Everyone makes mistakes. No one knows everything. There are so many different realms and levels of knowledge that you can, despite what Scott Adams thinks, spend a lifetime becoming expert in one particular area of human endeavor and still have more to learn. So there is no shame required if you are ignorant of a particular fact or unfamiliar with a given experience. No, the shame doesn't come with being ignorant. The shame comes with wanting to stay ignorant, being uncurious or trying to pass yourself off as an expert in a given field when actually you know nothing about the discipline. I saw two examples of this recently that I thought were humorous enough to share. One deservedly got more attention than the other because the man who made the gaffe is running for President, but both show that an unfamiliarity with facts is not good for people in high profile positions. As you probably know there is a multi-faction civil war in Syria ongoing. The largest city in Syria, Aleppo, is currently the site of a battle that involves just about every faction still extant, including foreign adventurers. Every faction has committed atrocities or has been accused of committing atrocities. The civilians are getting it in the neck, as is usually the case with civilians trapped in war zones. Libertarian Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson, as Libertarians tend to be, has been skeptical of committing the US to new foreign wars or "interventions". This non-interventionist stance tends to drive the so-called "serious" foreign policy journalists and gurus (especially neo-cons) up the wall. They see it as dangerously naive and virtually treasonous. With this in mind MSNBC's Mike Barnicle asked Johnson what would Johnson do about Aleppo if he were elected President. Unfortunately Johnson, who looked tired and sounded even more inarticulate than normal said he did not know what Aleppo was. After Barnicle snidely explained what Aleppo was and where it was, Johnson gave a desultory dispirited answer that basically boiled down to using more diplomacy and avoiding foreign entanglements. But the story of the day wasn't that Johnson, like almost everyone else in the current or would-be foreign policy establishment, doesn't know how to fix Syria.
The story of the day was that Johnson didn't know what Aleppo was, possibly because he had been smoking too much bud. Many people thought that this seeming ignorance of basic foreign policy was disqualifying. Maybe it is; maybe it is not. The voters will have to decide. But I do think that Johnson's answer shows the danger of not doing the very basic work of knowing current politics and geography. If you want to be President you should know that stuff as least as well as a former plagiarist like Barnicle. When someone asks you about China's activities in the South China Sea or North Korea's nuclear tests or the settlements in the West Bank, they may well be trying to prove to their audience that your solutions are silly or won't work. But you don't do yourself any favors by appearing to not even have the most rudimentary understanding of geography and current events. Johnson later released a statement saying he thought Barnicle was using an acronym.
This morning, I began my day by setting aside any doubt that I’m human. Yes, I understand the dynamics of the Syrian conflict — I talk about them every day. But hit with “What about Aleppo?,” I immediately was thinking about an acronym, not the Syrian conflict. I blanked. It happens, and it will happen again during the course of this campaign. Can I name every city in Syria? No. Should I have identified Aleppo? Yes. Do I understand its significance? Yes. As Governor, there were many things I didn’t know off the top of my head. But I succeeded by surrounding myself with the right people, getting to the bottom of important issues, and making principled decisions. It worked. That is what a President must do.
Staying with MSNBC for a moment commentator Joy Reid, a Harvard graduate, has made no secret of her preference for Hillary Clinton and her intense disdain for Trump and for that matter Stein or Sanders. I have no real issue with this because at least you know where she's coming from. Spending too much time getting upset about someone else's political preferences is a losing battle. The few times I have tried watching Reid's show or other shows where she's a substitute host I have found her conversational style to be less that of a commentator or facilitator and closer to that of a district attorney. Reid seems to be personally offended and outraged that everyone doesn't see the world exactly as she does. She goes after the lies, mistakes, omissions or differences of opinions of Trump surrogates with a sarcastic zeal that would make Inspector Javert proud. I think that Reid is basically trying out for the job of Press Secretary for the Clinton Administration. I think she would be very good at it. She seems to like interrupting and correcting people. The problem with that though is that if you're going to live by the sword you have to be ready to die by the sword. When criticizing Trump for an apparent affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin Reid made these tweets
That said, for most Americans it's shocking to see an American presidential candidate openly touting authoritarian, communist Russia...— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) September 9, 2016
Even Jill Stein, who's taken the socialist Green Party full Putinite, and the Putin-tilting Snowdenistas haven't been nearly as successful.— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) September 9, 2016
I imagine the old time American Communist Party is spinning in its collective grave with envy at what Trump is accomplishing.— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) September 9, 2016
There are a few things wrong with Reid's grasp of facts which should be obvious.
- Russia is not Communist and has not been since at least 1991 with the dismantling of the Soviet Union and the (choose a term) imposition or acceptance of shock therapy free market capitalism. There have been numerous books, papers and studies written about this. It's sort of a big deal.
- The American Communist Party hasn't run a Presidential candidate of its own since 1984. In every election since that time it has endorsed the Democratic candidate for President. This year is no different. The Communists have endorsed Hillary Clinton for President.
- Trying to link American dissidents or gadflies with foreign Communists as Reid does with her "Putinite" and "Snowdenistas" slurs is an old old trick that goes back to at least the early 20th century. Almost every prominent black intellectual, labor activist, civil rights agitator, religious leader or politician eventually faced this tactic. Such moral exemplars as J. Edgar Hoover and Joe McCarthy used this slander against their enemies in their attempts to destroy any and all left wing political or social movements. To see Reid stoop to use this weapon, however ineptly, is just horrible. She has no shame.
If you think that Clinton just walks on water and sweats gardenia scent that's fine. If you don't like the fact that Sanders ran against Hillary or that Stein is running against her, have a Coke and a smile. I have no interest in trying to change your mind. But if you're going to write that 2016 Russia is Communist or that people to the left of Clinton are Putinites then you need to go get a refund from your University. Because you don't know what the hell you're talking about. And if you're just making stuff up and refusing to acknowledge errors you're no different than your hated political opposites.