deaf but he won't admit it or get a hearing-aid. He'd prefer people to think he's a vindictive, bellicose nutcase. He probably thinks that perception will cost him fewer votes than a bit of plastic in his ear which would remind people that he's 72.

The depressing thing is that he might be right.

After John McCain's gaffe yesterday he had basically two potential responses: Either admit that he didn't know who Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero is, or pretend that his Spain policy is crazy.

A third response--which might actually be true--would be to say that he was tired, and not paying close attention, so that he didn't quite get what the person was asking over the telephone (what with the accent and all), and he went with his generic policy statement about how he'd approach meeting with people.

Now, that's not great--it would better to ask for clarification rather than just try to bluff your way through a question you might have misheard--but I think most people would give him a pass on it.

But I guess they'd rather decide to brazen it out with this crazy position than admit McCain made a mistake.

A third response--which might actually be true--would be to say that he was tired, and not paying close attention, so that he didn't quite get what the person was asking over the telephone (what with the accent and all), and he went with his generic policy statement about how he'd approach meeting with people.

Even after she repeated it, emphasizing "Spain" multiple times? She even mentioned Europe.

Your explanation might have been better spin, but I doubt it's true. Not that you're necessarily saying it is true.

But I guess they'd rather decide to brazen it out with this crazy position than admit McCain made a mistake.

That's damn stupid for an everyday person. Let alone a potential president of the United States.

Meh. Not sure I can get on board with Tim Fernholz's mocking. It seems clear that McCain didn't know who Zapatero was in that interview, but Fernholz interpretation of Sheunemann seems wrong.

Sheunemann: "Senator McCain refused to commit to a White House meeting with President Zapatero in this interview."

Fernholz: "And John McCain wouldn't meet with him as President?"

There's a fairly big difference between "refused to commit to a WH meeting" and "wouldn't meet".

That's not to say that McCain isn't an idiot and Sheunemann isn't spinning, just that Fernholz is spinning too, or at least not reading close enough.

This has been Ugh's Monthly Generous Post for the Opposition for September.

Eric, listening to the English audio, I think it's clear that Senator McCain misheard "Europe" as "you."

But I guess they'd rather decide to brazen it out with this crazy position than admit McCain made a mistake.

I agree, with the proviso that giving the finger to Spain is not a crazy position from the standpoint of the 50% of the electorate that McCain is looking to pick up. Considering that most of that group is more than happy to tell the rest of the population of the United State to take a long walk off a short pier, I don’t see how gratuitously offending a slightly left of center European government can be seen as anything other than a feature, not a bug.

Call it a fortuitous accident, from McCain’s point of view.

McCain's handlers can't admit he made a mistake. Because any time McCain is being interviewed by a reporter who doesn't stick to a predetermined script, these "mistakes" are going to happen, more and more often.

Nor can they go with "he's deaf", because it will become evident that he isn't that deaf, and besides, while deaf isn't disabling the way dementia is, it still reminds people that McCain is ober 70.

So they're left with "What he said is what he meant". Which, after all, is OK so long as he's just the Republican nominee. If he gets to be President, though, I hope they never let him go off-message again: it would be, er, demented to start WWIII because the President of the United States has Alzheimers. Again.

So they're left with "What he said is what he meant".

McCain hears a "you"?

(I know, it is Horton hatches an egg, but I couldn't resist)

It seems clear that McCain didn't know who Zapatero was in that interview, but Fernholz interpretation of Sheunemann seems wrong.

Oh, I don't know. Sheunemann is saying that McCain knowingly stated that he has the same pres-meeting policy toward Spain that he has toward Chavez.

And why not meet him at the White House?

Ral,

Certainly he didn't mishear Spain as Venezuela.

i don't think many people would have a serious problem with him if McCain just came out and said he misheard the questioner. it really sounds like McCain is answering a different question from the one he was asked.

why explain it away like this? baffling.

a McCain presidency wouldn't be dull, that's for sure. McHULK NEGOTIATE TREETEE! POW!

Randy,

"How much do I hear?"

"That's metaphysically absurd, man! How could I know what you hear?"

see link

I can't know what McCain was thinking, but the Spanish-accented pronunciation of "Europe" is easy to confuse and I think the significance of McCain's response at that point was obvious. As for the rest, who can say? I think he was confused.

I believe there may be another explanation: Randy Scheunemann (of Committee for the Liberation of Iraq and Project for the New American Century fame) was pushing his own agenda, i.e., the neo-con disdain for leftist European nations (esp. after Spain withdrew their troops).

We have repeatedly seen top McCain advisors state their take on policy, without evidently clearing it with the rest of the campaign (let alone Sen. McCain himself). I bet we might see some other points of view come out of the campaign before the day is done.

It will also be interesting to see how, say, Tucker Bonds tries to obfuscate the whole incident.

Liberal Japonicus FTW, except for the appalling oversight not to include the line, "An Elephant's honor, one hundred percent!"

Wow! I can understand that argument against meeting with people who could be called our enemies (Iran). I disagree with that position, but I understand it.

But is McCain seriously suggesting that he may not meet with an ally?

Warren, just wanted to keep the best parts to the ones in the know. I'm all about elitism.

Thinking of Seuss, one can outline the stages of McCain's campaign as Dr. Seuss books

1 fish, 2 fish
If I ran the zoo
Bartholomew and the Oobleck
Horton hatches an Egg
Green eggs and ham

and perhaps after the debates
Hop on Pop

As I've explained elsewhere, the Prime Minister of Spain is officially called "presidente del gobierno" (president of the government). Even though he is not the President of Spain (King Juan Carlos I is the King of the Kingdom of Spain), he is sometimes informally referred to as "the President" and even "the President of Spain". The lady interviewing McCain used the latter informal shortcut.

About pronunciation: The first letter in the word Zapatero is usually pronounced as a "th" sound in most of Spain, and as an "s" sound in Southern Spain and the Americas. Never as a "z" sound. Non-Spanish speakers may get confused over the fact.

My take, and this is IMHO, is that McCain was caught in the headlights, and tried to boilerplate the question away, not knowing that journalistic standards for European journalists may be different from these at home. (Also, most Europeans have a strong desire to see McCain lose the election.)

"They refer to "President" Zapatero, when I think they mean "Prime Minister.""

This at least has a rational explanation. Zapatero's official title is "Presidente del Gobierno," although this is usually translated into English as "Prime Minister," as that is effectively what his position is.

Chris,

Actually, the US presidents very often declines to meet with the leaders of smaller allies. For minor European countries (say, Estonia, Finland, etc.) without strategic importance, the most their presidents get when coming to the US is a meeting with the Secretary of State. This is by no means a gesture of bad will towards such an ally. It is simply a gesture of indifference

In fact, I'm happier when my country remains unimportant enough not to merit US president's personal attention.

I hate to be a wet blanket, but does any of this really matter? What percentage of people will pay attention to what maybe shouldn't be considered minutiae, but is? I know it may indicate problems with McCain, but isn't all this analysis of this gaffe preaching to the converted?

not knowing that journalistic standards for European journalists may be different from these at home.

Wait, european journalists have journalistic standards? Well, no wonder McCain was confused. He's never encountered a journalist with standards in the US. Cut the poor guy some slack.

"Even after she repeated it, emphasizing 'Spain' multiple times? She even mentioned Europe."

Which he obviously heard as "what about you?," not "what about Europe?"

I'm not saying this because I'm looking for excuses for McCain, obviously, but simply because it's clearly what happened, as is clear from the audio. He replies "what about me?" in confusion. As for the rest, sure, he was confused, and there are the various other suggestions, and it all seems pretty trivial. For crissake, he confuses Al Qaeda with Shia groups, has an all-lobbyist staff, has a foreign policy staff that's largely insanely neo-conservative, and pretty much doesn't care about domestic policy other than to pander like mad to the fundamentalist Christian right.

Aren't all those things worth paying a heck of a lot more attention to than whether or not he can understand a thick Spanish accent at all times?

Aren't all those things worth paying a heck of a lot more attention to than whether or not he can understand a thick Spanish accent at all times?

This is probably a better question than any of mine.

does any of this really matter?

it matters if it helps push away the idea that McCain is some kind of foreign policy guru. it's another feather on the scale... maybe someday the press will start to ask themselves "wait... why should we assume this guy is anything more than bluster and belligerence? does he actually know anything?"

"Actually, the US presidents very often declines to meet with the leaders of smaller allies."

Spain is now a smaller ally? It has the world's 8th largest economy. It has 40 times the population of Estonia.

"Spain is now a smaller ally? It has the world's 8th largest economy. It has 40 times the population of Estonia."

Yes, but it's so Old Europe.

And filled with leftists. The right pines for Franco, who, alas, is still dead.

"Doctors describe his condition as 'stable.'"

Lurker: In fact, I'm happier when my country remains unimportant enough not to merit US president's personal attention.

I only wish mine was.

does any of this really matter?

Well, I don't think that the original gaffe much matters. I don't know what was going on, but I listened to the audio and I'd guess he just misheard and rolled out some boilerplate when he didn't know what was being asked.

But I agree with Hilzoy's follow-up--the subsequent attempt to brazen it out is both troubling and revealing.

hairshirthedonist:
What percentage of people will pay attention to what maybe shouldn't be considered minutiae, but is?

Among voters whose families include native speakers of Spanish? Lots.

McCain will not win the Hispanic vote overall, but his chances (and the long-term chances of the GOP) depend upon picking off some fraction of them.

Among voters whose families include native speakers of Spanish? Lots.

Lots in raw numbers or lots as a percentage? Even among them, I think this is small potatoes. Just an opinion, for what it's worth. [My last name is Quesada. Does that count for anything? (kidding - well, not about my last name, but that it might count for something)]

The sequel to Horton Hatches the Egg (my personal favorite) is in fact Horton Hears a Who, presumably the title which LJ - whom I, of course, would never openly suspect of incipient Alzheimer's - is conflating with the original ("I meant what I said and I said what I meant"). Certainly apropos when the topic is lack of auditory clarity.

This has been another presentation by the Society For Accurate But Pointless Information.

HSH:

I'm a little confused. Are you saying that IYHispanicO this won't make any difference in how much of the Hispanic vote goes to McCain? And if so, is that because he's just plain tanking with Hispanics?

Dr. Science,

It took me a second to figure out what IYHispanicO was supposed to mean.

Anyway, not exactly. I'm just saying it won't make a significant difference. Not the same as no difference. I just think this kind of stuff is so under the radar for most people that it makes little difference. I'd say this is one of those blog-insular issues that few others notice.

As an aside, I'm not sure that I qualify as a Hispanic, though you wouldn't know it by my surname or appearance (which is due in no small way to my mother's being half Italian). I'm almost positive my kids don't. My great-grandfather was either a Spaniard or Latino (not totally sure which), but my grandfather didn't even speak Spanish. My insights into the Hispanic community, such as they are, are due more to my limited interactions with Hispanic people in my workplace than my own family heritage. But it's interesting going through life with people seeing you as or assuming you are something you don't at all feel yourself to be.

It took me a second to figure out what IYHispanicO was supposed to mean.

I don't get it...

In Your Hispanic Opinion

Thanks!

Bill Clinton has a hearing aid and he is to my knowledge a wee bit younger than the Son of Cain. Can't remember any real attempts to disqualify Bill for that (unlike his alleged murdering of lots of people, being a Democrat etc.)

Before we conclude that "McSame" is unfair to Bush, we should remember that McCain's refusal to commit to a meeting with Zapatero is a continuation of the Bush policy. According to the Washington Post:

President Bush has never forgiven Zapatero for pulling troops out of Iraq shortly after his victory in 2004. Though the Spanish prime minister has tried repeatedly to rebuild relations and win an invitation to visit Washington, Bush has yet to hold a formal bilateral meeting with him.

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