THE PLANK SEPTEMBER 18, 2008
Jonathan Martin at Politico has a characteristically level-headed reading of the evident McCain gaffe regarding whether or not he'd be willing to meet with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero:
John McCain pointedly declined to commit to a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in a radio interview this week, sparking a major story in Madrid. Talking to a Latino-oriented radio station in Miami Monday morning,
McCain would only say: "I would be willing to meet with those leaders
who are friends and want to work with us in a cooperative fashion."
It seems, however, like McCain was uncertain about the country and leader in question. After an extended interview dealing with countries to our south, McCain
used the question about Spain to allude back to Mexico, note his work
"with leaders in the hemisphere," and our relationship with "Latin America and the entire region." McCain also never makes any mention of Spain or Zapatero.
Further, the individual conducting the interview has a thick accent and McCain appears not to understand her at times. "Ok, what about Europe, I'm talking about the President of Spain?" she asks. "What about me, what?" McCain responds, believing she said "you" instead of "Europe."
Having listened to the interview a few times now (you can find it here), I think it's abundantly clear that McCain wasn't paying close attention and misunderstood the question. Moreover, I don't think it's a terribly embarrassing mistake: The interviewer did have a pretty strong accent, and her followup questions weren't very well framed.
What's shocking is that, rather than own up to this excusable error, the McCain camp has dug in, claiming that McCain understood every word and meant exactly what he said. As McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Schuenemann wrote in an email to the Washington Post:
The questioner asked several times about Senator McCain's willingness
to meet Zapatero (and id'd him in the question so there is no doubt
Senator McCain knew exactly to whom the question referred). Senator
McCain refused to commit to a White House meeting with President
[sic] Zapatero in this interview.
Really? That's clearly not how McCain felt back in April when he explained, "I would like for [Zapatero] to visit the United States. I am
very interested not only in normalizing relations with Spain but in
obtaining good and productive relations with the goal of addressing
many issues and challenges that we have to confront together." And even if McCain had for some reason cooled to the idea of a Zapatero visit over the past few months, it would not explain his repeated references to Latin America when asked about the possibility of a meeting.
The evidence seems pretty overwhelming that John McCain made an excusable mistake in the interview, but his campaign has tried to cover it up with an inexcusable falsehood, one that may significantly complicate relations with a NATO ally should he be elected.