Thursday, September 18, 2008

Who Needs Another Two Cents?

So one of the stories today at TPM and elsewhere is that during an interview John McCain gave which was broadcast on Spanish-language radio in the US and Spain, McCain was asked about meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Zapatero, and gave an answer that either

1) ducked the question;
2) indicated that he didn't know who Zapatero was;
3) indicated that he believed Spain was in Latin America;
4) indicated a crazily aggressive position towards a NATO ally;
or 5) indicated that McCain wasn't paying attention or couldn't hear clearly, possibly because of the reporter's accent.

I think the answer is probably more #5 than anything else, and here's why:

Then there's a moment of awkward pause before she says. "But what about Europe? I'm talking about the President of Spain."

McCain: "What about me, what?

Interviewer: "Are you willing to meet with him if you're elected president?"
McCain seems to have heard "what about Europe" as "what about you?" Hence his reply, "What about me, what?"

Bear in mind, too, that when you listen to the audio, you get a crystal-clear recording of the interviewer, much better than what McCain doubtlessly heard over the telephone.

So listen: McCain has probably a less-than-ideal reception. He's tired. The interviewer is speaking quickly and in with an accent. And he isn't exactly a spring chicken. (I'm sure we'll hear that of course McCain's hearing isn't perfect, that there were times that he couldn't hear anything -- in Vietnam!)

But instead of asking the reporter to repeat or clarify the question, he returns to a fistful of generic and not very illustrative talking points about Latin America and democracies throughout the world.

I think this may show more than that McCain is clueless or confused. It shows that he's stopped listening. That he's forgotten that what people liked about the Straight Talk Express wasn't just that McCain said what he thought, without restorting to rehearsed formulae, but that McCain actually seemed to be paying attention to the people around him, to address their concerns and honestly answer their questions. This is the difference between Candidate McCain and Senator McCain -- or even between Candidate McCain in September and Candidate McCain in May:

I don't want to get too nostalgic about either of those guys, because they both had their problems. But it's clear that that time is over, that window is closed. It's going to be "on message" McCain from here until November. And the problem is that the message itself is thin as a wafer.

Update: TPM's Josh Marshall essentially agrees with me.

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