Say this for Mike Barnicle, the man who exposed the world to Gary Johnson’s ignorance of war ravaged Aleppo- his thoughts on the debacle were reasonably merciful to the former governor of New Mexico, particularly compared to most of Mr. Barnicle’s peers in the media. Jessica Durando of USA Today was indignant. Nabih Bulos of the Los Angeles Times was snarky. Liz Sly of the Washington Post was both. All of this for a candidate who remains (sadly) on the fringe, and whose many other far more revealing qualities has received far less attention.
The whole thing seemed a little bit strange to begin with. Leading with a question about a relatively obscure city- obscure to most of the American public, anyway- rather than directly asking about the broader crisis itself, is an unconventional strategy, to say the least. In other words, why not just ask Governor Johnson about Syria directly? It would almost be like a reporter in early 1940, asking a fringe-challenger of Roosevelt to open with his thoughts on Westerplatte. But even assuming Mr. Barnicle himself had the best of intentions, it defies belief to think that the media-at-large did. This is enforced by none other than Mr. Barnicle’s employer itself, MSNBC, putting up a Youtube video a few hours later, asking the (loaded) question, “Should Gary Johnson Be Disqualified From Debates?”
Consider that we have one major candidate, who has been near the pinnacle of American power for a quarter of a century, claiming to not know what constitutes classified data. (Of course, many think she’s lying about that. Assuming she becomes President, we’d better hope that she is, but that’s for another topic.) We have the other major candidate, showing he doesn’t know…well, much of anything, besides how to work a room and self-promote. (Also for another topic.) And never mind the Presidency- the media, along with many in the American public, decide that this is what disqualifies a candidate from even debating?
And how about that American public? If you can’t name all of the Supreme Court justices, then you really are the 99%! It might be unreasonable to assume that someone who can’t name all (for the time being) eight justices would be unaware of Aleppo. It would, however, be reasonable to assume nearly all of the 63% who can’t name one Supreme Court Justice would have no idea where Aleppo is. And yet, many of those same people took to Twitter and Facebook on September 8th, to ridicule Gary Johnson for the exact same “sin”. Sadly, this is what passes for public debate these days- ridicule and scorn. Think about it. Whenever climate change comes up, what is the percentage of comments dedicated to those making fun of those merely skeptical of it, versus comments that discuss possible solutions? We see this play out in the very same interview that created this controversy. With all the “gotcha!” coverage of Governor Johnson’s geographic lack of expertise, his thoughtful, nuanced, and far more relevant response about American use of force was completely drowned out-
“When we involve ourselves militarily…in these humanitarian issues , we end up with a situation that is not better, and in many cases end up being worse.”
Well said, Governor. And, with respect to Hillary Clinton and her vast knowledge of the globe– she was Secretary of State, after all- I’d rather have a President with a thoughtful foreign policy, than one who can ace a geography quiz.
None of this is to entirely let a Presidential candidate off the hook, for not knowing a strategic place of tragic consequences on the other side of the world. But given that most of us, myself included, had no idea where- or even what- Aleppo was before all of this, maybe we can try knowing more about it now, instead of ridiculing someone who didn’t know about it then. And given our primary choices for Presidential candidates, it can’t hurt to learn more about Gary Johnson, as well.
One thought on “Gary Johnson Never Heard Of Aleppo. Chances Are, Neither Did You.”
Admittedly, I had not heard of the place before mid-August. However, that bloodied, shell-shocked little boy sitting on the chair was on every channel, and in every paper for weeks! The image quickly became an iconic representation of the human cost of the civil war in Syria, and “Aleppo” was always prominently mentioned.
That Johnson didn’t know meant he had basically never watched or read the news in August, from any source. The little boy on the chair is like Picasso’s painting “Guernica”, the naked girl who had been napalmed in Vietnam, or the guy standing up to the tanks in China. And once Johnson asked what Aleppo was, Barnicle explained it to him, which only made Johnson look more clueless as he said, “Oh, right”.
Not knowing Aleppo (and its importance as a symbol) is perfectly understandable for ordinary folks who have other things in life to do than keep up with current events, but inexcusable for someone running for an office where he will surely have to make policies about Syria. I think Johnson blew any chance to make the debates, if not killing his entire campaign.