McCain Chose Vanity

One more comment on McCain’s confusion about the Prime Minister of Spain: as I noted earlier, I think McCain simply did not know who the interviewer was talking about. This is striking, since she identified him repeatedly: “let’s talk about Spain”, “President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero”, “the President of Spain”, etc., etc.

However, that’s not the explanation the McCain campaign is going with. The Washington Post reports:

“McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Sheunemann said McCain’s answer was intentional.

“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 Zapatero in this interview,” he said in an e-mail.”

I think this is plainly false. If McCain knew exactly who the interviewer was talking about, it’s a total mystery why he said: “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.” The only way to make sense of that remark is to suppose that McCain thought that the interviewer was asking about someone in Latin America — not, I assume, because he doesn’t know where Spain is, but because he was just confused as to who she was talking about.

Suppose that’s right. If so, then Scheunemann’s spin is designed to cover up for McCain’s confusion. If so, that tells us something very important. Namely:

McCain and his campaign are willing to insult a foreign leader and damage an alliance, rather than admit to a moment of confusion.

Think about it. There are a lot of things that the campaign could have said about this incident, many of which are more plausible than what Scheunemann actually said. For instance, they could have said that McCain simply misheard the interviewer, and that of course he would be more than happy to meet with the Prime Minister of Spain. This might well be true; it would certainly be a lot more plausible than saying that his comments about leaders in the hemisphere were somehow responsive to a question about the Prime Minister of Spain. But it would have involved admitting a mistake, and possibly suggesting to some voters age-related concerns like hearing loss.

There are two basic responses to this predicament. First, admit the mistake anyways. Admitting mistakes is tough, but this one is pretty easy to minimize, and probably won’t be that big a deal. In any case, the only thing that really suffers any kind of damage at all is McCain’s vanity. Second, insist that McCain knew who the interviewer was talking about, and meant exactly what he said. In this case, you don’t have to admit error; you just have to say that you really did mean to dis a foreign leader whom we are committed, by treaty, to defend, whose troops are presently fighting in Afghanistan, and whom we have absolutely no earthly reason not to have good relations with.

It’s a choice between vanity and the interests of the country. McCain chose vanity. That’s an important thing to know.

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