On Morning Joe today, Mike Barnicle asked Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson what he would do about Aleppo. Johnson’s reply was, “What is Aleppo?”

We’re done here. Johnson should withdraw from the race, go home, and never show his face in public again.

When did running for President become a big joke? When did it become something you do on a whim, just because? The Libertarian Party is receiving more attention than usual this year since they have a superficially serious ticket, and since the two main candidates are unpopular. Turns out, though, that Johnson has managed to avoid hearing about one of the most horrible human tragedies in recent memory, not to mention one of the most pressing foreign policy questions for the next President. Serious candidate indeed.

Meanwhile, for the last several elections the Republican primary has had an extensive clown car. You see, many Republican politicians think it’s just fine to use a Presidential election to sell a book, to jack up their speaking fees, to extort money from credulous followers, or to angle for a Fox News show. That’s how you get jokers like Newt Gingrich, Ben Carson, or Mike Huckabee running for President.

Do I need to point out that there is nothing comparable to this on the Democratic side? You have to go back to Lyndon LaRouche to find such an utterly unworthy candidate. There is a reason Trump ran as a Republican, and it sure wasn’t ideological conviction.

Speaking of Trump, did you catch the “Commander in Chief” forum yesterday? Trump expressed his undying love for Vladimir Putin. What a strong leader, he says. He tells us that all we need to do to defeat ISIS is to “take the oil.” This, apparently, is simple to do. He brushed off rape in the military by saying, in effect, that boys will be boys. And he told us that Obama has consistently done the opposite of what top intelligence officials have told him to do, a fact he inferred from the body language of his CIA briefers.

Shades of the Jackson Park Express.

It’s hardly worth the trouble to rant about this, or to lament that so many voters seem unable to see through Trump’s act. Let’s move on to the press. They have picked up where they left off in the nineties, a period during which every move Hillary made was given a sinister interpretation. At the forum yesterday, moderator Matt Lauer spent ten minutes of a thirty minute interview hammering her about her e-mails. He then spent most of the remaining time cutting her off every time she tried to give an answer that was more than two sentences long. When it was Trump’s turn, Lauer mostly rolled over and had his belly rubbed.

I watched some of Brain Williams’s MSNBC show tonight. He opened by telling us that both candidates were “under fire” for their performance at the forum yesterday. It quickly became clear that Trump was under fire because everything he said was stupid and deceitful. Hillary was under fire for not smiling enough.

I mostly watch MSNBC. That’s the liberal news channel. Yet virtually every host and commentator knows that as soon as Hillary’s name comes up they are required to discuss the “ethical cloud” under which she labors and to remind us of how little the American people trust her. It’s like a tic with them. Never mind that in every case the &ldqou;scandal” is either fake, or so trivial that it would not be news for any other politician. These are the Clintons we’re talking about, meaning their slightest move gets reported with the presumption of guilt.

Let’s move over to the left now. Bernie Sanders briefly interrupted his daily routine of admiring self-regard to reprise his role as useful idiot for the right. Now he’s joining the chorus clucking about the Clinton Foundation. Remember that the “scandal” here was that certain people who donated to the Foundation, a highly successful charity let us recall, were subsequently given a few extra seconds of face time with the State Department than they might otherwise have gotten. Of course, there is not even a ghost of quid pro quo, and the examples trotted out by the press as insidious and worrying are laughable on their merits. But never mind! Having no actual impropriety to report on, it’s nice we can count on the media, and Sanders, to lecture endlessly about appearances.

Incidentally, when Colin Powell behaved in exactly the same way, it was treated as admirable by the press.

And we still have Sanders’s preening supporters to deal with. These were the geniuses who, in defiance of all recent American history, thought it was a crackerjack idea to nominate for President someone who recoils from the word “capitalism.” Jerry Coyne, for example, has been doing post after post about how awful Hillary Clinton is. He sometimes uses phrases like “mendacity and sleaze” when discussing them. In this post he seems genuinely annoyed that so many of his fellow liberals think he should tone it down a bit:

Yet still I’m told either that Hillary Clinton is pure and untouchable, without a whiff of scandal to her name, or that I should simply shut up about the rumors of scandal and appearances of conflict of interest (note that I’ve never said she’s been convicted of anything, just that she puts herself in problematic situations that could have been avoided). I’m told to keep quiet about her “forgetfulness” about her emails, about her lies about having been under “sniper fire” in Bosnia, about her huge personal emoluments from giving speeches to Wall Street, and so on.

Rumors of scandal? Appearances of conflict? This is Jerry’s bill of particulars? This is what works him into a froth?

What is wrong with him?

Trump bribed the attorney general of Florida to have an investigation dropped. He ran a fraudulent university that was specifically designed to bilk vulnerable people out of their money. He routinely screwed contractors out of their money because he knew the contractors couldn’t afford to fight him in court. In his business career he dealt so deceitfully with so many different banks that absolutely no one will lend him money any more. He refuses to release his tax returns because he knows it will show that he has been lying about his net worth and charitable giving. He routinely retweets Neo-Nazis and white supremacists. And he goes out on the trail and just makes it up as he goes along. Almost everything that comes out of his mouth is a bald-faced lie.

If rumors and appearances make Hillary guilty of “mendacity and sleaze,” then what language is left for Trump’s bill of particulars?

We sure are lucky Jerry Coyne is here to protect us from Hillary’s perfidy. What a courageous truthteller he is!

When I compare Hillary to some Platonic ideal of the perfect candidate she falls short. But when I compare her to the genuine mendacity and sleaze of the Republican leadership, the corrupt press corps bent on her destruction, and the self-righteous bloggers who offer nothing to rival her impressive record of genuine public service, she suddenly seems a good deal more impressive.

Mostly, though, I give up. The election will play out however it plays out, and regardless of who wins the country will continue to limp along pathetically as it has for two decades. Whatever.

Comments

  1. #1 Soren
    September 9, 2016

    Well Jason, why don’t you tell us what you *really* think?

    By the way, I agree, the election has become a farce, the media is so concerned with seeming unbiased that they flinch for touching the vile mess that is the Trump campaign.

    Another example is when USA Today said that Trump and Clinton both threatens the freedom of the press. Trump by barring cerrtain media from his events, and for promising to deal with those pesky journalists when he becomes president, and Hillary by *not holding enough press conferences*!!!!

    We cannot expose Trump as the Little facist he is, without a dig at Hillary, that would be biased reporting!

  2. #2 eric
    September 9, 2016

    Pretty much every election, I wonder who could still be undecided in October/November. But this election even moreso. I have no idea what the debates are really going to contribute.

    I *hope* Clinton can use them to increase her lead, but frankly she has done a far worse job of campaigning during the general than I expected. Trump is running the worst presidential campaign in modern history (IMO), Hilary is an experienced, mainstream politician, and yet she can’t manage more than a few points on him? He blatantly lies in between bouts of babbling nonsense. He insults women, handicapped people, dead veterans, and the entire Hispanic population of the country. He’s AFAIK the only republican since WWII to have many career politicians from his own party say, publicly, they’re voting for the Democrat. That last is AFAIK completely unheard of. One of Texas’ larger local newspapers, which has endorsed the GOP for 75 years, just endorsed Hilary. And yet with all this, she can’t pull out a big lead on him?

    Maybe the debates will help her, but my cynical side says we’ll be in a neck and neck race from now until November. And given Trump’s public performance, that’s the real scandal.

  3. #3 Shecky R
    September 9, 2016

    Ditto, what Jason said!
    And Zeus help us if Trump wins (or even comes close).

  4. #4 Eric Lund
    September 9, 2016

    Johnson’s reply was, “What is Aleppo?”

    I fear it may be worse than that. He was asking, “What is a leppo?”, as if he were asking, “What’s a henway?” and expecting an answer along the lines of, “About three pounds.”

    You have to go back to Lyndon LaRouche to find such an utterly unworthy candidate.

    Even then it’s not equivalent. Everybody outside of his followers knew that LaRouche was part of the lunatic fringe. Carson, despite never having held elected office, was treated like a serious candidate by many in the media (Gingrich and Huckabee have at least held high offices before, so there was at least some logic to taking them seriously despite their extreme positions). Trump is like Carson, except that by winning the nomination Trump has in some sense earned the right to be taken seriously.

    I mostly watch MSNBC. That’s the liberal news channel.

    <voice=”Inspector Clouseau”>Not anymore.</voice>

    Sure, Rachel Maddow is still there, but Joe Scarborough is a former Republican Congressman from Florida, Chris Matthews is a Clinton-hating DINO, and the suits who run the network skew Republican. Sure, they could make some bucks during the Bush 43 administration by giving Keith Olbermann a prime-time slot, but Olbermann is long gone, and it’s easy for the suits to push their views by promoting Scarborough at the expense of Maddow.

  5. #5 dean
    United States
    September 9, 2016

    When did running for president become a joke? When Reagan was successful at it. Consider him the father of today’s anti-science (indeed, anti-knowledge), racist, bigoted, fact-denying group currently at the helm of the Republican party.

  6. #6 Kathy
    Earth
    September 9, 2016

    I wouldn’t disqualify Johnson for one lapse, idiotic and embarrassing as it was.

    He certainly lacks foreign policy experience. But he has executive experience. He was governor of New Mexico, after all. If you disagree with his policies, that’s fine. if there’s something in his record you object to, bring it up.

    But writing off the man as a serious candidate for one stupid mistake, is about the same as writing of Clinton because she forgot what letter is used to mark an email as “confidential.”

  7. #7 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 9, 2016

    It wasn’t a mistake. It was complete ignorance of one of the most significant foreign policy issues of the fay.

  8. #8 Eric Lund
    September 9, 2016

    @Kathy: You are making a false equivalence here. One candidate did not realize that confidential material that was not properly marked as such was confidential. The other made a blunder about one of the leading foreign policy issues of the day. A closer parallel to Johnson’s case would be Gerald Ford’s claim in a 1976 presidential debate that there was no Soviet domination of eastern Europe. Ford, who was the incumbent President at the time, was rightly excoriated for that mistake. Even then, Ford made a coherent-but-wrong statement about a major foreign policy issue. Johnson appeared not to even be aware that Aleppo is a city, let alone one located in Syria.

    It’s true that we don’t expect Presidential candidates to have foreign policy experience prior to taking office. Just within my lifetime, this was true of Presidents Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush 43, and unsuccessful general election candidates Wallace and Romney (including only candidates who received at least one electoral vote). But we do expect them to have an understanding at least as good as an educated layman’s. I can’t speak to George Wallace, as I was then too young to understand such things, but the others I listed could make coherent statements about foreign policy issues. Even Donald Trump can make individually coherent statements, even if they are frequently wrong or mutually contradictory, about foreign policy.

    Johnson even could have bluffed it better. He could have asked Barnicle to specify what issue the latter was asking about (suggesting, not unreasonably, that there was more than one issue involving Aleppo). He could have asked the slightly less embarrassing “Where is Aleppo?”, which at least would have demonstrated his awareness that it’s a name on a map. And since he’s a minor party candidate, he (fairly or not) doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt that a Republican or Democrat would in this situation.

  9. #9 Kathy
    Earth
    September 9, 2016

    So what was Johnson’s answer, besides the blunder?

    I expect Clinton will win. But namely because she’s running against Trump, who lacks support within “his” own party.

    As to Aleppo, it’s a very complicated, horrible mess, and anyone who tells you they know what to do is either a liar or a fool.

  10. #10 dean
    United States
    September 9, 2016

    As to Aleppo, it’s a very complicated, horrible mess, and anyone who tells you they know what to do is either a liar or a fool.

    And when someone who is running for the office of the president doesn’t recognize Aleppo at all, during an interview on one of the weakest “news” programs in the universe, why can’t that person qualify as a liar or a fool?

  11. #11 Kathy
    Earth
    September 9, 2016

    A fool perhaps. A liar would have pretended to know everything there is to know about Aleppo, and given an answer which would resemble reality only by coincidence. Much like Trump likes to do.

  12. #12 eric
    September 9, 2016

    So what was Johnson’s answer, besides the blunder?

    Oh it almost got worse after his gaffe. Evidently, his answer is to help Putin support the dictatorial Assad regime against the freedom fighters, because he thinks the freedom fighters are allies with ISIS (they are not). And he seems to think we should stop supporting the Kurds. You know, the one Iraqi group that has been our staunch allies since 2003. The ones bearing the brunt of ISIS’ attacks, because that’s where they live. The people that got gassed by both Saddam and ISIS while we were declaring to the world that our purpose for being in the mideast was to eliminate WMD. Because that’s a great way to engender trust and cooperation with our allies – pull up stakes and leave them in a terrible situation of our making.

    In any event, here’s the transcript:

    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: Aleppo is in Syria. It’s the — it’s the epicenter of the refugee crisis.

    JOHNSON: OK, got it, got it.

    BARNICLE: OK.

    JOHNSON: Well, with regard to Syria, 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 to diplomatically bring that at an end. But when we’ve aligned ourselves with — when we’ve supported the opposition of the Free Syrian Army — the Free Syrian Army is also coupled with the Islamists.

    And then the fact that we’re also supporting the Kurds and this is — it’s just — it’s just a mess. And that this is the result of regime change that we end up supporting. And, inevitably, these regime changes have led a less-safe world.

    GEIST: So alliance with Russia is the solution to Syria. Do you think Vladimir Putin and Russia are good and a reliable partner?

    JOHNSON: Well, I think diplomatically that that is the — that that has to be the solution, is joining hands with Russia to bring — to bring this civil war to an end.

  13. #13 Thomas P
    September 10, 2016

    Eric, Johnson did not mention ISIS, just islamists, and some of the groups USA supports are definitely islamists or allied with them. As for trying o make a deal with Putin, that’s exactly what Obama is trying to do so it’s hardly a radical idea. Having USA and Russia support opposite sides is a certain way to prolong the conflict, so it makes perfect sense. Throw in the Turks who fight the same Kurds USA is supporting and Johnson is perfectly right, it is a big mess.

  14. #14 Scott Draper
    September 10, 2016

    Not a Johnson fan…in fact, my attention wanders whenever I hear “libertarian”. But slightly in his defense, I suspect that no political figure can have all the facts at his command without staffers handling regular briefings. Johnson, as a fringe candidate, doesn’t have the resources that the major candidates have. But that also results in the same conclusion you reach; if, God forbid, he were elected, he wouldn’t have the organizational infrastructure to move into the office competently.

  15. #15 Owlmirror
    September 12, 2016

    Trump has done so much ethically crap stuff that you need a scorecard. Fortunately, one has been compiled:
    The Many Scandals of Donald Trump: A Cheat Sheet

    I think it’s worth emphasizing that given all his rhetoric against illegals, Trump’s modelling company has apparently used young women who overstayed tourist visas and and were convinced to illegally work using them. In addition, the models were overcharged for room and board, so the company was actually paying them little or nothing.

    PS: formatting nit: you have an “ldqou” that should be an “ldquo”

  16. #16 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    September 12, 2016

    Trump bribed the attorney general of Florida to have an investigation dropped…
    Of course, there is not even a ghost of quid pro quo

    So when we’re talking about Trump rather than Hillary, your standards change? Suddenly smoke = fire? Or do you have a recording in your pocket of the phone call between Bondi and Trump in which she said, “Slide me $25K and the investigation goes away”?

  17. #17 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    September 12, 2016

    Kathy #6: I wouldn’t disqualify Johnson for one lapse, idiotic and embarrassing as it was.

    I feel the same way. But I have already ruled out the Libertarian Party on the basis of their economic policies. They want to get rid of the Fed, the IRS and most regulations on banks. If you want to know what that would do to our economy, read up on the period of time in which those conditions previously prevailed.
    Financial Panics of the 19th Century

  18. #18 eric
    September 12, 2016

    So when we’re talking about Trump rather than Hillary, your standards change? Suddenly smoke = fire? Or do you have a recording in your pocket of the phone call between Bondi and Trump in which she said, “Slide me $25K and the investigation goes away”?

    That would appear to be SCOTUS’ current definition of ‘appearance of corruption.’ Personally I think it’s way too strict. Are you saying you support it? Should we never call any financial arrangement between a private party and an elected official until we have a letter or email explicitly describing the quid pro quo?

    Moreover, I think in this case there are very solid reasons for ‘different standards’, because the cases themselves are very different. In one case, you have a real estate developer suddenly deciding to contribute to the political campaign of a Florida AG at about the same time a lawsuit against that developer was in process. On the other hand, you have people donating to a charity organization that is not part of Hilary’s election funding. And in fact that organization was founded in 2001, looooong before she became Secretary of State. Moreover charity watchdog organizations report that that charity uses ~88% of its charitable intake on mission-oriented programs (which is pretty good; not the best, but certainly not bad), so there is public, quantitative evidence that it isn’t any sort of corrupt front for campaign funds. So yeah, one of those donations doesn’t look as suspicious as the other.

  19. #19 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    September 12, 2016

    That would appear to be SCOTUS’ current definition of ‘appearance of corruption.’ Personally I think it’s way too strict. Are you saying you support it?

    I am not saying I support it. If I had meant to say that, I would have said that. So stop making shit up and pretending that I said it.

    What I am saying is that our host appears to be employing a double standard. When he sees Trump smoke, he assumes fire. When we see Clinton smoke, we are very sad and wicked for even thinking that there might be a possibility of fire.

    On the other hand, you have people donating to a charity organization that is not part of Hilary’s election funding.

    So what? There are other ways that Foundation funding might be of interest to Clinton. For example, people might want to know if Clinton ever received a salary of any kind from the Foundation. Apparently, the answer is no. And so on. But our host thinks we are mean and evil just for asking the questions, because we must assume the best from Clinton, even as we assume the worst of Trump.

    And in fact that organization was founded in 2001, looooong before she became Secretary of State.

    Huh? Do you think the timing of the start of the foundation is more relevant than the timing of particular donations to it? Your specific points and questions do not seem particularly good to me.

  20. #20 colnago80
    September 14, 2016

    Re #18

    There is more then the appearance of corruption in the Bondi episode,. The facts are that the Donald donated 25 grand to her reelection campaign which she accepted while supposedly conducting an investigation of his fraudulent “university” and guess what, a few days after receiving the donation she decides to deep six the investigation! If you think there was no quid pro quo here, I have a nice bridge across the Potomac south of Washington I would like to sell you.

  21. #21 KeithB
    September 14, 2016

    colnago80:
    Not to mention it was an illegal donation from the Trump Foundation.

  22. #22 eric
    September 15, 2016

    What I am saying is that our host appears to be employing a double standard.

    And what I’m saying is that your accusation of ‘double standard’ depends on the two situations being analogous. Since they aren’t very analogous, your accusation is not very credible.

    But our host thinks we are mean and evil just for asking the questions, because we must assume the best from Clinton, even as we assume the worst of Trump.

    In this day and age, “just asking questions” can often be code for slinging mud.

    And nobody is asking you to ‘assume the best’ from Clinton. If Jason is asking his reader to do anything, its to remember that (a) Clinton’s acts while Sec. of State are directly analogous to Powell’s acts while Sec. of State, (b) he was praised for his charity work, and (c) in contrast, neither of these cases are very analogous to Trump’s donation to a political campaign during an investigation by that political person into his corporation’s wrongdoing. I get that you don’t think ‘specific points and questions’ a-c are very good, but I find them reasonable. Clinton is no saint. There are lots of reasons she’s not an ideal candidate. I think Powell’s own leaked emails about her being a victim of her own hubris completely nailed it; hubris is exactly right. Having said that, insisting that it’s a double standard to think ‘charity donation for a few minutes of time’ /= ‘campaign donation to make illegal conduct investigation go away’ is, IMO, absurd.

  23. #23 Deepak Shetty
    September 16, 2016

    When Did it Become a Big Joke to Run For President?

    As an outsider looking in- I’d say around about the time ,Americans voted for George Bush Jr the second time.

  24. #24 Loren Petrich
    September 17, 2016

    I have an elderly relative who remembers from the late 1950’s or early 1960’s how Presidential campaigns only got started early in the year or late the previous year, to get ready for the primaries. Back then, only a few states had primaries, though even then, New Hampshire’s was the first one.

  25. #25 Loren Petrich
    September 17, 2016

    I recall some Republican politicians starting the 2012 race back in 2010, though it did not get big until 2011.

    A few days after Election Day 2012, Senator Marco Rubio went to Iowa, well-known as a kingmaker state. Thus kicking off the 2016 campaign all the way back then.

    Will that happen this year? Some politicians going to Iowa and maybe also New Hampshire in preparation for the 2020 race.

  26. #26 eric
    September 19, 2016

    @25: I’m sure some presidential hopeful will be out there spreading the word about themselves on November 9 (Vote me, 2020!).

    Though IMO its an open question about whether the parties really gain much benefit from starting their processes so early. Voter turnout was actually higher in the 1800s than it is today. And while I haven’t looked at any numbers, I don’t believe there’s been any strong correlation between ‘picking the candidate before the convention’ and ‘winning.’ The whole thing seems to be something like a dollar auction or arms race, where the parties expend time and effort because the opposing party is doing the same, and the net effect is no effect at all.

  27. #27 Wow
    September 20, 2016

    “Let’s move over to the left now. Bernie Sanders briefly interrupted his daily routine of admiring self-regard to reprise his role as useful idiot for the right”

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, we get it: you loathe Bernie Sanders, because Trump is running.

    Of course,if you’d got behind Bernie, and he’d won, many Trump supporters WOULD HAVE MOVED TO BERNIE. Yes, some actually openly said this. Many more would have NOT voted for anyone other than Trump on the GOP side, and therefore have moved to support Bernie (if he’d been available) instead. Yup, there are trump supporters who openly claimed that too.

    Instead you went for the establisment figurehead who is going for the “As much change as the opposition and big business will let us have, if we have time” ticket at a time when establishment figures are at their LEAST LIKED OPTION generally.

    Good move, dude.

  28. #28 Wow
    September 20, 2016

    “If rumors and appearances make Hillary guilty of “mendacity and sleaze,” then what language is left for Trump’s bill of particulars?”

    If we were to berate the scorpion for stinging, what else were we expecting, other than for it to act after its nature?

    Trump is an asshole. All that needs saying is that.

    Hilary is running for president. By criticising her where she deserves it, SHE MAY WELL CHANGE AND BECOME THE BETTER FOR IT.

    Trump won’t change, no matter how much his failings are pointed out to him because, as said before, he’s an asshole. Criticising him is pointless.

    It’s only if you think Hilary is a generally good person that you criticise, because you want them to be the best they can.

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