Be­ing uni­formed is not pres­i­den­tial

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Leonard Pitts Jr. The Mi­ami Her­ald

“What news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines did you reg­u­larly read be­fore you were tapped for this to stay in­formed and to un­der­stand the world?”

“I read most of them, again, with a great ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the press, for the me­dia.”

“What ones, specif­i­cally?”

“All of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all th­ese years.” “Can you name a few?” “I have a vast va­ri­ety of sources where we get our news. Alaska isn’t a for­eign coun­try .... ”

— Sarah Palin, ques­tioned by Katie Couric

••• “OK ... Libya. Pres­i­dent Obama sup­ported the up­ris­ing, cor­rect? Pres­i­dent Obama called for the re­moval of Gad­hafi. Just wanted to make sure we’re talk­ing about the same thing be­fore I say, yen, I agreed, or No, I didn’t agree. I do not agree with the way he han­dled it for the fol­low­ing rea­son. Um ... no, that’s a dif­fer­ent one. Um ... I got to go back to see ... got all this stuff twirling around in my head ... um. Specif­i­cally, what are you ask­ing me, did I agree or not dis­agree with Obama?”

— Her­man Cain, an­swer­ing a ques­tion about Pres­i­dent Obama’s han­dling of Libya

••• “[Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin] is not go­ing into Ukraine, OK, just so you un­der­stand. He’s not go­ing to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down .... ”

“Well, he’s there al­ready, isn’t he?”

“OK, well, he’s there in a cer­tain way .... ”

— Don­ald Trump, ques­tioned by Ge­orge Stephanopou­los

••• “We also know that the ... founders ... worked tire­lessly un­til slav­ery was no more.” — Michele Bach­mann

••• “How do you say ‘de­li­cious’ in Cuban?”

— Her­man Cain at a Cuban restau­rant in Mi­ami

••• I was will­ing to let Aleppo go. As with Barack Obama’s “57 states” and Rick Perry’s infamous “oops,” I was will­ing to write off Gary John­son’s re­cent gaffe — his in­abil­ity to iden­tify the rebel strong­hold in Syria — as just one of those brain cramps even well-in­formed peo­ple oc­ca­sion­ally suf­fer, es­pe­cially un­der the klieg lights of me­dia at­ten­tion. Then John­son, the Lib­er­tar­ian can­di­date for pres­i­dent, went and did it again.

Asked last week by Chris Matthews of MSNBC to name his fa­vorite for­eign leader, John­son could come up with not one. “I guess I’m hav­ing an Aleppo mo­ment,” he con­fessed.

There’s a lot of that go­ing around. And it raises a ques­tion: Since when is know­ing things no longer a pre­req­ui­site to run­ning for pres­i­dent?

I freely ad­mit that, if chal­lenged to name the head of state in, say, Burk­ina Faso, I’d have to look it up. But then, I am not run­ning for pres­i­dent. That is, I am not putting my­self be­fore my fel­low cit­i­zens ask­ing that they trust me to steer the ship of state through choppy wa­ters of bud­getary chal­lenge, na­tional se­cu­rity and in­ter­na­tional diplo­macy.

In that con­text, it’s hard to over­state the gall of a Gary John­son. But the fact that such un­in­formed — even broadly ig­no­rant — peo­ple cap­ture at­ten­tion and votes, and that one of them could be our next pres­i­dent, also of­fers a vivid il­lus­tra­tion of the un­se­ri­ous na­tion we have be­come.

One of­ten hears it said that peo­ple want a pres­i­dent they can re­late to, one they could imag­ine hav­ing a beer with. Which is not unim­por­tant. But isn’t it more im­por­tant that the pres­i­dent be some­one who has pon­dered the world and Amer­ica’s place in it? The pres­i­dency is not a real­ity show. Is it too much to ask that who­ever oc­cu­pies that of­fice be some­one who is com­fort­able with ideas, and who knows ac­tual, fact-based stuff?

Com­pe­tence is not sexy. Just ask Jeb Bush. But when the waste mat­ter hits the ven­ti­la­tion de­vice, there is no sub­sti­tute. We should re­spect that fact more than we do.

Be­sides, there are plenty of peo­ple to drink beer with.

Leonard Pitts is syn­di­cated by Tri­bune Me­dia Ser­vices.

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