In just the past six weeks, McCain has referred repeatedly to Czechoslovakia as though it still existed and to Vladimir Putin as though he were still president of Russia. More significantly, he has claimed that Iraq borders Pakistan, that the Anbar Awakening occurred after the surge, that the Iraq war was America’s first major armed conflict since 9/11, and that, unlike Obama, he would prefer to speak outside the country only after being elected president.Science is interesting. McCain, on the other hand, is a bit scary.
In May, McCain incorrectly said the U.S. had drawn down its forces in Iraq to pre-surge levels. In March, he wrongly claimed that Iran was training Al Qaeda operatives. Last April, he mistakenly said General David Petraeus regularly drove around Baghdad in an unarmored Humvee. In each of these “McCain moments,” political life would have been easier for the candidate if his statements were true. But none were.
What might be happening in McCain’s head? Gerontologists and retirement planners have learned that aging brains compensate for cognitive decline by relying on templates of familiar knowledge more than problem solving. That’s usually a good thing, but neuroscientists have also found that memory loss can lead people to substitute incorrect information. This phenomenon, called confabulation, rather than being random, often takes the form of untrue “facts” that make them feel better — giving them what scientists have called “the pleasantness of false beliefs.” So are McCain’s stumbles simply misstatements, or evidence of a mind filling in blanks with wish fulfillment? Well, we really have no idea. But neither does McCain: His aides told reporters in May that he has had no mental evaluations in the past eight years.
Word of the day: Confabulation.