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Liberty's candidate: An interview with Michael Badnarik
By Lady Liberty
On September 11, 2004, Lady Liberty was in attendance at the 2004 National Property Rights Conference where she spoke on Internet Activism. Libertarian candidate for President Michael Badnarik was a featured general session speaker at that same event. Lady Liberty was privileged to have the opportunity to speak with Mr. Badnarik one on one during the conference.
With adequate (read "fair") media coverage, Mr. Badnarik would also be "the right choice" for hundreds of thousands of those voters who've not yet had the pleasure of learning that there is one candidate who believes in restoring and protecting their liberties. Michael Badnarik is currently polling at in the single digits. But 80 per cent of Americans have never even heard of him. If he's showing on the polls and only 20 per cent even know who he is, imagine what would happen to those numbers if 50 per cent of voters knew of him and his positions. Or 75 per cent. Or more.
Lady Liberty: Today is 9/11. Everyone agrees the attacks three years ago were tragic, but there's been little agreement on anything since then. If you'd been president when the attacks occurred, how would you have prosecuted the War on Terror?
Michael Badnarik: Well, if 9/11 happened today, it's a crime, it's an international murder. It's a mass murder, not a war. And you prosecute it like any other crime. You find the evidence, you figure out who the perpetrators of the crime are, and then you do what's necessary to bring them to justice. To the best of my knowledge, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida are the ones that brought the buildings down. At least that's the information that I have given what they broadcast on television. And so we have every justification to go after those people who destroyed the buildings.
We do not have the authority to transfer that aggression to another group, and we've sent 150,000 troops to Iraq which, you know, basically didn't attack us; they have no direct connection to September 11 to the best of my knowledge. If there is any evidence, we haven't been presented with it. And we are basically prosecuting a war in the wrong area. Again, it was an international crime, it was a murder, but I don't think that it relates to war per se.
LL: We're already in the midst of what many believe to be an illegal situation, and it's one that you didn't start. But assuming you take office in January, how would you clean it up?
MB: Well, over 50 per cent of the people in the United States recognize that going to Iraq was a mistake; staying in Iraq compounds that mistake; and even George Bush admitted accidentally during his acceptance speech at the Republican convention that we can't win that war. And so it's a political tar baby. We can't win. 92 per cent of the people in Iraq don't like us. They consider us occupiers instead of liberators. We're not going to change their minds by bombing their buildings and killing innocent civilians. We're not going to endear ourselves to them. The only rational solution is to admit our mistake and start bringing our sons and daughters home as safely and as quickly as possible.
LL: But people will say that Saddam Hussein was a really bad guy and he was doing really bad things. He probably would have been a danger to us sooner or later anyway. So does it really matter that there was a mistake about weapons of mass destruction? Isn't this kind of nipping things in the bud, so to speak?
MB: You are innocent until proven guilty. You don't have the authority to go and lock somebody up in jail because maybe they're going to commit murder or maybe they're going to rob a bank. Saddam Hussein was a really bad guy, but we were giving him money and ammunition years ago. We raised Saddam Hussein to power. The same thing was true of Osama bin Laden. You know, they would never have been as powerful as they became without American money and munitions, so if we are truly going to fight terrorism, maybe we could avoid creating terrorism in the first place.
LL: But before you can address such things, you have to be elected to office. And there've recently been some ballot problems for your campaign in New Hampshire and Ohio. Rumors on the Internet suggest that, much as Republicans have worked in some places to get Ralph Nader on the ballot in the hopes of taking votes from John Kerry, they may have worked in other places to keep you off the ballot to stop you from hurting George W. Bush. Have you heard these rumors? And what are your thoughts on these ballot problems?
MB: I have not heard anything about it, and I have not heard anything that might make me think it was credible. The situation in New Hampshire is apparently an oversight. The signatures didn't get submitted before the deadline. I don't know what the circumstances were or are, and I'm not going to rush to judgment without knowing any information. We are working as hard as we can and in as many states as we can to get the Libertarian message out, and there will always be some setbacks. But we certainly aren't going to stop. You know, George Washington lost most of the battles during the American Revolution, but they certainly didn't give up. I think that Libertarians should continue to persevere just the way the Founding Fathers did.
LL: Politics seems so dirty, and contrary to popular opinion, it's been that way for many, many years. Is there any way in your mind to ever really clean it up?
MB: One of the best ways to clean up politics is to enforce Constitutional limitations on government, and take away the power that they have granted to themselves. When members of Congress are limited to the Constitution, they have limited power and there's nothing for large corporations to bribe them for. However, we the people ordain and establish the Constitution. We the people created our government. And we the people are responsible for it. If we the people don't study the Constitution, understand the difference between rights and privileges, and vote for candidates that are honest and actually protect our rights, then basically we get the government that we deserve.
LL: Most people, if you ask them, will tell you candidly they do think that most politicians lie, that most politicians can't be trusted—and yet time after time they keep voting for professional politicians. They may indeed deserve what they get when they do that, but why do you think they do keep voting for the same politicians over and over again?
MB: For a number of reasons. Some people vote for politicians because government offers them benefits, the whole welfare state. You're going to get a politician who's going to give you tax credits, or help fund education, or do things that you feel are beneficial. And people vote for that because they overlook the fact that whenever government gives you something, it has to take it from someone else. I think if everybody understood that welfare is theft, and that you were getting these benefits at someone else's expense, I think that would be radically reduced. Even if you were really, really hungry, and you watched me take a sandwich away from a child in order to give it to you, I find it difficult to believe that many people would be able to eat that sandwich knowing it had been taken from a child.
LL: You mentioned that, for us to be responsible for our own government, we need to learn and study the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Far too many people, however, don't, and part of their lack of knowledge goes back to some failure to educate in the school systems. Why do you think there's so little emphasis today in schools on the Constitution and Bill of Rights?
MB: Well, the government has more power than it deserves. It has more power than the Constitution enumerates for it. And the only way that they can continue absorbing power and assuming power is to have an electorate that doesn't understand what the basics are. And so I personally suspect there's some motivation to keep that information out of schools so that they can continue to what they choose to do. [Congressman] Ron Paul (R-TX) has periodically proposed that anytime Congress writes a new law, they have to identify the clause in the Constitution which authorizes them to do whatever the law proposes. And presumably one of the members of Congress has said, "Well, we can't do that! If we followed the Constitution, then we'd never make any laws!"
LL: I know you teach some adult Constitution courses...
MB: They're for people of intellect age. I mean, 14, 15 and above. I've had some younger children, but it is intended primarily for high school and above.
LL: Okay, so we take care of the remedial education with classes like the ones that you offer. How do we fix the underlying problem of the schools—and not just in relation to the Constitution and Bill of Rights, but in general?
MB: The Department of Education is unconstitutional, and it's also terribly inefficient. In 1953, we developed the Department of Health, Education and Welfare at a point in time when American students were number one in math and science. We now spend over ten times as much per student, and American students are 29th in math and science. So even if the Department of Education were constitutional, we ought to eliminate that department because our children are getting dumber instead of smarter. Not too long ago, we modified the way we score SAT tests because the scores were dropping by clear percentages. They set a new median, so basically what we did was set the bar lower so more people could appear to pass the test. Just because you make the test easier doesn't mean that people are getting smarter.
LL: In his book Hologram of Liberty, author Boston T. Party suggests that the Constitution was written intentionally in such a way that today's abuses are possible. Do you subscribe to that theory? What do you think?
MB: I read the book, and I think that the argument is plausible. There's no way for us to know precisely what the Founding Fathers intended, but the important thing is that that was then, this is now. This is 2004. We are more enlightened. We have the benefit of hindsight. And we should understand that private property rights are the basis of that document, and anything that does not conform with that document should be amended.
In my class, we discuss the definition of "constitutional." And the first definition that most people propose is "something that is written in the Constitution." So then I point to Article I Section 9, Clause 1 which says that Congress is forbidden from making slavery illegal until after 1808. So up until that year, slavery was constitutional by definition. We realize now that that's a horrendous idea, and it establishes the fact that the Constitution is flawed and can be flawed in various different ways. So if we are going to fix the Constitution and prevent it from becoming more flawed than it is, we have to have a different definition of what is or is not constitutional just because it happens to be a part of that text.
I propose that private property rights are the definition of what is or is not constitutional. The purpose of the Constitution is to protect your life, your liberty, and your property. And when you understand that, it's easy to read the Constitution without it being ambiguous, and it's fairly easy to identify clauses in the Constitution that are either in contrast to that or could be misinterpreted in such a way so that they would be in conflict with private property.
LL: You mention private property. When most people think of those words, they assume it means their homes and their land. But you define private property far more broadly than that, don't you?
MB: Yes, primarily your own body. The idea that you own your own body is taken for granted now. If you don't own your body, then you're a slave. That's precisely the argument that we were using during the early part of this country. Blacks were not people; they were considered property. Over the course of 200 years or more, we realized it's inappropriate to own another human. However, the idea that you own your own body is not universal. There are places around the world [like] the Middle East where women do not own their body and they are considered property. There are places around the world where children are sold into slavery. So the idea that you own your own body is not only not universal, but it was also not an assumption here in the United States.
LL: I know you're a member of the Free State Project, and that you're aware of similar efforts such as Free State Wyoming and the Free West Alliance. Do you think these projects are actually feasible? Do you think their stated missions can ever really be accomplished?
MB: I think that they are feasible if the people who are organizing can continue to generate an interest, and if the people support it. Was it feasible for George Washington and 2000 regular troops and a handful of militia to defeat the most powerful military force in the world, King George's army? At that point in our history, I'm sure that there were people saying, "You don't have a snowball's chance! Why are you bothering to fight against insurmountable odds?"
Well, liberty and the desire to make your own decisions is an incredible force. And it drives people to do things that might be perceived as impossible. So is it possible for people to move to New Hampshire, or move to Wyoming, and establish a pattern of freedom and liberty that catches on and spreads to the other 50 states? Absolutely. Will it happen? Well, all I know is that I have dedicated the rest of my life to fighting for liberty because I have no more important task than that.
LL: Whatever else, these projects do seem to be kind of a grand gesture. On the one hand, they're telling the government that some of us are disappointed enough, or disgusted enough, to start taking real and significant steps to restore our liberty. On the other hand, they're showing other citizens that not everyone has lost hope, and that some people are still fighting for freedom. So just as a concept, what do you think of people packing up everything and going somewhere with that one goal in mind?
MB: They did that to come to the United States. People packed up everything they had to go to the new land to have their religious freedom. That happens continuously. During the late 1800's and early 1900's, we literally had millions of immigrants coming from Europe basically with the clothes on their back. Parents would put their children on a boat and kiss them good-bye knowing that they'd never see them again. How bad do things have to be in your own country where you send your own children away? And the whole idea was to come to the United States to achieve the American dream.
LL: Have you ever read the book Hope (written by Aaron Zelman and L. Neil Smith, Hope is a novel about a presidential candidate by the name of Alexander Hope whose sole campaign promise is to ensure that everything he does as president is within the parameters of the Constitution and Bill of Rights)?
MB: I have read the book Hope.
LL: Are you aware, then, that there are people comparing you with Alexander Hope?
MB: I'm flattered! I hope that I can maintain the adherence to principles that Alexander Hope did in the book. That's certainly my intention. The only thing that concerns me is that, as Alexander Hope got more and more successful, there was an assassination attempt on his life. So I hope that I'm wearing my bulletproof vest by then!
LL: Mathematically, you could win the presidency. But considering probability, the likelihood is that you won't. So why are you doing this? Why are you putting yourself through this incredible effort and working so hard?
MB: Because it's the right thing to do. I can't vote for George Bush or John Kerry and respect myself in the morning. Democrats and Republicans don't respect the Constitution; it's doubtful that they've even read the Constitution. Members of Congress are continuing to usurp power that we the people never delegated them. The only other alternative is to sit back and let the situation get worse. And I don't have the courage to do that. Again, it's the right thing to do. If I can make a difference, the sooner I start, the harder I work, the greater a difference I can make.
LL: Do you believe a third party candidate will ever win a presidential election?
LL: How long might it be before that happens? And how bad will it have to get before people that are diehard party line voters understand that there's a real choice available for them?
MB: I think that people are beginning to understand there's a choice. Most of the people in 2000 voted for the lesser of two evils. And after four years of the current administration, they're beginning to regret that type of a strategy. During the last two years that I've been campaigning, I've had Democrats and Republicans come up to me declaring that they're disenchanted with their own party—that their politicians make all the right promises during the campaign, but then they just get elected, raise taxes, pass unconstitutional laws—and they're disgusted.
One example is that I walked into an elevator in jeans and a casual shirt. There were five or six people on the elevator, and one man noticed my "Badnarik for President" shirt. And he said, "Gosh, I've never met this guy, never heard of this guy." So I introduced myself, and said, "Hi, I'm running for President of the United States." Everybody on that elevator indicated they were voting for me simply because I wasn't George Bush and I wasn't John Kerry. Now, that's a pretty flimsy reason to vote for somebody. But I think it's indicative of how far our political system has fallen, and how desperate people are for another choice.
My only problem is getting media attention. If I can have a little bit of advertising and get my name and the Libertarian Party message out, I think that we would do incredibly well. Right now, we're running at about 8 per cent in the polls. If we can get to 15 per cent—the arbitrary 15 per cent that we're supposed to have—I can get into the presidential debates. And if I can get into the debate, there is no doubt that I will win that debate. And if I win the presidential debate, there's no telling how much of a vote I can get. I may not win the White House, but I can change the course of American politics forever.
Many thanks to Mr. Badnarik's aid, Jon—who kindly facilitated this interview even as he was busy with many, many other things—and thanks Robert Butler, the Executive Director of the Ohio Libertarian Party, for his help and encouragement.
Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at
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