The Mystery of John McCain’s “Bottled Hot Water”

Last week, John McCain made a comment that still has everyone scratching their heads. During his speech in New Orleans, he described ways in which our country should prepare for natural disasters, including this one: “We should be able to deliver bottled hot water to dehydrated babies.” (Video here .)

The questions are so numerous, it’s hard to know where to start. Why give hot water to babies? Wouldn’t they prefer cold water if they’re dehydrated? Would you heat the water before bottling it, or after? Wouldn’t that melt the plastic slightly? These questions and more have been pondered across the blogs .

It’s especially bizarre because the word hot isn’t in the text of the speech . McCain inserted it himself.

We asked around for possible explanations. Perhaps babies need to have their liquids hot before a certain age? “No,” said Dr. Jeffrey W. Hull, a pediatrician in Decatur, Ala. “Babies don’t need to drink their stuff hot. … He might be thinking in terms of warm water for cooking food for babies.” But not to drink.

In fact, babies under six months aren’t supposed to drink water at all . Babies’ kidneys aren’t mature, which means sodium can get flushed out when they drink, putting them at risk of water intoxication, Dr. Jennifer Anders told Reuters last month.

But maybe disaster relief organizations sometimes deliver hot water, right? Red Cross spokeswoman Lesly Simmons, who was in New Orleans during the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, says she’s never heard of that. “Bottled water, that’s something we tend pass out,” she said. “But hot water’s never been a focus of a disaster relief operation.” Emergency-relief vehicles will drive around distributing food, snacks, and drinks. Sometimes the water is chilled, but it’s never hot. “It’s always too hot to be giving out hot water,” Simmons said.

Maybe McCain meant to say boiled water? “You certainly want to give babies clean things,” said Jane Crouse of La Leche League International, an organization devoted to breast-feeding. “So if there is a question as to the water’s purity, what are you supposed to do in an emergency? Boil your water.”

Of course, that doesn’t explain the bottles. Or the babies. Or the fact that he said “hot,” not “boiled.”

The McCain campaign did not respond to e-mails asking for comment.

Update June 16, 3:03 p.m.: Fray contributor Arthur Ether offers a plausible explanation:

Older Americans know what a “hot water bottle” is…it’s rubber, youfill it with hot water and use it to ease your aches and pains atnight. Perhaps McCain saw the words “water” and “bottle” and scrambledit up from there.