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John McCain's Señor Moment

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By now you've likely heard about Sen. John McCain's bizarre interview with a Spanish language radio station in Miami yesterday, where he repeatedly gave vague answers about Latin America when asked about President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain.

Josh Marshall, who broke the story on Talking Points Memo, reports on the reaction in the Spanish press:

In Spain, there seem to be two lines of thinking. The great majority appear to think the McCain was simply confused and didn't know who Zapatero was -- something you might bone up on if you were about to do an interview with the Spanish press. The assumption seems to be that since he'd already been asked about Castro and Chavez that McCain assumed Zapatero must be some other Latin American bad guy. A small minority though think that McCain is simply committed to an anti-Spanish foreign policy since he's still angry about Spain pulling it's troops out of Iraq.

Listening to the audio, I can't help but side with the Spanish majority in attributing McCain's apparent snub to momentary confusion, but I don't think it had anything to do with a lack of adequate preparation. In fact, an interview McCain gave in April to a Spanish newspaper pretty much blows holes in both of the theories offered above:

Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, is ready to change the policy of estrangement with the Spanish government that was put in place for four years now by George Bush. He declared that he was ready to fully normalize bilateral relations and that Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was invited to the White House. In an interview on board his plane, which had just left Memphis, where he had participated in a ceremony honoring the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, and en route to his home en Phoenix, McCain said that "it's time to leave our differences with Spain behind us" and he added: ""I would like President Zapatero to visit the United States. I am very interested, not only in normalizing relations with Spain, but in developing good and productive relations that address the many issues and challenges that we need to be addressing together," he said.

McCain surely knows who Zapatero is, and that Spain is part of Europe... that is, when he's lucid. But listening to that interview again and again, it sure does sound like the 72-year-old McCain was suffering from a transitory senior moment.

Repeatedly, the interviewer asks him whether he would be willing to invite President Zapatero of Spain to the White House, an invitation McCain had publicly extended months before, and repeatedly McCain wanders off into discussions about Latin America.

INTERVIEWER: Senator finally, let's talk about Spain. If elected president would you be willing to invite President Jose Rodriguez Louis Zapatero to the White House, to meet with you?

McCAIN: I would be willing to meet with those leaders who are friends and want to work with us in a cooperative fashion.

And by the way President Calderone of Mexico is fighting a very, very tough fight against the drug cartels. I'm glad we are now working with the Mexican government on the Merida Plan, and I intend to move forward with relations and invite as many of them as I can, of those leaders to the White House.

Okay... but she was asking about Spain, not Mexico. Maybe he's just being evasive?

INTERVIEWER: Would that invitation be extended to the Zapatero government? To the president himself?

McCAIN: Uh, I don't, I, ya know, I, honestly, I have to look at the situations and the relations and the priorities. But I can assure you, I will establish closer relations with our friends and I will stand up to those who want to do harm to the United States of America.

Uh-huh. Spain is, of course, a NATO ally. You know, one of "our friends." So let's try rephrasing that question.

INTERVIEWER: So you have to wait and see. If he's willing to meet with you, would you be able to do it? In the White House?

McCAIN: Well, again, I don't -- All I can tell you is I have a clear record of working with leaders in the hemisphere that are friends with us and standing up to those who are not. And that's judged on the basis of the importance of our relationship with Latin America and the entire region.

Yeah, but you know... Spain is not in "the hemisphere" (unless, even more bizarrely, he's referring to the northern hemisphere). At this point the interviewer clearly senses his confusion.

INTERVIEWER: OK, what about Europe? I'm talking about the president of Spain.

McCAIN: What about me what?

INTERVIEWER: OK. Are you willing to meet with him if you are elected president?

McCAIN: I am willing to meet with any leader who is dedicated to the same principles and philosophy that we are for human rights, democracy and freedom, and I will stand up to those who are not.

Don't just read the transcript, listen to the audio, and listen to his halting words, the obvious fatigue in his voice and the confusion in his answers. He wasn't simply being evasive or vague, he was disoriented, and while this may have only been a transient episode it should be alarming nonetheless.

There are those who caution that making age an issue in this race could hurt Obama with senior voters, but honestly... it would be irresponsible not to. McCain may very well have no underlying condition apart from the normal effects of aging--he may even be sharp for his age--but experience tells us that the mind ages just like the body, and anyone who has closely compared the John McCain of 2008 to the John McCain of 2000 has surely noticed an obvious decline in mental acuity, as well as a possible alteration in temperament.

Whether John McCain's passing señor moment has a permanent impact on this campaign, remains to be seen. But it should.

David Goldstein writes on WA politics at HorsesAss.org

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