Michael Badnarik, a technical trainer from Austin, Texas, was considered a dark-horse candidate for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination till he pulled off a third-ballot victory at the convention in Atlanta over the Memorial Day weekend. A one-time candidate for state representative, Badnarik has not held public office, but he has taught a university-level course on the U.S. Constitution. On July 2, he told a mostly friendly audience at Asheville’s Gypsy Moon that students in his classes had encouraged him to run for the presidency.
Before and after Badnarik’s half-hour stump speech, Xpress spoke with the candidate on a variety of issues for more than an hour — with occasional interruptions from the barroom audience. Here are excerpts from that conversation:
Mountain Xpress: What is the proper role of government?
Michael Badnarik: Protect your property, period. … Life, liberty and property … protecting those three is the only valid role of government.
MX: Getting to the right to life, does the government have a role in protecting life?
Badnarik: We all have our own individual responsibility to protect life. Who is responsible for putting food in my mouth? Me. Who is responsible for sheltering me? Me. Who’s responsible for making sure that I have a retirement? Me. The government doesn’t have a proactive obligation to intercede.
MX: So that means that I need to test this beer? I need to decide for myself that it is safe?
MX: You see no role for the FDA?
Badnarik: The FDA gives you a false sense of security. The FDA is one of the major reasons that we can’t afford health care. They have a $1 billion, 10-year program to approve drugs. The pharmaceutical companies pass that along to you as part of the cost of drugs.
MX: Does this mean that you take it on yourself to test a bottle of aspirin before you take one?
Badnarik: If I am that concerned, yes. That’s my responsibility. … But I fairly well trust that the people who are selling this don’t want to lose their customer base. What happened to Tylenol when somebody came in and injected poison into the bottle? Tylenol, under no government responsibility, took all of their medicine off the shelf. … Why? Because it was in their best interest.
So it’s in the best interest of the people providing goods and services to see that you want to come back. If we have the proper valid court system and if that beer injures you in some way, you can file a lawsuit. Now you have the burden of proof to show that the beer did injure you.
So, like, if you got drunk and fell on your ass — are you going to blame the bar?
MX: Well, say it’s orange juice.
Badnarik: The point is that you came in here and ordered alcohol, and you ordered several of them. … You gave them money and they gave you a product. And you continued to buy the product. You are responsible for buying the product and drinking it. If you go home and slip and fall because you’re drunk on your butt, I’m not going to let you come back and sue the bar. It’s not the bar’s responsibility.
MX: But what if it is orange juice? What if you are poisoned by orange juice?
Badnarik: OK. Now you have to prove that in court. … If you want to be a hot-dog vendor, it is in your vested interest to see that your hot dogs are delicious and healthy. The free market is the best way to have high quality and low prices.
MX: You don’t think the government has any role in protecting the purity of food?
Badnarik: No. I don’t think the government has any role except in national defense. And maybe the post office — it’s in the Constitution. But I’d rather privatize that too.
MX: No police?
Badnarik: They don’t have police in Beverly Hills; they all have private security guards. I’m going to get rid of 20,000 gun laws in the United States — what do you need police for?
If I’ve got my damn .45 under my armpit and everybody knows it, do you think I need the police? You think anybody’s going to come and try to take my money?
MX: What about environmental regulation?
Badnarik: England has the cleanest water in the world, and that’s because the people who own the property have the fishing rights — and they also have the right to sue anybody upstream who pollutes it.
MX: Do you think the same thing would work with air pollution?
Badnarik: I can’t see why not. Who’s the biggest polluter in the United States? The United States government pollutes more than the top five chemical companies combined. The EPA is dangerous, because they say, “You’re a business — you can pollute up to this level.”
If you were living next door, how much would you allow them to pollute? Not at all.
Private ownership is the only way you can guarantee that land will be protected. … I want clean air and water. Letting the government be in charge is not the way to do it.
MX: What about the military — defense only?
Badnarik: Libertarians are noninterventionists. I don’t come into your house and tell you how to run your life. … Should we send our military overseas and say, “Well, your government is all screwed up, and this is how you’re going to run your government from now on”?
They’re not going to live their lives the way we want. Too bad! It’s the Constitution for the United States; it’s not a constitution for the world! You cannot export democracy at the point of a gun.
At this point, an audience member interjected, “If we walk away from Iraq, aren’t we abdicating our belief in freedom?”
Badnarik: If you want to go to Iraq, pack your bags and go and help. I’m not going to stop you. But the American people should not be paying for it.
If it was just Iraq, you wouldn’t be getting an argument from me, because we could go in there and kick ass and bring our soldiers home. But it’s not just Iraq — it’s 135 countries around the world. Where do we justify having our soldiers in Germany?
Where is our exit strategy for Germany? Where is our exit strategy for Italy?
Audience member: That’s left over from the Cold War.
Badnarik: So why is it a holdover? That’s why I’m opposed to sending our soldiers over there. I don’t have a problem sending them there; I have a problem keeping them there. We’ve been in Korea for 50 goddamn years.
Audience member: But … if we look the other way?
Badnarik: If you want to go to Iraq, I’ll come to your going-away party. But if I’m president of the United States, I am not going to send the military to any country that is not currently at war with us — unless Congress declares war. Because I’ve looked at Article II, which gives Congress the power to declare war. It doesn’t grant the power for one idiot in the White House to push the button.
So unless Congress declares war, and takes their responsibility seriously, my soldiers aren’t going anywhere.
MX: Where do you draw the line on gun control? If it’s all right for you to have a gun, is it all right for you to have 1,000 [intercontinental ballistic missiles]?
Badnarik: Do I have a right to own a .22 pistol? Yes. Do I have a right to pull it out and aim at you? No.
I have created a clear and present danger. If you can pull your gun out and shoot me first, you have a right to do that. Now if you feel that I am presenting a clear and present danger, you have the burden to prove it.
Having a nuclear warhead next door does pose a clear and present danger, because if you decide to push the button, I don’t have a chance to stop you. So, no, I don’t believe you have a right to keep ICBMs.
If you think I pose a clear and present danger, you have to prove it. Until then, I plan to carry my .45, carry my anti-assault rifle over my shoulder. … I don’t pose a danger to anyone.
MX: The evidence is that even with regulation, companies like Union Carbide managed to poison thousands of people in Bhopal, and Exxon managed to poison thousands of miles of coastal areas in Alaska, with no repercussions at all — no impact on their business. I understand your argument about the hot-dog vendor who has bad hot dogs. But we’re in a global economy now, and we’re dealing with companies that are completely above the law.
Badnarik: We need to make sure that they aren’t above the law. They act as if they are above the law because the government claims sovereign immunity.
The government says: “We’re in charge. You don’t have the right to sue us.” But the government is not sovereign — we are.
I’ve been asked if I would file suit against the government.
I would start with the PATRIOT Act, which is so egregiously unconstitutional as to be silly. And the problem is that most of the people who approved it did so without reading it. So they are guilty of gross negligence.
That’s why I’m trying to be president. Not because I want to be famous, but because the people who are in Washington are violating my rights — and nobody else is stepping up to do the job. And as my father taught me when I was a little boy, if you want to get the job done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.
MX: How would your administration deal with nuclear reform and transportation of nuclear material?
Badnarik: I worked in the nuclear field for 12 years. There are countries in the world that reprocess their nuclear fuel and don’t try to keep it stored forever. France, Canada and Germany are three that come to mind. … We should reprocess it so we don’t keep it lying around.”
MX: Is that a private or a government function?
Badnarik: Private companies always do it better and cheaper. I would have civilian oversight.
I would find a way to make it profitable for a company to do things right. All you have to do is make it profitable.
MX: Given the Libertarian defense of property rights, what is your position on slavery?
Badnarik: Do you own your body? If you didn’t own your body, what would you be? (Laughing) Slavery is bad; I am opposed to slavery.
I’m shocked that anyone had to ask me that question.