It’s an immutable law of political theater: It’s not the crime that gets you into the most trouble. It’s the (attempted) cover-up.
Let’s roll the tape. The fun part starts around 2:58 from the beginning:
Now look at what McCain’s foreign policy advisor, Randy Sheunemann, is saying:
Asked to explain McCain’s apparent shift in tone and position since April, Scheunemann gave almost no ground.
“In this week’s interview, Senator McCain did not rule in or rule out a White House meeting with President Zapatero, a NATO ally,” he said in an e-mail. “If elected, he will meet with a wide range of allies in a wide variety of venues but is not going to spell out scheduling and meeting location specifics in advance. He also is not going to make reckless promises to meet America’s adversaries. It’s called keeping your options open, unlike Senator Obama, who has publicly committed to meeting some of the world’s worst dictators unconditionally in his first year in office.”
Kevin Drum: No Mas:
Conventional wisdom said it was just a minor gaffe. Or maybe John McCain didn’t hear the question right during his radio interview with WSUA 1260 in Miami yesterday. But no: it turns out that, as a matter of policy, McCain refuses to commit to meeting with the prime minister of Spain if he’s elected president.
Joshua Marshall: Chin-scratching bigtime on McCain’s Zapatero Gaffe:
Whether it was because of ignorance, confusion or inability to understand what the interviewer was saying, McCain clearly didn’t understand what he was being asked. And rather than stop and say, I didn’t understand your question, could you restate it?, (Or, who are you referring to?) he decided to wing it and assumed he was being asked a question about another Latin American strong man bad guy. This is simply the only credible explanation that takes account of all the evidence. I think it’s a generous read to conclude that the only issue was that McCain couldn’t understand the interviewer’s accent. But it’s definitely possible. Even that, though, puts McCain in a pretty bad light.
Equally bad, Randy Scheunemann would rather further inflame Spanish-American relations by ridiculously insisting that McCain knew exactly what he saying than admit the obvious — that he didn’t understand the question. It wouldn’t be that surprising. But given McCain has premised his whole campaign on foreign policy experience they’ve clearly decided it would simply be too damaging to admit he was either a) confused, b) ignorant or c) reckless enough to spout off aggressive remarks when he didn’t even know who he was being asked about.
hilzoy: McCain Chose Vanity:
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.