“What Is Aleppo”: A Gaffe, Not A Mistake, For Libertarians

Gary Johnson’s “gaffe” was good for a lot of laughs and deflected outrage, but he didn’t really say anything that wasn’t pure libertarian. 

Liberal, shmiberal. That should be a new word. Shmiberal: one who is assumed liberal, just because he’s a professional whiner in the newspaper. If you’ll read the subtext for many of those old strips, you’ll find the heart of an old-fashioned Libertarian. And I’d be a Libertarian, if they weren’t all a bunch of tax-dodging professional whiners.

-Berkeley Breathed, AVClub, 2001

This old quote from the Bloom County genius always struck me as very wise and genuinely interesting. Somehow in my head I had transmuted it to him saying “scratch a liberal and you’ll find a libertarian underneath”, which maybe he does somewhere else, but the general principle rings true. It’s the “Yes, but” principle that a lot of liberal feel for Libertarians. They’re cool on drugs and gays and on the death penalty, so except for (X) I’d totally sign up.

The weird thing is that the (X) is almost always different. Some people say schools, some say roads, some say taxes, some say the environment, some say the willingness to let corporations run roughshod over whomever they choose and do whatever they want to anyone, some say that it will mean local governments, not exactly a bastion of racial tolerance, will create neo Jim Crow laws, some say that it will be a continuation of private prisons that mimic slavery, etc. I could go on.

The point is that most of the time when a liberal (myself included) says “I like libertarians” it is a sort of ecumenical pose, and more and more, divorced from the reality of the Democratic Party, which has moved far enough to the left to be good on everything libertarians are good on, and not bad (or anywhere near as bad) on the issues on which the Libertarian Party is morally bankrupt and clinically stupid.

Ah, but! What of war? After all, they are against wars of aggression and against shoving America’s grubby little fingers in everyone’s pie. That’s where they are better than Hillary’s war machine, and her aggression which has Russia convinced she wants to start a war.

That brings us to Gary Johnson, who probably had his biggest day on the campaign trail yet, getting the most attention for what people consider an unforgivable gaffe. You’ve obviously heard of it by now. When asked what he’d do about Aleppo, he asked, to stunned silence, “What’s Aleppo?”

This became the outrage of the day– how could he not know what Aleppo was? How dare he be so cruel?  “What is Aleppo” was the joke of the day, even though, as Scocca rightfully and fiercely pointed out at Deadspin, it isn’t like most of the outraged had Aleppo at the forefront of their mind either. It’s been a bloody tragedy for years, and is getting worse, but interest in it wasn’t very high.

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Image via Deadspin

Concern for Aleppo is entirely domestic. And that’s to be expected, and really, is perfectly in line with what Johnson said. Because while he apologized and said he just got confused, “what is Aleppo” should be seen as less a gaffe, and more as a Libertarian battle cry.

That’s the heart of their foreign policy. It isn’t just about wars. Let’s take a look at their platform:

American foreign policy should seek an America at peace with the world. Our foreign policy should emphasize defense against attack from abroad and enhance the likelihood of peace by avoiding foreign entanglements. We would end the current U.S. government policy of foreign intervention, including military and economic aid. We recognize the right of all people to resist tyranny and defend themselves and their rights. We condemn the use of force, and especially the use of terrorism, against the innocent, regardless of whether such acts are committed by governments or by political or revolutionary groups.

That little aside about “economic aid”, buried in all that good stuff, isn’t a mistake, nor is it a small thing. It’s the main thrust of Johnson’s foreign policy. It’s saying “the world is no concern of ours, except for trade.” It’s ignorance, but a willful selfish one, which makes it the distilled essence of Libertarianism.

What’s Aleppo? What of Aleppo? What is Aleppo to us? What is Africa, and what is Asia? What are they but markets? What is their suffering to me, and what is the suffering of the child worker, abroad or at home? They are all Aleppo. If they are outside my property, they may as well be ravaged in a moonish Syrian rubblescape.

Let’s not forget the very next line in the platform: “We support the removal of governmental impediments to free trade.” That means any environmental or labor restrictions, at all. That’s a race to make a million Bangladeshes, from Dhaka to a small town in Alabama. All the stuff lefties don’t like about Hillary are magnified in the Libertarian mindset. Any ostensible liberal who votes for Gary Johnson demonstrates that their ideals are just a pose, and the only thing that matters is an outsiderish reputation.

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One thought on ““What Is Aleppo”: A Gaffe, Not A Mistake, For Libertarians

  1. Pingback: Meanwhile, in Yemen | Shooting Irrelevance

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