Up until very early this morning, as I was watching my delayed DVR of Morning Joe on MSNBC, there were at least two candidates running with a possible third, for president. After Mike Barnacle asked Gary Johnson THE QUESTION, the response revealed that there were really only TWO left in the running. In case you missed it, here is the story, from The New Yorker:
WHAT IS ALEPPO, GARY JOHNSON?
By David Remnick , 11:58 A.M.
In what universe and era can we be living in if Donald Trump is merely the second least informed candidate for the Presidency? Trump foggily negotiated the toothless, pit-a-pat treatment he got from Matt Lauer on NBC last night, insisting once more on his narcissistic admiration for Vladimir Putin: "If he says great things about me, I'm going to say great things about him." But that was nothing new. This morning, on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Mike Barnicle began a roundtable interview with Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for President and the former governor of New Mexico, that set an even lower marker for ignorance. The following exchange gave one the fleeting impression that, compared to Johnson, Trump is the modern incarnation of Talleyrand:
barnicle: What would you do, if you were elected, about Aleppo?
johnson: About . . . ?
johnson [as a look of panic sweeps across his face]: And what is Aleppo?
barnicle: You're kidding.
barnicle: Aleppo is in Syria. [Pause.] It's the epicenter of the refugee crisis.
johnson: O.K.! Got it. Got it.
johnson: Well, with regard to Syria, um, I do think that it's a mess. I think that the only way that we deal with Syria is to join hands with Russia.
Johnson has declared that he has not smoked marijuana in several months—he used to be in the legalized-marijuana business—so that's not really an excuse. And Barnicle, for his part, was not trying to pull a funny one. He wasn't asking Johnson trick questions like "What's the capital of Kazakhstan?" Or: "Name the Baltic States." Or: "Where was the Treaty of Westphalia signed?" Nothing like that.
No, Barnicle was asking the most straightforward question possible: What is the strategic, diplomatic, and moral route to ending the prolonged slaughter in Syria? Johnson's inability to locate Aleppo, where men, women, and children are being eradicated every day, most recently by chlorine-gas attacks, was pathetic, the equivalent of a candidate for President in 1964 being unable to summon the location of Hanoi or Saigon. It's not enough that Johnson has a vague isolationist ideology—that, like Ron and Rand Paul, he is against an interventionist foreign policy. That's a legitimate viewpoint, but it doesn't seem overly demanding to insist that he read a newspaper, a Web site, anything—that he ought to know something about the wars that are being fought in the world, especially given that America has an active, if limited, involvement in Syria now. And shouldn't knowing nothing—in his case, or in Trump's—be disqualifying? At the D.M.V., if you flunk the written exam, you can't get behind a steering wheel with the motor running. Perhaps there should be a remotely similar bar for cluelessness in a Presidential campaign.
For Johnson, this willful lack of interest in policy and facts is no more an aberration, a bad moment of television, than it is in the case of Trump. A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed Johnson for "The New Yorker Radio Hour," and he proved himself to be jovial and plainspoken, but also distinctly shallow—and, after a while, tetchy about his own flimsy policy prescriptions and knowledge base.
When I noted that he had been highly complimentary of Hillary Clinton's competence as a public official, Johnson seemed to realize that this was no longer a good meme for him to carry around if he is to draw votes from Democrats as well as Republicans. "Well, you know I change that," he said. "Sometimes you misspeak a little bit. I really do think this whole Clinton Foundation is 'pay to play.' . . . For me, personally, I've been able to connect the dots."
Johnson mentioned that the retirement age for Social Security benefits ought to be raised. When asked to what age it ought to be raised, he got defensive. "Look, I'm not getting elected king or dictator here. I'm looking to get elected President of the United States that has constitutional limits. . . . Seventy-two seems like a good starting point."
Johnson had told Ryan Lizza, in a previous interview, that he last ingested a pot edible a few months ago. I asked why he'd decided to refrain. If President Obama could have a Martini or two at the end of a long day, what's wrong with one of Johnson's favorites, a Cheeba Chew?
"The whole notion of inbound missiles—you've got twelve minutes to deal with that," Johnson replied. "I have never advocated being on the job impaired, and running for President is a 24/7 job and being President is a 24/7 job."
Johnson is an ardent, even absolutist, Second Amendment supporter, and when I asked about the mass killings in an Orlando night club and the ready availability of semiautomatic weapons, he switched the subject: "I hope everybody paid attention to what happened in Orlando," he said. "I hope all the night-club owners in the country were paying attention to the fact that all the doors were padlocked."
"O.K., but I don't think you're arguing that egress in and out of the night club was the question," I said. "We're talking about the ready availability of weapons that one would think should be limited to a field of war."
The thought of regulating or banning semiautomatic rifles for non-military use displeased him. "If you're going to make those criminal, I think you're going to have a whole new criminal class of people who aren't going to turn in those weapons," Johnson said.
When I asked about proposals that teachers have guns in their classrooms, Johnson got very agitated.
"I'm not going to tell teachers whether or not they should have a gun or not. Come on, man!" he said. "If a teacher would deem that be—to avail the classroom of potentially being secure, or if the teacher were to deem that something that, within their own purview, they might prevent an atrocity if it were to occur, I would support the teacher in wanting to be able to do that."
Finally, I asked if there were any books that had influenced him deeply. His answer was this: "Ayn Rand. I love 'The Fountainhead.' I love 'Atlas Shrugged.' I do read. But those are a couple of books that I think, from a philosophical standpoint, I think 'The Fountainhead' is my favorite book."
You can wonder if Johnson has looked into Ayn Rand, her alarming statements on altruism, American Indians, Arabs, religion, community . . . whatever. We can leave literary matters aside for the moment. Before proposing himself as the ideal person to hold the Presidency, though, Johnson might want to know the answer to his own question: "What is Aleppo?"
Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association aid and abet violence.
- An American Story