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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Leonard Pitts Jr.: The presidency isn’t a reality show

By Leonard Pitts Jr. 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, as 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, Yes, 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 as 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 may even 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 Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172. Readers may write to him via email at