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The Collective
Thursday, September 18, 2008
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Having given the whole McCain/Zapatero business a bit more thought, it really seems to me that the McCain campaign, and Randy Scheunemann in particular, is trying to provide an ex post facto explanation for McCain’s odd/non-answer of a question about meeting with the Spanish Prime Minister.

It is as though it is better to turn a cold shoulder to the Spanish than to admit that McCain misunderstood what he was being asked.

Marc Ambinder corresponded with Scheunemann and was given the following response:

In this week’s interview, Senator McCain did not rule in or rule out a White House meeting with President Zapatero, a NATO ally. 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 youtr options open, unlike Senator Obama who has publically committed to meeting some of the world’s worst dictators unconditionally in his first year in office.

That sounds like revisionist hooey, to be honest. It is, strictly speaking, true: mcCain did not rule in or out a WH meeting with Zapatero. However, that is a total obfuscation of the way McCain’s response to the question went down. Either McCain specifically went out of his way to send a message of displeasure to Zapatero or he didn’t understand what was being asked of him.

If he had wanted to leave the issue of a WH or other kind of visit open, he could have done so without making it sound as thought Zapatero was on the same plane as Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales in terms of current relations with the US.

I’m with Joe Klein on this one: “Seems to me that putting a chill in the relationship with one of our NATO allies simply because McCain misheard a question is going a bit far.” And really, that is what this sounds like, especially taking both of Scheunemann’s responses together (the first one was noted here)-it just seems like ill-advised damage control.

The bottom line is I really don’t believe that McCain was trying to make a definitive statement on US-Spanish relations in a McCain administration. Either he misheard/misunderstood what was being asked (while difficult to fully understand how this could be the case, a telephone and a foreign accent was involved here, so some benefit of the doubt is warranted, I suppose) or he didn’t remember who Zapatero was and decided to BS the response.

If it is one of the later two, and McCain is willing to spin it into some statement about US-Spanish relations, that doesn’t speak well to McCain’s character (i.e., he’d rather cause problems with an ally than own up to a mistake). Even if this is his policy preference and is willing to continue to punish Spain for pulling out of Iraq (as has been the Bush administration’s approach to the Zapatero government), when it was a clearly response to an election, that, too, raises serious questions about his foreign policy intentions going forward.

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Filed under: 2008 Campaign, Europe, US Politics | |

5 Comments »

  1. Listening to the audio of the interview, it’s more than obvious that McCain didn’t know who Zapatero is.

    And when she asks, “What about Europe? I’m talking about Spain”, it becomes even more glaring. He thought she said, “What about you?”. Obviously that “other” continent (much less country) was very far from his mind.

    It’s really quite disturbing that McCain would allow tension to arise between the US and a NATO ally (a democracy at that) rather than admit he didn’t know something.

    Comment by Polimom — Thursday, September 18, 2008 @ 6:47 pm

  2. I’m thinking you’re right but maybe soft pedaling a little.

    I would not have had a big problem with a “lost in translation” excuse. Sounded like the name - Zapatero - didn’t click; those things happen. Blame it (at least partially) on the phone connection & the accent and move on.

    I sense the McCain camp appears specifically worried about the prospect of him appearing to have had a “senior moment.” Personally, I believe it to be worse (and reminiscent of early Bush years)if they are responding so stubbornly merely to the image of him committing a mistake. In either case the priority appears to be image over substance - even if the gambit provokes a backlash and damages our international relations.

    OTOH, if McCain really believes we should treat Spain on a par with Venezuela then maybe we could be in for “four more years.”

    Comment by RandyB — Thursday, September 18, 2008 @ 9:26 pm

  3. I am trying to be fair, but yes: the stubbornness is troubling and Bushesque.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, September 18, 2008 @ 10:25 pm

  4. I guess to be fair we should consider that campaign advisers are all too aware how minor, clumsy misstatements, and brief confusion have been used to permanently taint politicians. And, FWIW, the interviewer stated she believes McCain did understand the question.

    Comment by RandyB — Friday, September 19, 2008 @ 6:37 am

  5. “(while difficult to fully understand how this could be the case, a telephone and a foreign accent was involved here, so some benefit of the doubt is warranted, I suppose)”

    Nonsense. From what I heard, her accent wasn’t difficult at all to understand. In The Question, the word “Spain” was loud and clear — only the phrase “White House” was louder.

    McCain is from Arizona, for Pete’s sake! She did talk a bit fast, but if a Spanish-speaker’s accent registers as “foreign” to a Senator from Arizona, then there is something seriously wrong with this picture.

    Comment by Len — Friday, September 19, 2008 @ 6:00 pm

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