Imagine you're running for president of the United States of America. The campaign has begun. Then something unsettling happens: You realize that you're not qualified for the job.
That you're in way over your head becomes evident when voters and reporters on the campaign trail ask you questions you can't answer. What's your position on net neutrality? You don't even know what that means, much less have an opinion about it. What would you, as president, do about the Middle East? You don't have a clue.
If you're like me, you'd probably call the whole thing off. If you care about your country, you don't want anyone less than the best and the brightest in charge of those awesome powers over war and peace, the world economy and those nuclear launch codes. If and when you come to the conclusion that you are neither the best nor the brightest, not much brighter than a 60-watt bulb, the right thing to do is to step aside and leave the leading to someone else — someone better, someone brighter.
Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor best known for his war against labor unions in particular and workers in general, found himself in this exact situation. Rather than drop out of the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination and focus on governing his state, however, Walker decided to bone up on the issues like a college kid cramming the night before an exam.
"While Mr. Walker is ahead in some opinion polls, including for Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses, a series of early gaffes alarmed party leaders and donors and led Mr. Walker to begin several months of policy tutorials," The New York Times reported. "Mr. Walker is now emerging from his crash course with the aim of reassuring activists and contributors ... that he will no longer sow doubts about himself with comments like comparing pro-union protestors to Islamic State terrorists, refusing to answer a question about evolution or saying he does not know if President Obama is a Christian or if he loves America."
In fairness to Gov. Walker, the union-ISIS smear, professed agnosticism about Darwinism and the Obama stuff are right-wing pandering to the GOP's know-nothing base of idiotic white-trash voters, rather than an indication of personal ignorance.
Nevertheless, ignorance there is — in abundance.
"Two Republicans recalled being at a closed-door event last winter when, they said, Mr. Walker did not articulate a strong answer to a question about Internet neutrality, instead promising to look at the issue," reports the Times.
We can't expect anyone to know everything. There's nothing wrong with admitting you don't know something, then going to research it. But a presidential candidate should know a lot.
A would-be president should possess a broad reservoir of knowledge, and a deep understanding of, national and world politics, history, culture, economics and science, and he should possess that intellectual heft many years before having the gumption to argue to hundreds of millions of Americans that they should entrust him with the world's most powerful position of political leadership.
Net neutrality is the argument that the telecommunications companies that own the "pipes" that carry Internet traffic and other digital data should treat everyone who uses those pipes the same, so that a small bootstraps startup gets the same data speed as a multibillion dollar conglomerate willing and able to pay for the best, fastest service. Far from obscure or esoteric, net neutrality has received extensive coverage in the tech media, business press and political opinion pages for the last decade. Really, we're talking about basic stuff.
I was able to write the issue summary in the first sentence of the previous paragraph without having to Google it. And I'm just a cartoonist. Why wasn't Walker able to do the same? He's the governor of a state, but he doesn't read the news? What makes a guy who doesn't read the news, lots of news, every day, think he's qualified for the Oval Office?
The Times also cites Walker's "repeated comments that the most important foreign policy decision of his lifetime was President Reagan's firing of air traffic controllers in 1981, because it got the attention of the Soviet Union [as] a sign to some Republicans that Mr. Walker, who dropped out of Marquette University and has not traveled widely abroad, has a limited worldview."
This is not a liberal-conservative thing. No historian, journalist or informed American who remembers 1981 believes that Reagan's destruction of PATCO had any effect whatsoever on the Cold War, or that Soviet leaders took note of it at all. If Reagan hastened the collapse of the USSR (which is debatable), he did so by sucking the Russians into their "Vietnam," the expensive, demoralizing Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and by accelerating spending on an arms race with which the Soviets couldn't keep up. Walker is wrong.
Moreover, it should be obvious to anyone that U.S. foreign policy actions like Nixon's normalization of relations with China, the two Gulf Wars and Clinton's endorsement of the World Trade Organization have infinitely broader implications than Reagan's union-busting.
Thus Walker's boning up on U.S. Politics 101.
From The Times: "Mr. Walker has joined in hours-long meetings in Washington; Madison, Wis.; and elsewhere for tutorials on the Islamic State, Iran, Russia and military and geopolitical confrontations, as well as human rights abuses, border security and immigration policy, and other issues."
Hours-long! Isn't that splendid?
Unfortunately, Walker's ignorance, followed by last-second pre-campaign cramming is not an exception. It's the norm, and not just for buffoons like Sarah Palin, George W. Bush and Scott Walker. "Respectable" boldface politicos like Barack Obama, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton have had to pick up Cliff's Notes versions of issues about which they were unqualified to discuss, much less impose prescriptions.
Whatever your ideological leanings, I trust you agree with me that a Would-Be President should have been living and breathing the minutiae of domestic and foreign policy problems and issues throughout his life. Sure, he should take regular briefings from experts. But he ought to know the basics long before taking in his first campaign contribution.
Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the book "Snowden," the biography of the NSA whistleblower, to be published August 18th. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.