By Denise Tessier
For Rodney Dangerfield, it was a punch line. Nowadays, Gary Johnson is the guy getting no respect – and it’s no joke.
Back in April, when Journal Washington correspondent Michael Coleman reported on former Gov. Gary Johnson’s announcement he would run for president, Leslie Linthicum humorously theorized on the possibilities of a Johnson campaign while remembering scenes from Bill Richardson’s presidential run in her UpFront column “Gary’s Ready For Close-Up; But Are We?”
At the time, it seemed a bit presumptuous when Linthicum concluded her piece on Johnson with a pat prediction:
And when it’s all over – spoiler alert – we’ll get to welcome him home.
Really? No chance for Gary? After all, Johnson was the dark horse who won the governorship of New Mexico as a virtual unknown, his win largely credited to the fact that he plastered his name, photo and a Zia sun symbol on the sides of Albuquerque city buses. (He once told me he could legally advertise on the buses as long as his ads were apolitical; and they were, as they didn’t even carry the word “governor”.)
Add to her prediction Johnson’s competition at the time: Johnson (arguably) couldn’t be accused of being the quirkiest of GOP presidential candidates when the potential line-up also included Donald Trump, Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman.
Now, it appears Linthicum’s prediction was pretty prescient, although I suspect even she expected Johnson would get a little more attention than he’s had on the national stage.
For New Mexicans, the snubbing of Johnson was glaring from the get-go. In listing GOP contenders on the air, I’ve noticed national radio talk show hosts – both conservative and progressive – have consistently failed to mention his name, even when he was one of the few GOP candidates who actually announced his candidacy. National stories early on gave plenty of ink to unannounced candidates like Mitt Romney and Trump. But even The New York Times, writing about the first debate of the 2012 presidential election cycle, failed to mention Johnson by name in its May 6 editorial “In Search of a Republican Field.” (Of the five candidates who debated, the Times mentioned Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain by name, lumping together Johnson and Ron Paul by saying simply that, the “two libertarian candidates were tuned only to their customized ideological frequencies.”
Journal politics writer Sean Olson, in a story that ran the day after the Times editorial, noticed that Johnson didn’t get equal air time during the debate, saying:
The first Republican presidential debate was perhaps more notable for its lack of high-profile candidates than for the five that showed up, but former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson still felt like the Charlie Brown of the bunch.
Olson’s Politics Notebook entry is headlined “Johnson Shorted In Debate?” in the print version of the paper, (and interestingly, the same Journal story is labeled “Gary Johnson Gets Picked On, Says Gary Johnson” online). Olson gave Johnson’s take on the first debate:
“This is, like, nine questions for these guys and none for me,” Johnson told Fox News mediators at one point in the debate held in South Carolina Thursday night.
Four days later, Olson followed up with “Reviews Bad for Johnson Following GOP Debate,” quoting a Washington, D.C. blogger who said Johnson was “barely there,” and who added that Johnson’s short responses gave interviewers “no incentive to go back to him” with further questions.
Even Stephen Colbert mocked Johnson for being unknown, Olsen reported, referring to clips of Johnson in the debate as “this guy, right there, whose name escapes me, even though he’s been on my show, twice, in the last year.”
A few weeks later, Johnson did get some love from Saturday Night Live in a skit that voiced his name over and over. The premise, however, was that he was the rare candidate with a “normal”, and therefore, forgettable, name, seeing as the GOP list now included a “Newt” (Gingrich), a “Mitt” (Romney) and a “T-Paw” (Pawlenty).
And as Linthicum noted in a “Catching Up After the Non-End of the World” column, Johnson was named and listed, as was every GOP candidate, in a New Yorker comment piece by Henrik Hertzberg on the “fifteen (by our count) declared, undeclared, and mulling-it-over candidates on the list of G.O.P. hopefuls.”
Further coverage by the Journal (“CNN Debate Snubs Johnson,” June 4) indicates that CNN has decided Johnson simply isn’t ready for prime time, shutting him out from a debate that will be held June 13. The reason given to the Journal’s Coleman was that Johnson hadn’t met the criteria set by the event’s sponsors, including a minimum polling threshold. Johnson reacted by telling Coleman:
What will be missing (from the June 13 debate) is the voice of those who hold an undiluted view of individual liberty – those who believe that individual rights extend to women who face choices about abortion, Americans who happen to be gay, and those who don’t place other asterisks on freedom.
Likewise, there will be no voice for the growing number of Americans who see the hypocrisy and failure of drug laws that condone alcohol at White House Dinners while incarcerating millions of Americans, including our kids, who choose to smoke pot.
I wish the participants in the debate well. And I sympathize with the millions of Americans whose beliefs will not be on display in Manchester on June 13.
According to an Associated Press article in the Wall Street Journal, seven GOP candidates will be debating June 13 in New Hampshire. But what really must sting for Johnson is that in addition to those seven:
The debate’s sponsors — WMUR-TV, CNN and the New Hampshire Union Leader — also invited Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and businessman Donald Trump.
Daniels, Huckabee and Trump recently have said they would not seek the GOP nomination.
Which goes to show that these televised debates are more about garnering ratings than providing a forum for open debates about issues in order for the public to learn about the candidates.
No respect indeed – for Johnson or, some would argue, for the public.
By the way, the Journal’s new Web site is up and running. New to the site are links that add value to one’s research. Political stories, for example, are accompanied at the side by the latest headlines from Politico.com, (the link to Sarah Palin in this story, in fact, came from the Journal site) while below the story one happens to be reading are links to stories on related topics. It still takes a while to find stories: In searching the links to Linthicum’s UpFronts, for example, keywords didn’t work. I had to click on UpFront in the Home header menu and scroll down to older entries. But the overall layout looks promising. The Journal site is finally catching up with the times.
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