Essex column: Johnson and Stein aren’t realistic choices |

Essex column: Johnson and Stein aren’t realistic choices

Randy Essex

When a football team is struggling, the most popular player often is the second-string quarterback. The guy has potential, give him a chance, let’s go a different direction, how can it be any worse?

The backup QB hasn’t thrown any interceptions, made bad decisions, had that embarrassing sideline confrontation with the top receiver.

In this year’s presidential election, Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein are like backup quarterbacks.

How can they be worse than Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton?

Setting aside my conviction that Mr. Twitter is wildly unqualified to lead the country, at least Trump has been on the field and has been tested — like a starting quarterback, we have a pretty good idea of what he’s like. To mix sports and metaphors, it’s Bobby Knight for president, if you’re into that.

Same with Clinton. She’s the veteran who lost a big game in 2008. We’ve seen the fumbles, we know her style. Like most veterans, she has supporters and critics.

We have a pretty good idea how Clinton would govern. We can make guesses about Trump, though he hasn’t been in a game yet where the score really counts in terms of lost lives or lost money.

Johnson and Stein, though, are largely unvetted and unknown.

Johnson had an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that was a little like the third-stringer getting in for a couple minutes at the end of a college game that’s not close. Unfortunately, he couldn’t handle the snap.

“What is Aleppo?” he asked in response to a question about the Syrian city that exemplifies the difficulty and tragedy of one of the world’s most troubled and dangerous situations right now.

We do know that Johnson says he has given up pot for the campaign, which is nice, but in the interviews I’ve seen, he comes off without a hint of gravitas.

And I do not think it is unfair for someone who is running for president of the United States, who argues that he’s a credible alternative, to have done homework on the Syrian civil war, particularly since he was the Libertarian nominee for president in 2012.

On Thursday, he was unable, in an MSNBC town hall, to name a single foreign leader he admires. His explanation? “I’m having an Aleppo moment” as he struggled to remember the name of former Mexican President Vicente Fox. (But he gave up pot for the race.)

He’s unorthodox on a lot of other issues, as a Libertarian might be expected to be. He opposes paid family and medical leave, he wants the marketplace to set the minimum wage, favors government money for Planned Parenthood, calls it racism to judge others by their birth and opposes affirmative action.

In 2017, with the working class struggling for level ground, cities roiling with tension and Islamic terrorists growing in danger and influence, is this the guy we want calling our plays?

What about Jill Stein, the 2012 and ’16 Green Party presidential nominee whose political high water mark was getting 1.42 percent of the vote for Massachusetts governor in 2010? If Bernie Sanders wasn’t radical enough for you, she’s definitely your candidate. She’s called for an end to Israeli “apartheid” and, on immigration, says that “Democrats are the party of deportation, detention and night raids.”

The point isn’t the merits of Johnson’s and Stein’s positions. The point is that they are fringe candidates who are as unelectable this year as they were in 2012, when each got less than 1 percent of the vote. If subjected to scrutiny on the field of play, they would be shown not to be the alternatives some think.

It’s tempting this election cycle to vote as if we are fans.

But we need to behave as if we are the coach or general manager, not mere fans, because in our system, we have the responsibility to do more than cheer and boo.

When the score counts, we aren’t, as a country, going to have Gary Johnson or Jill Stein running the team.

Third-party candidates don’t win in modern America. Perhaps if we had a parliamentary system, lesser parties could win enough congressional seats to break the two-party grip and one day give us a president/prime minister not from the entrenched system.

While the Founders rejected the British system of selecting a head of state, in the early days of the United States, parties and affiliations changed — it wasn’t intended that two rich political parties would be our only real choices.

It may be that citizen disgust has reached a point where the Democratic and Republican parties are at a breaking point and we’ll start to see change.

But right now, third-party candidates can only play spoiler, as Ralph Nader did in 2000 and Ross Perot did in 1992.

When you vote, be a team owner, not just a fan. That means making a realistic decision based on the personnel you have. Don’t abdicate.

Randy Essex is publisher and editor of the Post Independent.

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