Ethics Dunce: Libertarian Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson

The Marx Brothers: Groucho, Zeppo, Harpo, Chico, and Aleppo

The Marx Brothers: Groucho, Zeppo, Harpo, Chico, and Aleppo

The Presidential nominee of the party whose convention featured a fat naked guy running around on stage found himself being the focus of the news this week, and not in a good way. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”—you know, that astute, objective news commentary show with a co-host who says Hillary Clinton is, like “awesome!”— there was this  exchange between Libertarian Party candidate, Gov. Gary Johnson and one of the show’s panelists, Mike Barnicle:

Barnicle: “What would you do if you were elected about Aleppo?”

Johnson: “About…?”

Barnicle: “Aleppo”

Johnson: “And what is Aleppo?”

Barnicle: “You’re kidding.”

Johnson: “No.”

Barnicle explained that Aleppo is a once thriving city in Syria that is ground zero for the country’s civil war. Johnson replied, “Got it,” and provided the wisdom that “With regard to Syria I do think it’s a mess.”

He elaborated, but as CNN’s Frida Ghitis wrote, ” Who cares what Johnson thinks about Syria now? He knows nothing about it. His opinion is meaningless.”

Well, not exactly meaningless. What his failure to have an informed opinion on a major foreign policy crisis like Syria means is that Gary Johnson is lazy, lacks seriousness, and is failing his duty to he party and the nation, which is to provide a realistic, responsible, genuine alternative to the candidates of the two major parties, both of whom are spectacularly unfit to serve, unfit for office, and embarrassments to the democratic process who call into serious question the long term viability of both our form of government and the nation itself.

Did I sugar-coat that too much?

A majority of voters don’t like or trust either candidate, even with the news media abandoning all fairness and professionalism to portray Donald Trump as Hitler and Hillary as a poor, maligned, misunderstood leader despite all evidence to the contrary. A third party candidate with charisma, competence, energy and skill could, conceivably, provide the public with an option that would allow them to vote in November without wanting to keep paper bags over their heads forever more. This is not just an opportunity to become a significant historical figure, but a heroic one. When this horrible national ethics train wreck began to define itself in July, Johnson knew the challenge that faced him. In just a few months, he had to dazzle nauseated Democrats and humiliated Republican alike. This meant around the clock study and thought. And Johnson’s response to this challenge?

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. He snoozed. He knows he’s just running a symbolic campaign, so why sweat it? This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Act like a third-rate candidate, and everyone will see you as a third-rate candidate, even though the effort to be just a second-rate candidate might give the electorate hope.

Johnson’s spinners—-yes, even third-party candidates have spinners—argued that Johnson showed character, a feature that has been nearly completely absent from Campaign 2016 so far, in his exchange with Barnicle. He didn’t fake it, like Trump would. He didn’t lie, like Hillary would—“Oh, you mean “Aleppo” the city! I’m sorry, I thought you were talking about one of  Marx Brothers I had never heard of!”

That’s certainly faint praise. Okay, Johnson’s not a faker or a liar–nor, like Jill Stein, his Green Party counterpart, an anti-vaxxer and a Truther. He’s also not trying very hard.

To know what Aleppo is didn’t require arcane foreign studies. (We know how unimportant libertarians think foreign policy is.) It required paying attention. It required reading newspapers and watching TV. It required that Johnson work to be qualified for the job he was seeking, so those rejecting the two major parties’ candidates as the dreck that they are could see that he was a real candidate for the office, not just a “none of the above” choice, like Harambe the Gorilla.

He couldn’t be bothered. At this moment of leadership vacuum and despair, Gary Johnson didn’t care enough to to the grunt work necessary to be electable.


Filed under Character, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics

41 responses to “Ethics Dunce: Libertarian Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson

  1. Rick M.

    Johnson has my vote.

  2. Wayne

    Not mine. Affability and being a previous governor of New Mexico aren’t enough.

  3. J. Houghton

    I have to respectfully disagree with your analysis. Everyone has gaps in their knowledge on many different subjects. This includes presidential candidates… all of them. I feel that it is a mistake to buy into the mythology that our top leaders are some kind of “all knowing” super human intellects. Some know more; some know less.

    Many otherwise intelligent and effective Americans have limited understanding of world geography and couldn’t even identify the continents let alone the name of a city in Syria. Many intelligent Americans have only a vague understanding of current events and have only superficial knowledge of the specifics of the Syrian situation… nor do they need to. Certainly presidential candidates need to know more… but not everything.

    For a 63 year old man such as Johnson to not register the name Aleppo in his memory is not a big deal. If and when he has to remember the name, I expect he can.

    Probably one of the most important qualifications for the presidency… in my opinion… is integrity. This includes honesty and ethical behavior. Judgement is also important. Knowing ones own limitations is important. But knowing zillions of little facts about thousands of issues is something that can be fixed with proper management of the executive team.

    Obviously Trump and Clinton are horribly flawed candidates. I wouldn’t be so harsh about Johnson’s gap in geographical knowledge.

    • A.M. Golden

      “Many intelligent Americans have only a vague understanding of current events and have only superficial knowledge of the specifics of the Syrian situation… nor do they need to.”

      But he’s an American who wants to be President. He needs to understand more than the average intelligent American. I do agree that he shouldn’t be expected do answer questions on quantum physics, but Syria is a big problem that he will have to have a position on should he become President. I just don’t think he wants to have a position on it as foreign policy is not something Libertarians prioritize.

      • JD

        He has a position and if he got near the media coverage as Trump’s idiocy and Clinton’s emails, the country would have heard it months ago. The issue is one specific city that slipped his mind.

        I assume you will not be voting this year. If this is a deal breaker for you then so must Trump not knowing how many articles are contained in the Constitution, the very document the President must swear an oath to protect and contains his job description. Hillary’s email debacle, which was illegal (according to U.S. Code negligence is the same as intentional mishandling) should be a disqualifier as well as her husband using a little known former Prez fund to take an additional 16 million in taxpayer money for her foundation. It was designed to keep former Presidents from going broke and we know this is nowhere near the case with the Clinton’s. Jill Stein is now a criminal after the pipeline fiasco and apparently has no respect for other peoples property. No other candidate I’m aware of is on enough ballots to get the electoral votes needed.

        So you’re position is that no one should vote this year and we just leave the office vacant this time around? By your logic we haven’t had a qualified candidate in my entire lifetime.

        • “The issue is one specific city that slipped his mind.”
          Proving that Johnson fans spin as dishonestly as Clinton supporters. Unless he’s senile, a key name that he actually knows does not “slip his mind” to that extent. And you know it.

          • “Key” might mean something completely different to me than it does to you. I knew that it was a city in Syria, but I couldn’t have told you much more either. In fact.

            But I’m not campaigning for president, right? I see this all the time, “No one knew about Aleppo, but our bar should be higher for presidential candidates.” Ok…. Is the line we’ve drawn? The base expectation? A candidate is supposed to have encyclopedic knowledge of every confrontation of belligerents on Earth?

            But this is a “key city”, right? Well, not against ISIS, except in the most tenuous of ways. In the Syrian civil conflict? Sure. But by that measure it has just as much importance as Simferopol, and I’ll leave you to try to figure out why that city is “key”.

            No…. You know what this whole debacle is useful as? A bias test.

            Would I defending Trump like I am Johnson? I don’t know. I think the soft prejudice of low expectations means that Trump will never be asked a question like that, and even if he was, he’d bullshit his way through it. I hate defending Trump against anything… But I’d have a hard time caring about this particular lack of knowledge.

            Would I defend Clinton like I’m defending Johnson? I think a timid news media would be petrified at the thought of asking her a question about something as Obscure as Aleppo in case she flubbed it, but I think she’s the candidate most likely to get it right. This is something she SHOULD know…. She’s billing herself as an experienced candidate, and having so much hands on time with the Middle East, not knowing would be damning in that it undermines the idea that she’s a foreign affairs guru. But I’d still have to dig deep down to care, on a 1 to 10 scale of Clinton’s foreign blunders, this might have been a 2.

            • “A candidate is supposed to have encyclopedic knowledge of every confrontation of belligerents on Earth?” A pure straw man, as I bet you knew when you wrote it. We’re not talking about trivia, we’re talking about a major crisis point. How about Moscow—would that be a city he should know?

              But that’s not the issue in the post. The issue is that Johnson has to overcome the third party problem, and to do that, he has to dazzle, not just have his gaps defensible. HE more than anyone HAS to know Aleppo.

              • “A pure straw man, as I bet you knew when you wrote it. We’re not talking about trivia, we’re talking about a major crisis point. How about Moscow—would that be a city he should know?”

                I knew it was hyperbolic, but I don’t think it’s entirely unfair either. It’s such a major crisis point that no one seemed to know it existed a week ago. On the scale of world confrontations, fronts and hotspots, Aleppo just doesn’t register. NBC might be interested because the majority of Syrian refugees have come from Aleppo, but it isn’t a front with ISIS, and it isn’t a particularly strategic location, even from the point of view of the civil war.

                Which makes Aleppo a city in a country with a civil war…. On par with say Simferopol, which is part of occupied Crimea, or Sana’a, which is the capital of civil-war split Yemen. And no… I just don’t expect candidates, even presidential ones, to know the names and histories of every city on every battlefront.

                The frustrating part about this is that Johnson obviously does know about Syria, and foreign policy surrounding the middle east, he’s spoken at length on the topic, and I think he purports himself well (Definitely better than his counterparts, but that’s a low bar.).

                Johnson seems like an otherwise decent candidate who didn’t get any attention until he slipped up by forgetting the name of a city… Meanwhile Hillary’s handlers are wheeling her around like Terry Kiser in Weekend at Bernie’s, and Trump’s being Trump. As someone on the outside of your system, I think you need to get over this crippling fear of third party candidates…. The clowns are using your party system as a straitjacket.

            • Kimberly S Barkdoll

              Especially since she helped CAUSE Aleppo. Yea. Maybe thats why sge should know.

    • 1. For a 63 year old man such as Johnson to not register the name Aleppo in his memory is not a big deal. If and when he has to remember the name, I expect he can.

      !!!! He’s a 63 year old man who is presuming to run for President. This wasn’t a trick question, like asking him who the defense minister of Togo. This is a key city in the biggest international crisis there is, and of long standing

      “Probably one of the most important qualifications for the presidency… in my opinion… is integrity. This includes honesty and ethical behavior. Judgement is also important. Knowing ones own limitations is important. But knowing zillions of little facts about thousands of issues is something that can be fixed with proper management of the executive team.”

      Sure. So is diligence and competence. Integrity without those is useless. Syria isn’t trivia, and calling this a “little fact” is avoiding the issue. It’s a subject that a responsible candidate for President must make an effort to know, and Johnson didn’t, raising the rebuttable presumption that he isn’t responsible.

      • J. Houghton

        As I said initially, I respectfully disagree with your analysis. Even our current President… the guy who is actually responsible… is arguably not so much in command of the issues relating to Syria. Maybe he (Obama) does know where Aleppo is and its significance. So what? He has made a mess of it. So, we may disagree on this, but I don’t think the Aleppo gaff is as important as having executive skills necessary to effectively address these kinds of problems. Not saying that Johnson has got what it takes, but I wouldn’t judge so harshly on such a superficial detail.

        • But that’s the whole point. He can’t show what his skills are, so he has to show exemplary ability and character in what he can show. The episode is obviously not trivial, because it is the most publicity he’s ever received…and its negative. Just as Palin’s gaffes in interviews while running for VP were on minor matters, she should have been better prepared. And, as we have since learned, she’s lazy, and not willing to do the work of being a serious, substantive political figure.

          • JD

            You’re suggesting Johnson is lazy. He fought and uphill battle for governor and won. He’s been fighting an uphill battle for Prez and after ballot and debate access roadblocks and everything else thrown in his way he keeps coming. Go look up his accomplishments personal and professional then tell me exactly how lazy he is. He forgot the name of a damn city that Trump probably never knew because he’s already told us he doesnt read because he just knows things.

            You are right though god forbid a candidate forget something insignificant when he’s out campaigning like crazy discussing real problems, including the one behind Aleppo!!!

            • He’s too lazy to educate himself on the Syrian crisis, which involves hundreds of thousands of lives, a migrant crisis, and a major indictment of Hillary Clinton’s and Obama’s foreign policy. He never seems prepared in interviews.

      • JD

        If you paid any attention at all you’d know he’s been talking about Syria the whole time. It’s been a focal point of his. So Trump doesn’t have to remember what comes out of his own mouth from day today and Hillary doesn’t have to remember anything about confidential emails, but it’s inexcusible that someone else blanks on a small detail about a crisis he’s well aware of and is the only candidate who has addressed it at all.

        Asked the same question Trump would have said I’d deport him.” or “Aleppo is great. I love Aleppo. Aleppo is a wonderful thing, ask anyone.” I could care less about the name of the city in the middle of the Syria mess which we need to stay the hell out of anyway. I can’t excuse a candidate saying he supports the non exisent 12th article of the Constitution or one who has stolen from us many times and has forgotten more about her own emails than Reagan did about Iran-Contra.

        Hillary would probably have forgotten due to her concussion.

        Of course we’ll never know for certain cause Clinton avoids media and Trump bans all media that doesn’t support him. The law of averages tells us Johnson should be way ahead of the other two in screw ups, but Hillary has as many in a week as Johnson has had the whole campaign and Trump has had more in one day.

        So I’m assuming you will not be voting this year. If responsibility is your thing then you certainly can’t be voting for one of the ClinTrump twins who have raised the bar on irresponsibility.

        • Hey, jerk, if you want to stay around here, check out what I’ve actually written before leaping to false and idiotic conclusion. The post is about Johnson blowing his chance—how’s your reading competition? It is not about his relative virtues compared to Trump of Clinton. My criticism of both of these disgraces is so thorough I get complaints about it every day. “So I’m assuming you will not be voting this year” tells me you don’t know who you’re talking to. Do your damn homework. I’ll vote for Johnson when it isn’t an empty protest that ends up helping make Donald Trump President. There is no real alternative to the two horrible major party candidates, which means a responsible voter has to vote for the least terrible. As I have explained before. In excruciating detail

    • JD

      Exactly! This is nothing compared to Obama’s 48 states, Trump’s 12th article of the Constitution or Hillary saying we won’t put “boots on the ground” after it’s already been reported we have spec ops there. I could care less about the name of the city that is in the middle of a crisis Johnson is well aware of and spoken about many times. I cannot excuse a President not knowing how many states we have or how many articles the Constitution has. Those are things we all learned in elementary school. As for Clinton’s “boots on the ground” statement it’s either an outright lie or our Secretary of State doesn’t know the whereabouts of our trips even though the media does. Bush’s entire campaign was a series of blunders.

      • “I cannot excuse a President not knowing how many states we have or how many articles the Constitution has.”

        I’m actually more willing to give Obama the pass here, that gaffe came in the middle of a campaigning run where he’d probably been on a plane more than he’d been on the ground for two weeks straight, running on about 3 hours of sleep and Trucker’s Choice caffeine pills. I might have lost track of how many toes I had in his place.

        But Trump? Trump probably doesn’t know a thing other than the first and second amendment of the constitution. I’m not sure if 12 was a complete guess, or if he got the articles mixed up with the commandments, or exactly what happened there, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Trump to this day doesn’t know how many articles there are in the constitution.

  4. While I still consider Gary and Jill to be more suitable for high office than either Hillary or Donald, I have been disappointed by the leading 3rd-party candidates. If this is the best that anyone can offer for president, how can we ever hope for a qualified commander-in-chief ever again?

    Maybe I should just vote for Vermin Supreme.

  5. He’s got my vote. I’m not going to judge his knowledge on a subject by him being caught off guard on a question that lacked context off subject. I’d wager that he knows (c) stands for “classified” which keeps him leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.

  6. Rick M.

    I understand Johnson is going to visit all 57 states – especially Maine and work on the patate….potatato….screw it – those tubers that grow in the ground harvest.

  7. First of all, it was certainly a dumb mistake, but I read it as an ordinary brain fart. Here are the last three questions before he got confused:

    “…what is the lane for the Johnson-Weld ticket between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton? What do you bring that’s different from those two?”

    “Which of those candidates of the two-party system — Republican candidate, Democratic candidate — do you draw the most votes from?”

    “But do you worry about the Nader effect in 2000?”

    “What would you do, if you were elected, about Aleppo?”

    So that was three process/horserace questions, followed by a topic change to a substantive foreign policy question, and the only clue that it’s a foreign policy question is the word “Aleppo,” and Johnson couldn’t even see the spelling. Not his finest moment, surely, but not recognizing a word out of context is not the same as knowing nothing.

    Second — and here is where I question your ethics in describing this — you completely ignored his actual answer to the question. Johnson responds by proposing to work with the other major power active in the region, Russia, to find a way to end the civil war, and he implies he would avoid these kinds of interventions in the future.

    Is that a wise policy? A foolish dream? Libertarian isolationist nonsense?

    Those would all be good issues to explore, but instead of substantive discussion of what he actually said, we get sneering comments like “Who cares what Johnson thinks about Syria now?” from people like Frida Ghitis and you. So your position basically boils down to: Let’s pretend he said nothing and then conclude that he knows nothing. That’s not honest or sensible.

    • I’m not in the business of assessing policy. He proved he at least had heard of Syria, so that’s something, but he also proved he wasn’t well-versed in the region. His answer was boilerplate, generic, meaningless. What does “avoid these kinds of interventions in the future” mean? A more timely intervention by Obama might have prevented this mess.

      The reaction to the Aleppo flub proves my point. Johnson is in a Caesar’s wife position: the presumption is that third party candidates aren’t serious, and can’t win. The fact that he recovered doesn’t matter—the flub is what everyone remembers. He can’t afford that kind of brain fart, huge should know that, and he didn’t do the legwork to guard against it.

      Who are “people like Frida Ghitis and you (me)?” They are people who would like to have seen Gary Johnson show that he is responsible and competent. Your theory that he was rendered ignorant of Aleppo by the questions preceding its mention is pretty desperate.

  8. Yep. He screwed up.

    One mark against him.

    Just 18,345 marks to go to reach Clinton and Trump.

    • You’re seriously undercounting. Heck, Hillary had more e-mails than that.

      • What do you think is the proper ratio, though, for relative margin for error for a semi-obscure third party candidate and a major party candidate, who has more guaranteed votes from blind, moronic loyalists than what the third party candidate has if multiplied by a factor of 10? Just as poor person can’t afford the same mistakes that a rich kid can survive easily, Johnson should know that he has to be much, much, MUCH better than Clinton and Trump to have a prayer. Knowing that, he can’t excuse this.

        • JD

          “blind, moronic loyalists” really? I’ve yet to hear “You must vote Johnson because he’s Lib.” As a matter of fact many Libertarians aren’t voting for him, because he’s not Libertarian enough. The other two however get all of their support from ignorant people who get emotionally riled by dumb campaign slogans, PARTY LOYALISTS, and people who hate the otherone more.

          It’s Trump and Clinton who are supported by the people you describe. So it seems like you calling someone a blind moron is like ClinTrump calling someone a liar or egomaniac.

          • Why yes, JD, it IS Clinton and Trump’s blind moronic loyalists I’m referring to, not libertarians. The quote:
            “and a major party candidate, who has more guaranteed votes from blind, moronic loyalists than what the third party candidate has if multiplied by a factor of 10?” “votes from blind, moronic loyalists” modified “major party candidate.” I guess you have reason to be hypersensitive, but I was referring to the total number of votes a third party candidate typically has compared to what the major parties’ competition have without breaking a sweat. Almost everyone I know who says he or she is voting for Johnson ISN’T a libertarian.

            Sorry you misunderstood, but I don’t think my phrasing was ambiguous.

  9. Phlinn

    I think he deserves roughly the amount of flak for this gaffe that Obama deserved for ’57 states’. IIRC, Obama got a little more than he deserved, and since the media isn’t in the tank for Johnson he’ll get more still. It’s a stupid mistake to make. I am glad he’s admitted to the gaffe instead of turning it into a Jumbo.

    • “I don’t know what that is,” and a repeat question, is a whole lot different from an obvious mispeak like “57 states.” I’m embarrassed every time an Obama critic mentions that, frankly. You can’t possibly believe that he doesn’t know how many states there are, so why is it significant? Johnson admitted he didn’t recognize “Aleppo.”

      Obama not knowing how to pronounce “corps” was more telling by far.

  10. I just had my “Aleppo” moment. I was watching “Sully” and I had to ask my wife “who is that actress”? And my wife was no help. It wasn’t until I saw her name roll in the credits that I knew her immediately from every episode of Breaking Bad. Yes. Gary Johnson is human, and now, so am I.

    If Jack wanted to be fair on this issue, he would have looked at the statement Johnson issued immediately afterward and made it “Ethics Quote of the Day”. But there’s a bias in the writing, after all. It’s built in. Jack writes what Jack wants to write about. We know he doesn’t want a 3 way race and he sees it as destructive to the duopoly.

    But that’s the point. Break the wheel.

    • I had the exact same experience about the same movie and actress, just yesterday – Laura Linney, I mean. I knew she had the role of Jim Carrey’s wife in “The Truman Show” – that was all I could remember – but I had to wait for the credits to roll to see her name. The futility of Gary Johnson’s campaign is enough for me to ignore anything he says, goofs on, or has done. He lost my vote long before he ever had a chance to gain it.

  11. We would not need to know the difference between Aleppo and Tulare, CA if not for President Obama’s foreign policy.

  12. Jd

    By “grunt work”, you must mean getting questions ahead of time and having staff research answers.

  13. luckyesteeyoreman

    Speaking of the Marx Brothers and Aleppo…tonight I was watching the Cubs beat the Astros on TV (I quit in the 8th inning, so I am presuming the Cubs won)…saw a pitcher’s name on his jersey (Neshek)… and could not help thinking immediately about a story from the Bible. For that, I’m sure I’ll burn in hell forever, and won’t be as Lucky as Shadrach and Abednego. Hell (I mean that more than one way), there probably won’t even be baseball there.

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