Spain Goof Consensus Emerges

September 18, 2008 11:02 p.m.

After a day of gasps, guffaws and eyes rolled over John McCain’s decision to reassign Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero to run an unnamed country in Latin America, it seems we are arriving at a rough consensus about what happened and what part of it matters.

As I posited earlier today, the most logical conclusion is that McCain simply didn’t understand the question and tried to wing it. It may have been due to fatigue, lack of attention, confusion or simply an inability to penetrate the interviewer’s fairly thick accent, or perhaps a combination of one or more of the above. It is only if you insist on the preposterous assumption that McCain fully understood and grasped what the interviewer was asking him (i.e., the position of McCain’s foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann) that you have to conclude that McCain believes that Spain is a country in Latin America which may be bent on America’s destruction.

In itself mishearing or misunderstanding a question isn’t the worse thing in the world, though being too proud to ask for the question to be repeated and going with the assumption that the mystery leader must be some Hugo Chavez type character out of Woody Allen’s Bananas does suggest a certain recklessness of character.

The McCain campaign might simply have said that he was on the phone and didn’t understand. But they’re obviously unwilling to do that since they’ve staked so much of his candidacy on his foreign policy chops.

In any case, a consensus appears to be emerging that the really shocking lapse was not the original gaffe but how the campaign chose to deal with it. Rather than copping to the goof, they decided to stick to the nonsensical statements and risk, should McCain win in November, significant damage to our relations with a major NATO ally. Coming to basically similar conclusions are Newsweek, Joe Klein in Time, Chris Orr at The New Republic and many others.

So to restate, I think the simplest explanation is that McCain didn’t understand what he was being asked. And instead of trying to clarify, he assumed the interviewer, who had already asked him about Chavez and Castro, must be quizzing him on some other Latin American strongman who was up to no good. As so often with McCain, he tried to wing it. I think the available evidence is consistent which much less generous readings of the event. But this read is plausible. And Scheunemann, whose lack of experience in press work was painfully on display today, acted with characteristically knuckle-headed aggression and doubled-down on McCain’s nonsensical statement.

And whatever the misunderstanding, let’s face it. When a president or presidential nominees gets confused in an interview, appears to say that a European country is in the Western Hemisphere and inadvertently makes highly belligerent statements toward a major ally, that’s a big problem.

(ed.note: For more on the Inane On Spain controversy, check out Americablog, where John Aravosis has been on the story all through the day.)

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