Gary Johnson’s presidential campaign has brought national attention to some of the most important questions facing the American people — questions like “What is Aleppo?” and “Who is Harriet Tubman?”
More seriously, the Libertarian nominee has voiced legitimate criticisms about the wisdom of the drug war and interventionist foreign policy — which have been thoroughly overshadowed by his breathtaking ignorance of geopolitics and American history.
The most recent demonstration of the latter came Wednesday night, at a town-hall event hosted by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. Asked to name a single foreign leader he “looks up to or respects,” Johnson stared blankly, said he was having a “brain freeze,” and then offered, “the former president of Mexico.”
But “almost 24 hours” later, Vicente Fox appears to have fallen out of Gary Johnson’s good graces.
The ostensible point of Johnson’s tweet is to suggest that he hadn’t struggled to recite the name of a single foreign leader — rather, he had correctly intuited that no nation on planet Earth is currently governed by an avowed libertarian.
There are a couple of problems with this line. One is that Johnson wasn’t asked to name a head of state he wishes to directly emulate, only to identify one he respects. This should not be a difficult task. Johnson is a strong supporter of expansionary immigration and could praise aspects of Angela Merkel’s handling of the migration crisis, even as he identified policy areas where their views diverged. Or he could have voiced his admiration for Justin Trudeau’s leadership on marijuana legalization, even while criticizing the Canadian prime minister’s affinity for big government.
Or Johnson could have simply said, “Actually, there is no leader I look up to because none practice my philosophy of government.”
But instead, Johnson sputtered his lips, paralyzed by his own ignorance.
The other problem is that, even if one accepted that Johnson’s difficulty stemmed from his ideology, that line creates its own problems: The fact that no modern, democratic nation has ever endorsed the libertarian view of government might suggest something unflattering about the popularity and feasibility of that vision.
Johnson’s “Aleppo moments” are inexcusable — not least because they set back one of the libertarian’s more admirable causes.