12/07/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

McCain and the Clouseau Doctrine (The Fallibility of Infallibility)

INTERVIEWER: Do you agree with the Clouseau doctrine?

MCCAIN STRATEGIST: In what respect, Charlie?

INTERVIEWER: The Clouseau -- well, what do you -- what do you interpret it to be?

MCCAIN STRATEGIST: His world view?

INTERVIEWER: Well, yes, in a way. The Clouseau doctrine, enunciated December 1976, in the Peter Sellers film "The Pink Panther Strikes Again." The doctrine, as I understand it, is that a person needs to deny any fallibility whatsoever and pretend any errors are deliberate. Here, let's just play a clip. We can watch the whole thing. But really we'll only need to see about 35 seconds for you to get the idea.

INTERVIEWER: Right, there it is. That's the Clouseau doctrine in a nutshell: Accidentally, fling yourself down a flight of stairs, jump to your feet despite your injuries, and exclaim, "Well, that felt good!"

MCCAIN STRATEGIST: What's your question?

INTERVIEWER: Do you agree with the Clouseau doctrine?

MCCAIN STRATEGIST: In what respect, Charlie?

INTERVIEWER: Well, you guys lost the election, obviously. I'm just trying to figure out whether you had some overarching plan. The Clouseau doctrine seemed to sum up so much of what you did. I'm thinking of the incident involving Spain.


INTERVIEWER: The incident in September when a radio interviewer asked Senator McCain if he'd invite President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to the White House. Your candidate wouldn't rule it in or out -- even though Spain is one of our NATO allies. Senator McCain said something about having a "clear record of working with leaders in the hemisphere that are friends with us and standing up to those who are not." But Spain's not in this hemisphere. So it seemed to a lot of people that he'd just heard the name wrong or gotten confused.

MCCAIN STRATEGIST: What's your point?

INTERVIEWER: Well, you guys could have acknowledged the confusion. It's a long name. It's Spanish. The interviewer said it pretty fast. It wouldn't have been a big deal. But you guys doubled down. Total Clouseau doctrine. Here. Let me read what a campaign aide told reporters at the time: "There is no doubt Senator McCain knew exactly to whom the question referred."

MCCAIN STRATEGIST: What's your point?

INTERVIEWER: Well, it became kind of this weird, awkward thing -- like maybe suddenly Spain was going to be in the Axis of Evil or something. Wouldn't it have been better to just acknowledge the mistake?

MCCAIN STRATEGIST: As Senator McCain said in his concession speech, every candidate makes mistakes and he's sure he made his share of them.

INTERVIEWER: Right. Everybody makes mistakes. It's no big deal.

MCCAIN STRATEGIST: So what's your point?

INTERVIEWER: Let's move on. How about the pick of Governor Palin? We're hearing reports now on Fox News that -- Well it's just kind of breathtaking. Here let me just read what Fox's Carl Cameron reported from sources inside your campaign. Here's what Cameron said: "We're told by folks that she didn't know what countries were in NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, that being Canada, the US, and Mexico. We're told she didn't understand that Africa was a continent rather than a country just in itself ... a whole host of questions that caused serious problems about her knowledgeability."

MCCAIN STRATEGIST: Do you have a question?

INTERVIEWER: Well, you guys lost. But you might have won. If you'd won, Governor Palin would have been our vice president. If something had happened to the president, Governor Palin would have become president. Of the United States of America! Did you guys ask yourself at any point whether you should drop her from the ticket -- you know, for the good of the country?

MCCAIN STRATEGIST: Our motto was "Country First."

INTERVIEWER: Right. So it seemed to some people like you, of all people, should put the country first by making sure that your VP was competent, vetted, and knowledgeable.

MCCAIN STRATEGIST: Well, you just have to look at the record. Our motto was "Country First." I think that speaks for itself. Besides, you can't just replace a VP pick like that. And even if you did, how can you be sure the replacement is going to know that the entire continent of Africa isn't just one big country? Where do you find someone like that on short notice?

INTERVIEWER: There's this clerk at the Rand McNally store around the corner from here.

MCCAIN STRATEGIST: Is the clerk a woman?


MCCAIN STRATEGIST: Is she 35 or older?



INTERVIEWER: Sure. I've seen her wink.




INTERVIEWER: So now, with 20-20 hindsight, would you say it was a mistake not to replace Governor Palin with the clerk from the Rand McNally store?

MCCAIN STRATEGIST: No. Absolutely not. Where would you get that idea? We don't make mistakes.