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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Why Does McCain Repeat His Gaffes?

David Corn

Okay, we know that John McCain cannot operate a computer on his own. A few days ago, he told The New York Times that his wife Cindy and political aide Mark Salter help him find the websites he likes to peruse and that he's been learning how to get to these spots on his own. C'mon--how hard is it to turn on a computer and double-click on a browser icon? Nevertheless, this is one candidate who better learn fast how to surf. Not just to show he's no fuddy-duddy Luddite, but to make sure he does not become known as a fool

McCain in recent weeks has often repeated dumb mistakes. He mixed up Sunni and Shia--and then did so again and again. His campaign released a list of 300 economists who it claimed supported his economic plan. Yet after Politico reported that several did not back McCainonomics, McCain continued saying that 300 economists were behind him. Then there's this: the guy keeps on referring to a country that does not exist: Czechoslovakia. On Monday, he bemoaned Russia's attempt to reduce "the energy supplies to Czechoslovakia," which ceased to be in 1993 (when it split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia). That slip-up sparked news reports and tittering on blogs. But after all that, on Tuesday, McCain did it again, once more decrying Russia's "reduction in oil supplies to Czechoslovakia."

Sure, all politicians--and all of us--misspeak from time to time. But there is a pattern to McCain's gaffes: after he makes a mistake, he does not correct himself and goes on to restate it. There are several possible explanations for this. One is that because he doesn't use a computer, he does not see the full impact these mistakes have; thus, he does not make an effort to avoid repeating the missteps. After making an error about Czechoslovakia, shouldn't he have made a point to get it right the very next day? Wouldn't you? Another explanation, of course, is that his penchant for repeating gaffes is age-related.

In any event, this apparent McCain trait could come to threaten his campaign. A few more episodes like these--in which he looks discombobulated or out of touch--might give birth to a negative narrative for McCain. (A newsmagazine cover: "How confused is John McCain?") Ronald Reagan, it is true, was a serial mugger of facts, and that did not impede his political career. But McCain is no great communicator, and if voters have questions about his age, this sort of stumbling will reinforce such concerns. So perhaps McCain ought to sign-up for a daily Google alert on himself and check it each night--if only to see what blunders he ought not repeat the next day.

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