Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Spain, the Bane of McCain

As a Latinophile/Hispanophile, I would be remiss in not posting something about the recent gaffe McCain made during an interview with a Miami radio station. During the course of this interview, McCain did not seem to be able to distinguish between Spain and Latin America. He clearly did not seem to know who Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was, nor did he have any sense that Spain was quite distinct from Latin America.

In fact, for a man who made a point of highlighting and buffing up his Latin America bona fides earlier this summer, McCain sure does come across as neophyte when it comes to a nuanced understanding of the differences between European Spanish-speaking peoples and American Spanish-speaking peoples. Kinda reinforces the unfortunate concept that our leaders only give lip service to the Hispanic world and, at the end of the day, just can't seem to get beyond the lumping of more than one quarter of the world's community as "Mexicans" (and if you don't know what I mean by this, you can ask New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin), except in McCain's case the stereotype is that if you are the leader of a Spanish-speaking country, you're either a leftist anti-US zealot (i.e. Raul Castro of Cuba, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia, etc.) or you are a stalwart anti-communist hardline ally (i.e. Uribe of Colombia) in the war against terrorist and drug-trafficking.

Now, to be fair to McCain, he sounded very tired. And in his exhaustion, he could have just gotten caught up in a single trope and stuck with it, regardless of the fact that the context changed and wasn't appropriate for this trope. Nevertheless, even that excuse, as plausible and understandable as it is, doesn't make for good impressions for the person who wants to be the next President of the United States.

Not a good moment for McCain.

[Hat Tip to my colleague Val for clueing me in to this news this morning.]


Eric said...

Of course, it didn't help much that the interviewer spoke poor, choppy, heavily accented English, and a few times couldn't even come up with the words she was trying to use. It is very possible that McCain didn't understand her.

He also might have been confused by the fact that the interviewer said, "Senator, let's talk about now Latin American" and then went on to ask him numerous questions about Spain.

All in all, I thought that interview showed McCain to have a pretty good handle on the Latin American issues that were discussed. I'd be interested to know if Obama could name as many Latin American leaders as McCain did in that interview. I also found his claim interesting that Obama has never in his life traveled south of the American border. If Obama wants to extoll his foreign policy experience, he might start by actuially visiting our neigbors!

If people actually listen to that entire interview, I think it helps McCain more than it hurts him.

Eric said...

You know, listening to it again, when Spain was brought up, McCAin seemed to simply be trying to steer the conversation back to Latin America by skimming the question and then talking about Mexico (our most important Latin American neighbor, and one the interviewer didn't ask a single question about in her litany of Latin America questions). It is clear to me that he knew who Zapatero was, and was trying to chose his words carefully. He was probably simply trying to avoid getting in an entangling coversation about Zapatero's relationship with Chavez, because the question was about his vision for US/Latin American ties, not European/Latin American ties. The interviewer is the one who kept asking if he would invite Zapatero to the White House for a discussion on Latin American affairs.

Huck said...

Hi, Eric - Thoughtful points; but I don't think your charitable defense of McCain holds up under scrutiny. And I think even if your generous read of this incident were plausible, it still doesn't reflect well on McCain. I'm composing a separate post in response to your comments to opine on this further. Thanks for getting my mind rolling on this and I hope you'll keep me honest by responding to my comments in that posting, too.