Thursday, September 18, 2008

But What About Europe?
This international gaffe-scandal McCain kicked off last night, by clearly not remembering that Zapatero is the President Prime Minister of Spain, is to me not the hugest deal, but still a surprise for somebody that's running on foreign policy experience. I would bet that even President Bush today knows who his counterpart in Spain is. I think too, some of the problem was in McCain not hearing the interview well - what with a translator talking over the mix. (When, flustered, she asks "But what about Europe?" And he says "What about me, what?" thinking she said "what about your... " he's not being dumb so much as just not hearing clearly what she's saying).

Still, there are some points worth making...

1. If Obama had made this mistake, not knowing who Zapatero is and trying to cover it up with generic bluster, the McCain campaign would have made a big deal about it, and the right-wing talk machine would make an entire day about his being an empty suit and not so smart without his teleprompter.

2. Can we get rid of the mythology that McCain is somehow a global affairs guru, at least? I mean, they are running the GOP ticket under the premise that somehow he will take the inexperienced Governor Palin "under his wing" and teach her about foreign affairs. What's she going to learn, that the Soviet Union is our biggest enemy out to get us and Spain is led by Francisco Franco? I really don't care that he doesn't know who Zapatero is - maybe I should care - but I do mind the perpetuation of this nonsense that he is some paragon of wise experience.

For some reason, this line of critique carries no weight in the media because it refutes the standard McCain narrative, rather than reinforcing it. I wish our politics cared as much about debunking myths when direct evidence comes along as it does about repeating repeating them over and over even supported only by the slimmest allegation.

3. Maybe the most important to me. Whether we want to call this a "senior moment" or poor communication or whatever, he's not a good listener. Beyond not knowing the leader of a NATO ally, his response to not knowing is a bit telling. His instinct was to cover up his lack of knowledge with tough talk, pretending to respond to a question that he was in fact trying to deflect out of ignorance. And his defensive attack posture so enveloped him that he was literally unable to hear the questioner's attempt to move the conversation forward with a clarification.

Haven't we had enough of that kind of leadership? The kind that doesn't know how (refuses) to listen? Bill Clinton was great at listening. Obama seems fair at it. But McCain demonstrates Bush-like abilities in this area, as does Palin, which is to say, none at all.

Would it really have been *that* embarrassing to have just stopped the interview and said..."Zapatero...?" and then after she reminds him, say "oh of course...I'm had me focused on Latin America so I drew a blank at his name" or something like that? Seriously - is it that much better to just pretend and then deny, deny, deny? Maybe it is better, politically, but it is surely a character flaw. I have it too sometimes I admit - that defensiveness that comes from a fear of looking ignorant. But then I am not asking to be the leader of the free world.

[UPDATE: Gambler that he is, McCain doubles down. Now, he's willing to pretend that, no, he really has Spain on his watch list, and not sure he wants to meet with its leader, rather than admit to even not hearing the Spanish speaking interviewer correctly? Shall we adapt all of our foreign policy to fit with the coverups of McCain's cognitive lapses?]

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