Libertarian Says He Could Change American Politics If Invited To Debate

Michael Badnarik has been campaigning hard with little to show for it.

It's easy to run for president when you have Air Force One at your beck and call, a gaggle of journalists recording your every word, and more than $200 million in the campaign chest. But try driving a Kia for 25,000 miles and sleeping in the spare bedrooms of your supporters while spreading the gospel of individual liberty and limited government.

Welcome to the life of Libertarian Party presidential candidate Michael Badnarik.

A dark-horse candidate even in his own party, Badnarik, a 50-year-old computer consultant, spent 15 months crisscrossing the country in his car while campaigning for the nomination. After a surprising victory at the party convention in May, Badnarik can now afford to fly (commercial), but it's still tough going given that, according to him, "Eighty percent of the population has never heard of the Libertarian Party, and the 20 percent who have have flagrant misconceptions."

Libertarians, like Badnarik, believe the proper function of the federal government is limited to national defense, coining money and not much else. No more Department of Education or Internal Revenue Service (Badnarik has not filed a tax return in several years). They believe the war in Iraq was a mistake, as is the Patriot Act, the United Nations, and talk of renewing the draft. The Social Security and welfare systems are "immoral" and should be completely dismantled. The same goes for federal student loans, or "government assisted theft" as he calls it, because "libertarians do not give anyone else's money to you."

Slashing government, Badnarik believes, gives power back to individuals to do what they want with themselves and their property. Badnarik opposes laws restricting abortion, drug use or gun ownership and is especially fervent in his support of gay marriage. "Do you want the government telling you who you can room with? Do you want the government to say, 'Oh, I'm sorry, she's too pretty for you, she's too intelligent for you — you've got to live with this heavy-set girl who's got a great personality?' Do you want the government manipulating your life? Of course not. Then stay out of everyone else's life!"

This message should resonate with young voters, according to Badnarik, because "young people are libertarians by nature." "Why would anyone move away from home ... move out of [the] opulence [of their parent's home] and into a crammed studio apartment ... just above poverty level, when you have mom or dad who love you?" Badnarik asks. "The answer is liberty. We move away from home so we can make our own decisions. If you aren't going to let mom and dad make decisions for you, why would you let the government? Does the government love you more than mom and dad?"

So why haven't young people rallied around the Badnarik candidacy? Although he's on 48 ballots (more than any other third-party candidate) Badnarik's support is registering at just 1 percent in the polls (if the pollster even mentions him). "These are young people," Badnarik explains. "They are more interested in the opposite sex than they are in politics. We're driving cars, playing sports, exercising all of that freedom and liberty that we have. We aren't aware of how much liberty the government is trying to take."

It hasn't been easy for Badnarik to raise that awareness. Although he spends much of his time speaking at high schools and colleges, Badnarik gets very little press coverage and has the money to run television ads in only a few states. To make matters worse, Ralph Nader, whom Badnarik dismisses as not a "serious" candidate, sucks up much of the attention paid to third parties.

Badnarik also has to deal with journalists who sometimes portray him as belonging to, in his words, "the lunatic fringe." It didn't help matters when The Economist uncovered Badnarik's promises to wear a handgun while giving the State of the Union and blow up the United Nations building in the early days of his administration. Badnarik said those comments were tongue-in-cheek, taken out of context. "Blow up the U.N. building? C'mon," he said. "I'm a Libertarian. You know that I'd rather sell [the U.N. than blow it up]."

Badnarik's current quest is to wrangle an invitation to the presidential debates. Currently only candidates polling at 15 percent or higher will be allowed to participate (just President Bush and John Kerry, in other words), but Badnarik thinks they're running scared. "If I were allowed to participate in the presidential debate, I would win the debate and lots and lots of people disenchanted with the Democrats and Republicans would suddenly be voting Libertarian and I could change the course of American politics forever."