“And what is Aleppo?” By now you’ve probably seen the video of Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson saying those words on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Or maybe you’ve read the articles saying Johnson’s response was disqualifying for a presidential candidate.
Johnson’s gaffe is indefensible. As a serious presidential candidate, it is essential that one know both domestic and foreign issues. But if we are going to disqualify Johnson for what seemed to be a momentary bout of ignorance on foreign affairs, shouldn’t we apply that same standard to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? And by that standard, shouldn’t Clinton and Trump have dropped out of the race months ago?
Within a span of two days, Johnson asked what Aleppo was after receiving a question on the Syrian city, Trump appeared on Russian state-owned television to criticize U.S. foreign policy, and Clinton stated that half of Trump’s supporters are in a “basket of deplorables.” Yet it was Johnson’s flub that most media outlets said was the error of a candidate unfit to be president. Johnson should be embarrassed, but his campaign shouldn’t end because of one gaffe. The American people and journalists should use this as a wake-up call to get the focus of the election back on track.
This election season has been about entertainment, not issues that affect American lives. So after spending most of his interview on “Morning Joe” talking about whether he would be a spoiler this November, Johnson was probably shocked to have a question on what he would do about Aleppo if elected. A question of real significance had somehow made its way into an interview. Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear Clinton and Trump asked this same question? And wouldn’t it be interesting to see journalists ask more questions like this instead of covering personalities and punchlines?
The American electorate is faced with two of the most — to steal Clinton’s term — deplorable candidates in history. There needs to be another candidate on the debate stage. Johnson isn’t perfect, but he has a message that can resonate with many voters. And Johnson isn’t the only alternative this election: Green Party nominee Jill Stein and independent candidate Evan McMullin represent dissatisfaction with the two major party nominees.
Devoting more attention to third–party candidates isn’t enough. There needs to be a shift in the media coverage from entertainment to issues. The debates need to have questions on poverty, education, health care, immigration and war. Candidates need to be pressed on what they would do to solve our nation’s problems. I support including Johnson in the debates, but more importantly, I want to see tough questions from journalists and meaningful answers from all of the candidates.