emilianozapata.thumbnail.jpgYou’ve all heard, by now, that McCain got really confused when asked a question about Spain’s President, Jose Luis Zapatero, in an interview yesterday.

INTERVIEWER: Senator finally, let’s talk about Spain. If elected president would you be willing to invite President Jose Rodriguez Louis Zapatero to the White House, to meet with you?

McCAIN: I would be willing to meet with those leaders who are friends and want to work with us in a cooperative fashion.

And by the way President Calderon of Mexico is fighting a very, very tough fight against the drug cartels. I’m glad we are now working with the Mexican government on the Merida Plan, and I intend to move forward with relations and invite as many of them as I can, of those leaders to the White House.

INTERVIEWER: Would that invitation be extended to the Zapatero government? To the president himself?

McCAIN: Uh, I don’t, I, ya know, I, honestly, I have to look at the situations and the relations 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 of America.

INTERVIEWER: So you have to wait and see. If he’s willing to meet with you, would you be able to do it? In the White House?

McCAIN: Well, again, I don’t — All I can tell you is 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.

There’s been some debate over whether McCain simply thinks Zapatero, a NATO ally, isn’t supporting American policies, or whether he simply had a senior moment … a really bad one.

Me, I think John McCain is still fighting the Mexican Revolution. Seriously.

From the transcript, it’s obvious that McCain thought the interviewer–who had asked about Venezuela and then Cuba–was asking another question about a third Latin American country, Mexico. His immediate response, after all, was to emphasize his support for Calderon, the conservative President of Mexico. McCain’s answers might have been appropriate had the interviewer asked about Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Calderon’s opponent in 2006 and another populist McCain’s crowd viewed with the same loathing as they view Chavez and both Castros.

But how did he get from a question about Spain’s President, presumably through Mexico’s former opposition leader to Mexico’s President?

I think we can blame it on Mexican Revolutionary war hero, Emiliano Zapata (also a populist of the type that would scare McCain).  

I’m guessing that McCain was concentrating as hard as he could on Latin America–he has already made it clear he intends to claim Obama has no expertise in Latin America. And so when he was presented with a name that didn’t have anything to do with Latin America, his brain compensated and presented a vague amalgam of terms: I can imagine McCain struggling to establish a pattern: Latin American populist, Latin American populist, Latin American populist, and somewhere out of the depths of Mexican history he has gained from living in Arizona for a quarter century, out came Zapata, and from there Mexico. Zapatero, Zapata–to a wrinkly white dude like McCain, I imagine progressives with Spanish names all seem the same. 

It’s  funny though. McCain’s old. But he’s not actually as old as Emiliano Zapata. 



Marcy Wheeler aka Emptywheel is an American journalist whose reporting specializes in security and civil liberties.