Lost in translation: McCain’s message to foreign press is mixed

If John McCain’s campaign and image were made clearer to some during the Republican National Convention, others walked away from St. Paul more baffled by America than ever.

Of course, those people weren’t Americans, but members of the foreign press corps covering last week’s events. David Schultz, who teaches politics and government at Hamline University, was contacted by the feds to be something of a liaison to the traveling journos.

“The state department contacted me about a month ago,” said Schultz, who was fresh off teaching gigs in Armenia and Moscow last year. “They were quite blunt about it, saying there was a limit to how much [department officials] could talk to reporters without them thinking this was just an arm of the government.”

So Schultz accepted the chance to explain the political process here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. — with middling success.

“I tried to explain why so much of the politics is about an allusion to a war hero, and I was trying to explain that McCain is a war hero,” Schultz said. “In Germany, there is no such thing as a war hero.”

Schultz added that the Germans also were puzzled by the fact that each RNC session began with the pledge of allegiance or the national anthem. Schultz also dealt with journalists from Austria, France and South Korea, and did phoners for media outlets all over the world last week, including one for a popular South African radio station. 

“When I talk about a war-hero image driving the campaign, they’re perplexed,” Schultz said.

As for McCain’s other image — that as a rebel or a “maverick” — well, that was tough to explain as well. “The South Koreans tried about three different translations for maverick,” Schultz said, “and all they could come up with was ‘traitor.’ “

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