Ok folks, here we go , media circus in overdrive and someone needs to cool their engines, that someone is me apparently.

John McCain, in an interview with Radio Union, a Spanish-owned station serving a Spanish speaking US audience, seemed to get totally lost in an interview, and suddenly declare the intention to continue harshly cold relations towards Spain (who Bush has snubbed since Zapatero’s opposition to the war) – despite previous statements to the contrary.

Folks are screaming that McCain is senile, that he’s as bad as Bush in terms of world awareness, that he doesn’t know who Zapatero is or even that he thinks Spain is located in Latin America. But sadly, few of the articles I’ve looked at link to the audio and few quote any extensive transcript, so I decided to listen for myself.

Best audio link is here at Truthdig – Spain questions start just before the 3 minute mark.

So , when he makes his first answer, he all of a sudden starts to speak reeeeeeaaaaaaal slow and stilted – he’s doing a lot of thinking about his very vague answer – sounds an awful lot like he’s struggling for words, unsure of where he’s going. And it’s weird, becasue he answers so vaguely about inviting Zapatero to the White House, then skips suddenly to bring up Mexican President Calderon out of seemingly nowhere. (Did he think she was talking about Zapatistas? Some are proposing this.)

The interviewer insists – and this answer is eyebrow-raising, he says, when asked about the visit

Honestly i have to look at the relations and the situations 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.

Wtf? – does he really think Spain might want to do harm to the US? guh? psnuh? wuuuuuh? NATO ally, helloooo?

Then comes the red-flag-raising bit:

All I can tell you is that 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.

Whaaaaaaaa? And this is where people have a heart attack and say John McCain thinks Spain is in Latin America. But people need to chill.

I’m gonna have to insist on playing devil’s advocate – I don’t like McCain any more than the next rabid lefty – but I don’t like sensationalist journalism either. Let’s look at this calmly and – gasp – let’s listen to it and take it in context.

At this point the interviewer has only said “Spain” once, very quickly to introduce the questioning: “Lets talk about Spain” which of course sounds like “leztalkabouespayn”-(yes I’m allowed to make fun of Spanish accents, I have to decipher them for a living)–then launches into the Zapatero question. Maybe McCain missed the word, maybe the accent muddled it, maybe he got distracted just at that moment by some shiny object passing into view, maybe someone farted right next to his head, who the fuck knows – but I really, really don’t think he thinks Spain is in Latin America (Palin I would expect it from, George Bush in 2000 maybe, not McCain, he’s been around too long). My theory – he thinks they’re still talking about Latin America but he doesn’t know who they’re talking about – (I agree that Zapatistas is possible cuz he cuts to talking about Mexico.)

But let’s continue, cuz it doesn’t end there

The interviewer says, obviously a bit thrown off after his surprisingly cool answer about a European head of state, “But what about Europe, I’m talking about the president of Spain” – and its very clearly pronounced – then, here’s the key line, that none of these articles seem to mention: McCain answers quickly, seeming even a bit irritated “what about him? what?” He’s taken completely off-guard, as though its a new topic, as though she hasn’t just told him exactly “what?” she’s asking about the president of Spain – he thinks he’s being presented with a new person in the long list of countries she’s been asking about – she just sort of laundry listed them “tell me about venezuela?….and what about Cuba?” I think he missed that he was being asked about Spain before – he thinks she’s introducing a new topic. His “what about him?” response makes perfect sense if you assume he didn’t know she was talking about Spain before.

As I’ve said, the articles I’ve read rarely link the audio or have an extensive transcript, they don’t seem to quote his answers with her questions as context, her exact words, and none quoted the above line. So, frankly, I think he somehow missed, or misheard, who he was being asked about at first, and assumed it was another Latin American leader, cuz he kept mentioning Latin America, he didn’t shift gears with her when she said “leztalkabouespayn” (and I can attest, dealing with accents over the phone is suuuuuuper difficult. But I’ve learned to just ask twice and repeat to confirm.)

That being said, still, what was he thinking? If he didn’t hear right, all he had to do is say – “I’m sorry I think I misheard something, could you please repeat the question, who are you asking me about?” So my conclusion is that he must’ve thought he heard correctly but either 1) thought Zapatero was someone else (I’m gonna go with Zapatistas if this is the case) or 2) had no idea who he was (which if he still thought he was talking about Latin America would make some sense) and panicked and so gave the most general answer possible. Option 2) implies that his foreign policy knowledge has serious holes in it, if he was confident about that knowledge he’d know there was no leader named Zapatero in Latin America and that he’s obviously misheard something. Sadly, I lean towards option 2 since his speech became so stilted when he started to answer – he was clearly grappling for the most general answer to fit the environment.

That said, people are criticizing this dude, Randy Scheunemann, McCain’s foreign policy advisor – who came out saying this

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.

As Alternet posits (thought with a disappointingly shallow look at the interview, I must repeat) that in order to cover up the fact that he obviously got lost in the interview, they’ll just flip-flop on his earlier statements about Spain-US relations and decide Spain is no longer a friend. But are we to be surprised folks? No! This is politics. This is an election. And as we, and his advisors well know, the US public doesn’t care about foreign policy, foreign governments, foreign almost anything, and I’m sure some obscene percentage of Americans actually do not know where Spain is located, along with almost anything outside US borders. So, taken from a campaign strategist point of view, spinning this as “McCain is cold towards Spain” makes a helluva lot more sense than letting the public think “McCain gets a bit confused at times(tapping into legitimate fears about his age)” or “McCain is a geography ignoramus (cuz haven’t we had enough of that with Bush).” Because, in the end, as the interveiwer herself said of her listeners in Miami “People here are worried about lots of things, the economy, immigration. Not about Spain.” There you have it.

Oopsies – Correction here.

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