May 24, 2019 | 60° F

VACCHIANO: Libertarian Party is misunderstood

Opinions Column: Tory Time


What does this Rutgers University sophomore have in common with Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson? We both didn’t know what Aleppo was until last week. This is quite embarrassing for me, who only knew that the capital of Syria was Damascus (unlike The New York Times, ironically), but it was a massive blow to Gary Johnson’s campaign and the Libertarian movement in general. 

When Johnson (who was likely sleep-deprived) was asked a question about the Syrian city on Morning Joe last week, he evidently didn’t know what the host was referring to and candidly asked, “What is Aleppo?” to the nation’s shock. Aleppo, it turns out, is the largest city in Syria, a country whose civil war has been raging for more than five years and whose citizens are seeking refuge in European countries and the United States. Aleppo is center of the Syrian refugee crisis, and being familiar with it is definitely crucial information for someone running for president as well as most U.S. citizens. It’s conceded by Gary Johnson himself that he really should have known what it was, so criticism is definitely fair. But people on both sides of the political spectrum have blown this whole affair out of proportion and have unfairly shamed Johnson and the American libertarian movement — and dwelling on this incident reflects a poor understanding of Johnson and who he is running against.

First, it’s important to understand what Gary Johnson stands for. It makes total sense that he, as a candidate with an isolationist foreign policy, did not know what Aleppo is. As a conservative libertarian who’s involved in Young Americans for Liberty, my Facebook feed was flooded with fellow liberty activists who didn’t know what Aleppo was either. Why? Because most libertarians only care about foreign policy insofar as they don’t want governments to go overseas and perpetuate conflicts that result in the deaths of thousands of civilians and soldiers and lead to tremendous financial loss. Many libertarians tend to not concern themselves with the details of one invasion or another because they disagree with almost all invasions on principle. If Johnson doesn’t know what Aleppo is, in a way, that’s good — it means that he isn’t planning to bomb it. Johnson’s policies are also more in line with traditional, New Right conservatism than Trump’s, so many conservatives who are taking the opportunity to bash Johnson ought to re-evaluate their political philosophies.

Secondly, it’s important to understand that the other candidates, who have a much better chance of being elected and are worth more intense scrutiny, have made cringe-worthier gaffes. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have succumbed to fear-mongering and shameless pandering. Trump is the antithesis of Johnson — while Johnson admits that he doesn’t know everything, Trump is a man who brags about how his University of Pennsylvania degree makes him “a really smart person” despite only getting in with the favor of an admissions officer, after earning average grades at Fordham University, according to one of his biographers. Trump may be intelligent, but he is possibly one of the least intellectual men to become the presidential frontrunner of a major political party in American history. Trump also says very shocking, anti-conservative things, from implying that 9/11 was George Bush’s fault to claiming that John McCain isn’t really a war hero

Clinton’s gaffes have been more minor, from slipping recently by calling half of Donald Trump’s supporters (representing a quarter of the United States population) a “basket of deplorables” to publishing an article called “Seven Things Hillary Clinton Has in Common with Your Abuela” in an attempt to appeal to Hispanic and Latino voters. Clinton, having a considerable amount of political experience under her belt and a close relationship with Henry Kissinger, is too diplomatic to make the same mistakes that Trump makes — but the consequences of her actions as a New York Senator and Secretary of State (a topic for another day) made the Middle East a more violent and hostile place than it was before, and that’s worse than the Aleppo gaffe.

The Aleppo incident is a wake-up call to us conservatives and libertarians to become more well-read on foreign policy in order to be taken seriously. Apathy is a huge problem in the liberty movement, and far too many libertarians identify as libertarians because they “don’t care about what people do” as opposed to passionately not wanting the government to care about what people do. But it’s also a reminder that Gary Johnson is a humble, honest candidate who is given less credit than he deserves. He’s a real human being in a race where one candidate doesn’t show enough emotion and another candidate shows too much of it. There’s an argument for only supporting someone who can elucidate about the intricacies of the problems that surround Aleppo on a morning talk show, but it’s not the only way to vote.

Andrea Vacchiano is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore double-majoring in history and political science. Her column, "Tory Time," runs on alternate Fridays.

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Andrea Vacchiano

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