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18th September 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:48 am

No One Expects. . .The Spanish Inquisition!


Eight years ago, a journalist asked Dubya if he knew who was the leader of Pakistan.  Bush flubbed it, and the journalist was widely criticized for playing “gotcha.”

Flash forward eight years and it’s John McCain’s turn — except this time it isn’t gotcha, it’s just a candidate who clearly doesn’t know what the hell the reporter is talking about.

Today, McCain did an interview with Union Radio (Cadena Seiz) a Spanish network.  I presume his handlers told him that by “Spanish radio,” he should understand that the interviewer was from Spain, and that he might, just might want to bone up a little on a few things — like the name of Spain’s prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Apparently they didn’t and he didn’t.

Senator John McCain of ArizonaAccording to stories on the websites of El País and Union Radio, the reporter first asked McCain his thoughts on Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, and Raul Castro.  In each case, McCain made it clear that he would not sit down to meet with any of them, and went out of his way to note that Obama had promised to meet with Chavez.

Then the interviewer asks McCain whether he would meet with Zapatero.  From what I’ve been able to glean (given that I don’t speak Spanish), it was not an attempt to trip McCain up — the reporter merely wants to cover as much territory as possible in the brief time he has.

McCain replies, (and this is a very rough translation based on me running the stories through BabelFish), “I will meet with those leaders who are friendly and who want to work with us cooperatively.”

Uh oh.

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Prime Minister o...The reporter asks again.  McCain says, “I will meet with those leaders who have the same principles and philosophy that we do:  human rights, democracy and liberty.  I will challenge those who do not [have them].”

The reporter asks a third time.  According to a commenter at Obsidian Wings, McCain starts talking about President Felipe Calderon of Mexico and praises him for cooperating with the United States in the war on drugs.

Finally, the interviewer interrupts McCain and says, “Okay, I’m talking about Europe, the prime minister of Spain.  Will you meet with him?”  McCain repeats his earlier statement about working with friends.

Holy Sarah Palin, Batman!  Can McCain see Spain from one of his homes?

One of the more interesting part of this fiasco is that the Spanish press is treating this as a straight story — that McCain dissed Zapatero repeatedly, refusing to commit to a meeting.  Here’s a rough translation of the lede of the El País story:

John McCain, the Republican candidate for the White House, refused on four separate occasions to commit to meet with the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, if [McCain] becomes the next president of the United States.

I think I understand the mistake that the Spanish press is making here:  they’re assuming that McCain has any freaking clue about their country.  They assume that he couldn’t possibly be that stupid.

Here’s my suggestion to the next Spanish language interviewer who wants to ask about U.S.-Spanish relations:  don’t pronounce the prime minister’s name “Za-peh-tey-ro.”  That was your big mistake.

You’ll find that you get a much better answer if you just learn to pronounce it “Sah-kash-vee-lee.”  Next thing you know, McCain will suggest that we’re all Spaniards now and start threatening war with Portugal.

So what should we make of this?  Imagine if this had happened to Obama.  The media would talk about nothing else for a week:  the inexperienced candidate flubs a simple question. In McCain’s case, it’s not yet clear what will happen — except that his campaign will lie about what really happened.

Ultimately there are three possible answers:  he was tired; he was clueless; or he is stupid.  Let’s hope it was the first.

Hat tips:  TPM and Hilzoy at ObWi

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 18th, 2008 at 12:48 am and is filed under foreign policy, media, politics. It is tagged under , , , , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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