The Plank

Flat Tire On The Straight Talk Express


If John McCain continues to put himself forward as the straight talk candidate, he's going to get eaten alive. The New York Times has a great report from the trail today. A reporter asked McCain if he supported the distribution of condoms in Africa to halt the spread of HIV. "What followed," reports the Times, "was a long series of awkward pauses, glances up to the ceiling and the image of one of Mr. McCain's aides, standing off to the back, urgently motioning his press secretary to come to Mr. McCain's side."

After that, a reporter asked McCain about sex education in the United States, prompting this exchange:

Mr. McCain: (Long pause) "Ahhh. I think I support the president's policy."Q: "So no contraception, no counseling on contraception. Just abstinence. Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?"Mr. McCain: (Long pause) "You've stumped me."Q: "I mean, I think you'd probably agree it probably does help stop it?"Mr. McCain: (Laughs) "Are we on the Straight Talk express? I'm not informed enough on it. Let me find out. You know, I'm sure I've taken a position on it on the past. I have to find out what my position was. Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception--I'm sure I'm opposed to government spending on it, I'm sure I support the president's policies on it."Q: "But you would agree that condoms do stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Would you say: 'No, we're not going to distribute them,' knowing that?"Mr. McCain: (Twelve-second pause) "Get me Coburn's thing, ask Weaver to get me Coburn's paper that he just gave me in the last couple of days. I've never gotten into these issues before."

A twelve second pause is an incredibly long time in conversation.

The fundamental problem here is that McCain wants to court the support of a constituency whose priorities he neither agrees with nor knows anything about. There's no way he can hold up under a year's worth of questions like this. It would be like me bluffing my way to the presidency of the American Mathematical Society.

--Jonathan Chait

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