"A libertarian is a Republican who smokes pot."
It's an old, whimsical description that wears thin on serious libertarian policy wonks, many of whom never use THC. Then there's former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who self-identifies as a libertarian pot user who founded a publicly traded marijuana company.
Discouraged Republicans, Democrats and fans of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have contemplated supporting Johnson, who polls higher than past libertarians who've sought the White House. Those unimpressed by the two major-party candidates have looked to Johnson for the type of high-brow policy wonkishness third-party candidates, particularly libertarians, typically bring to elections.
Johnson has consistently disappointed, lowering the brand of libertarians, pot users and libertarian pot users. He makes Donald Trump seem positively well informed.
There was that infamous Sept. 8 interview on MSNBC, in which a panelist asked Johnson how he would deal with Aleppo. It was a softball question.
Listeners expected the libertarian to wax philosophic about the merits and pitfalls of interventionism, isolationism and nation building as they would pertain to a war-torn Syrian city that had been front and center in the news. Instead, they got this.
"What is Aleppo?" Johnson asked.
His political luster was instantly gone. Forget Sarah Palin's Supreme Court gaffe, Johnson looked like a man who doesn't pay attention to high-profile current events.
Wednesday night, things only got worse. MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews asked Johnson to name any foreign leader he admires — any country, any continent. Just name one, Matthews insisted.
Johnson sat there, unable to name a foreign leader. He could not come up with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, or even Pope Francis. It was painful to watch, and Matthews was unmerciful.
Johnson: "I guess I'm having an Aleppo moment in the former president of Mexico."
Matthews: "But I'm giving you the whole world."
Johnson: "I know, I know, I know."
Matthews: "But I'm giving you the whole world. Anybody in the world you like. Anybody. Pick any leader."
Johnson: "The former president of Mexico."
Matthews: "Which one?"
Johnson: "I'm having a brain..."
Most Americans don't spend much time thinking about foreign leaders. Johnson is not most Americans. He is the former governor of a state that's home to more than 2 million people. He aspires to win the highest political office in the world.
Polls show widespread, cross-party and intraparty dissatisfaction with the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees. People do not like or trust them.
It should be a good year for libertarians. Instead, Johnson's vapid contributions to the discourse only add to a collective sense of political dismay and distress. This year, that's a tall order.
the gazette editorial board