This is almost certainly going to sound nitpicky, if not actually petty, but bear with me. It’s not unreasonable to note that John McCain continues
July 13, 2008

This is almost certainly going to sound nitpicky, if not actually petty, but bear with me. It’s not unreasonable to note that John McCain continues to make references to a country that doesn’t exist.

At a press conference in Phoenix today, for example, McCain referenced Czechoslovakia. Again.

“I was concerned about a couple of steps that the Russian government took in the last several days. One was reducing the energy supplies to Czechoslovakia. Apparently that is in reaction to the Czech’s agreement with us concerning missile defense, and again some of the Russian now announcement they are now retargeting new targets, something they abandoned at the end of the Cold War, is also a concern. So we see the tensions between Russia and their neighbors, as well as Russia and the United States are somewhat increasing.”

On first blush, this sounds like more antagonistic rhetoric towards Russia — which McCain wants to kick out of the G8 — which isn’t especially helpful.

But more importantly, Russia can’t “reduce energy supplies to Czechoslovakia.” Czechoslovakia, of course, doesn’t exist. It split into two countries more than 15 years ago. McCain has actually been to the Czech Republic and Slovakia since they became independent countries, and he’s met with their leaders.

So, McCain slipped up. He’s 71 and this is going to happen from time to time, right? Well, there’s a little more to it than that.

First, as Greg Sargent noted, McCain has made this same mistake more than once during the campaign. About three months ago, McCain vowed to “work closely with Czechoslovakia” on missile defense. Last fall, during a Republican debate, McCain said: “The first thing I would do is make sure that we have a missile defense system in place in Czechoslovakia and Poland, and I don’t care what his objections are to it.”

Second, before Republicans condemn Dems for being picky on this, let’s not forget that in the 2000 campaign, when McCain also screwed up Czechoslovakia, it was none other than George W. Bush who said it deserved to be a campaign issue: “A guy gets up and quizzes me [on world leaders] … but John McCain says something about the ‘ambassador to Czechoslovakia.’ Well, I know there is no Czechoslovakia [there’s a Czech Republic and a Slovakia], but yet it didn’t make the nightly national news.”

Look, I know this was just another verbal slip. McCain has been incompetent about foreign affairs for quite a while, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s relatively inconsequential that he keeps referencing a country that ceased to be in 1993. He’s said far worse.

But the raison d’etre of John McCain’s entire presidential campaign is the notion that he’s an expert on foreign policy, thanks to his decades of experience as a Washington insider. When the foreign policy expert keeps referencing a non-existent country, it’s not unreasonable to mention that maybe his expertise isn’t quite as impressive as his campaign and the political media establishment would like us to believe.

Put it this way — in August 2007, Barack Obama mentioned “the president of Canada” in a debate. Canada, of course, has a prime minister, not a president. Obama had made a mistake. What happened? Political reporters pounced (see here, here, here, and here, for example), mocking Obama’s error and highlighting the gaffe as evidence that he’s “too inexperienced to become commander in chief.”

At the time, David Frum argued, “Barack Obama refers to the ‘president of Canada,’ the kind of misstep that would cost a Republican candidate for president dearly.”

It seems Frum had it backwards. The media jumped all over Obama’s inconsequential error. McCain, meanwhile, makes mistakes like this all the time, almost always with no media scrutiny at all.

How much attention do you suppose McCain’s Czechoslovakia mistake will get?

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