Michael Badnarik for Congress
By Lady Liberty
In 2004, Michael Badnarik was the Libertarian Party's candidate for President of the United States. During the course of his campaign, he traveled thousands of miles and gave hundreds of speeches and interviews. Despite a concerted effort, the Libertarian candidate was given short shrift by the media and prohibited from participation in the debates via a system geared to favor only the status quo of the two major parties. Even so, because of his efforts, many people were able to learn more about the Libertarian party and the libertarian mindset.
This year, Badnarik's dedication to promoting liberty finds him building on his earlier campaign experiences to be the Libertarian candidate for Congress in the Tenth District of the State of Texas. I spoke with Michael Badnarik by telephone just a few days ago.
Lady Liberty: You were the Libertarian candidate for President in 2004, and conducted what I know was an exhausting campaign. What made you decide to run for another office?
Michael Badnarik: Because of the success that I surprised myself with in the presidential [race].
I was invited to run for President by friends of mine in Austin. I thought they were crazy. They called me on the phone and said, "We want you to run for President." I said, "President of what?" At that point in time, I was at a low point in my life. I could barely put food on the table, and running for President of the United States just seemed to be antithetical. So I chose to do that to raise awareness of the Libertarian Party, bring in membership, and had very little expectation of winning the nomination.
However, the delegates in Atlanta decided they wanted someone who was an idealist. Jon [Airheart, who is now the Assistant Campaign Manager for Badnarik's current campaign] and I worked our butts off during the Presidential campaign. We were averaging four hours of sleep a night. I think we did 400 interviews in five months, and we raised over a million dollars and earned 400,000 votes that the Democrats and Republicans are willing to tell us about. You know, with all the electronic voting machines, it certainly is higher than that. So, I surprised myself. I was really stunned that I could get up and do interviews and move people to vote for liberty.
Given that success — yes, it was exhausting, but it made me realize that one person can make a difference. And if I could get 400,000 votes almost accidentally, imagine what kind of success I can have if I plan it and have a higher level of confidence.
You know, Americans — humans — live with all sorts of self-fulfilling prophecies. If you think you can't, you are absolutely right. And Libertarian candidates have always had the proper position on issues, but almost every Libertarian has started out with the comment that, "Well, I know I can't win. I'm just out here to send a message." Well, if you start with that premise, there are certain things that you don't try because you're already convinced yourself you can't win. I'm convinced I can win.
LL: How have the people in District 10 accepted your presence in the campaign?
MB: We started in January and February with a series of townhall meetings that we referred to as a "listening tour." The general idea is that I plan to go to Washington represent the people of District 10. I have my priorities, but I can't effectively represent my district if I don't know what their priorities are. The plan was to invite people out, and you tell me what's important to you.
This was very difficult for me. I didn't realize how difficult. As an instructor, it's just automatic for me: Somebody asks me a question, I just answer the question. And I always answer it truthfully because, you know, it's just too difficult to remember what your previous lies are [laughs]. For me to stand in front of a group of people who are asking me, "What's your position on immigration? What's your position on this or that?" and to not give them an answer? I almost had to take quaaludes! It was very difficult. I felt almost smarmy. I felt like I was deliberately lying to people because I wasn't giving them my opinion.
But eventually, I realized that this was a good thing. It got the audience into discussion on issues, and they were very animated. Most of the people who showed up dislike the government. I had posed a hypothetical to them. I said, imagine that you area school teacher and that the Congress is your student. It's the end of the semester, and you have to give Congress a grade, a score between zero and 100%. What score would you give Congress? Almost everybody gave Congress a score of zero. One young man was really disenchanted and gave Congress a score of minus 50. And I said, "So, I interpret from your responses that you're not happy?" And we discussed it.
They want someone to go to Washington who is going to represent them and vote for their interests, not for the money lobby interests. You know, big corporations. Everybody in the United States seems to know that Congress is out of control, that the big money lobbyists like Abramoff and people like that are purchasing members of Congress. Duke Cunningham, a former Congressman from California, was just tearfully confessing to taking $2.4 million worth of bribes. And that's just the one that got caught! And people are just disgusted. And so it was really interesting for me to keep my mouth shut and to listen to other people try to convince me that the Libertarian position was the one we ought to take.
LL: What have you done with the information you gathered during your "listening tour?"
MB: We followed the "listening tour" in March. We did a series of townhall meetings that we called a follow-up tour to give people the Libertarian answer to the issues that they had raised. And the support has been almost unanimous!
Now, admittedly the audience is biased. They attended my townhall meeting probably because they were already in my camp. But when I was at the Bluebonnet Festival [a series of annual festivals held every spring in Texas], I'm talking to a wide range of people. You know, these are people who were there to enjoy the festival over the weekend. It's a wider diversity of people. And almost universally, they are congratulating me and thanking me for running for office. They are enthusiastic that I am not a Democrat or a Republican.
The biggest problem that I faced was cynicism. You know, they are so disgusted with politicians in general that even though they liked my answers, they want smaller government, their first question was, "What makes me think that you're not going to get corrupt after you get to Washington?" That's not an answer I can give them. I know that I have a level of honesty and integrity. I was a Boy Scout for 12 years, a Scout Master for ten years, and it is not in my personality. It's not possible for me to be corrupted. I wouldn't have worked this hard on the Presidential campaign or in my current campaign if I was in this for money. I'm in this for liberty. And I'm doing this as a matter of principle. There's nothing that I can give a person to prove in advance that I won't become corrupted. The only way that I can prove that is to get elected and to continue to vote in favor of the Constitution and just demonstrate by example over a number of years.
LL: Is your Congressional campaign based on a strictly Libertarian platform? Or have you made some modifications?
MB: We've modified a little bit. This has caused some consternation among Libertarians. One of the major problems with Libertarians is that you put six Libertarians into a room, and you'll come out with seven different opinion [laughs].
Some Libertarians are "big tent" Libertarians. They think that, well, we have to modify our message — we can't be as strident because we scare people away and no one will vote for us. And the other half of the party is so worried that we are going to violate our principles and allow ourselves to run this slippery slope and become just as jaded and corrupt as the Democrats and Republicans. Both factions have valid concerns. What we are doing is trying to straddle that fence.
What we want to do is make our campaign appealing to individuals, to people who have not yet joined the Libertarian Party. We need their votes. We need to win the election so we can demonstrate what a Libertarian government looks like. So we do things like not emphasize the fact that I'm a Libertarian. We don't deny it. If someone asks me what political party I'm with, I tell them proudly that I'm a Libertarian. But we don't start with that because there's been so much disinformation about the Libertarian Party that most of what people think they know about us is a lie.
If you listen to the average person on the street, Libertarians want to eliminate government completely. We want to have our children smoking dope on the playground. We would be perfectly happy having prostitutes roam the streets, and having shootouts on every corner with all of these gun fanatics. But none of those are accurate representations.
If we mention that I am a Libertarian in the first sentence, that is what people think they know about me and they won't give me the opportunity to finish my answer. So what I do is I give them the Libertarian message without all of the barbs and quills at the beginning. And when people go, "Wow! This is really great! That's exactly what I want to hear. What political party are you?" I say, "Well, by the way, I'm a Libertarian." Well, now they're pleasantly surprised instead of horrified.
There are Libertarians out on the various 'blogs who are upset because we are not running our campaign the way they think I should. And my response to them is, "Well, if you think you've got a better way, then you run your own campaign! Get off the couch, put your name on a piece of paper, and run for Congress! You spend 18 hours a day reading mail, making phone calls, writing fund raising letters, and you can run your campaign any way you want."
My campaign manager is Alan Hacker. He's moved from California to Texas to help me run this campaign. He's giving up his life at home — he's got a wife and a cat; all of his mail goes to California. [Yet] he's working here in Texas 18 hours a day. He's not doing that for the glory. He's doing that because he knows that I can win. He is more politically savvy than I am. He has strategies. He comes into my office about once a week with a really great idea for winning this campaign. He understands the opposition's weakness, and he knows how to position the Libertarian platform so that we're expecting about 65% of the vote.
LL: The hot button issue of the day, of course, has to do with immigration reform. Some Libertarians believe our borders should be entirely open. But there are, I believe, issues with national security and national sovereignty where illegal immigration is concerned, and I get myself in trouble with some Libertarians over that position. What's your own viewpoint on that?
MB: Most of these issues are confused based on language. You know, the people who are in charge of the debate are changing the wording around. And one of the first things that is evidence of that is the phrase "illegal immigration" which is almost like a "round square." Immigration means that you are coming to this country for the purpose of immigrating, becoming an American, learning the language, and going through a process the end result of which is becoming an American citizen. Illegal immigration means you've broken the law, you have not followed that path. And you can't follow the path and not follow the path at the same time. And so just the phrase illegal immigration is used to confuse the issue.
My position is that it is impossible and undesirable to have completely open or completely closed borders. We can't do it. We can build a wall, but people will find their way over it, under it, or around it. We have laws right now, and those certainly haven't stopped anybody. And having completely open borders — which is how people understand it when you say that phrase — is also not desirable.
On a personal level, you have a home and you have a front door with a lock on that home. You do not leave the front door open and allow anybody walking down the street to just come in and rifle through the refrigerator. And if you come downstairs in the morning and your living room or kitchen are filled with people you don't know, you don't allow them to sit there and continue eating your donuts while you try to figure out which ones are your friends! You kick everybody out, and you say, "Okay, we're going to do this the proper way. You knock on the door, and if I know you, then you're welcome to come in. And if I don't know you — you're selling encyclopedias — then I thank you very much, and send you on your way."
If we are going to have any kind of a country at all, we have to be able to identify who our citizens are. The United States is the only country in the world that I'm aware of that identifies its citizens based on ideology. If you believe in the Constitution, if you believe in the Bill of Rights and the general concept of private property, welcome! You're one of us, you're an American. And after September 11, we had commercials on TV that emphasized that point. They had all different people of different nationalities and different colors looking into the camera and saying, "I'm an American. I'm an American." And the idea was that, regardless of what we look like, we are all in this together, we are all Americans.
Well, that is true. That's true in theory. That's what we're supposed to be. So if you come to the United States with the intention of moving here, living here permanently, learning English, spending money, working hard, and becoming an American citizen, I'm all in favor of that. And there needs to be a clear, definitive path of how to do that. However, if you're just going to cross the border illegally disregarding the laws that we have in place, and you're going to march in the large cities, and demand that we turn our property over to you, that is not being an American. That is currently a non-violent invasion. And that is not something that I or Libertarians support.
This battle is going to be won when we accurately identify the language and identify who is an immigrant — someone who's coming here to join our constitutional republic — and who is an invader who's trying to bring their third world socialist government to our soil. And those are two different groups of people.
LL: The House of Representatives has passed an immigration reform measure that differs a great deal from those reform packages being considered by the Senate. Do you have any comment on any of those bills?
MB: I really don't. I am working so hard to send out fund raising letters, and to walk the District and talk with the people, that I haven't gotten to my phase of the campaign where I've had the time to study those particular issues. But it's going to be happening in the next few weeks because my campaign is going to organize debates.
We're going to invite the Democrat and the Republican to my debate. And the good news is that, by creating the debate, I'm not going to be disallowed. I am the one person who will definitely be in the debate! Now the Democrats and Republicans have two choices: they can either join me in the debate and lose, or they can refuse to attend the debate at which point we send out press releases indicating that they were afraid to debate. So again, it's a win-win situation for me. In order to do those debates any justice, I'm going to have to get away from the things that I have been doing to get the campaign started, and I'm going to have to do some serious studying. It'll be like cramming for a final! But I just am not at the point in the campaign where I've had time to do that.
LL: Once you're elected, you're going to be just one voice among many. How do you intend to make yourself heard?
MB: Well, one of the things that my election will do is it's going to double the number of people in Congress who support the Constitution. Ron Paul is in Congress as a Republican, and he is the hero of everyone who loves liberty. However, he doesn't get as much attention from the media because he is a Republican. You have to understand that I am going to be the first declared Libertarian in Congress, and that is going to upset the Republican and Democratic apple cart. I am going to be my own little sub-group.
One of the things that Fox News attempted to do a year or two ago was to have some big exposé by trying to "out" Congresspeople as Libertarians. The big scandal was, well, they may be Democrats or Republicans, but they really vote like Libertarians. Well, the interesting thing was that the exposé was a fizzle. Nobody really cared. And they identified fourteen members of Congress who they claim are really Libertarians. Well, if that's true, they're probably avoiding changing parties because they feel it's political suicide. But once I get elected, there's less threat of them being outed, and they may very likely declare themselves as Libertarian. So by winning my election, we could easily have 15 or 16 declared Libertarians in Congress — which changes the whole ball game!
Whether that happens or not, as a sitting member of Congress, it is pretty much guaranteed that I will endorse whoever we nominate for President and Vice President in 2008. Now, during my presidential campaign, the media all but ignored me. They didn't allow me into the Presidential Debates. But with candidates who are endorsed by a sitting member of Congress...
When I can call a press conference, and ABC, NBC, CBS are going to have to be there. I can't imagine having the presidential debates without the Libertarian candidate being able to participate. And when our presidential candidate participates in the debate, do you think the tone of the debate is going to change? Do you think they'll actually discuss issues? Is there any conceivable possibility that our Libertarian candidate would lose that debate? And I answer no! And so by winning my election, we are two years away from changing the course of American politics. Because when we have a Libertarian candidate in the Presidential Debates, all 300 million Americans will realize, oh, my God! There's a better choice!
LL: You mentioned Congressman Ron Paul earlier. He's known among his colleagues as "Dr. No" because he runs all proposed legislation past the Constitution. If it's not authorized in the Constitution, he votes "no." What would you like your congressional colleagues to call you?
MB: Well, I have joked that I'd like to be called "Dr. Hell, No!" because, if you like Ron Paul, you're going to love me. I'm a Ron Paul with attitude [laughter]. However, on a more serious note, I'll point out that James Madison is referred to as the father of the Constitution. He sat at the foot of George Washington's dais during the constitutional debates and recorded it all. Most of what we know about the convention is from James Madison's notes. So he is the father of the Constitution. Well, James Madison has passed away, and the Constitution has been abandoned — orphaned. I have taken it upon myself to adopt the Constitution as if it were my very own, as if I had taken the time to write it, and usher it through the ratification debates. And so on my tombstone, I would be honored and flattered if I were referred to as the stepfather of the Constitution.
LL: Many of us live outside of your District and can't vote for you. How would your election affect us?
MB: As a member of Congress, when I vote against the war, and vote against tax increases, I am voting in favor of everybody's individual rights. Even though you can't vote for me, I can vote for you.
The only way that I can do that is if I get elected. It's pretty much common knowledge that Ron Paul gets contributions from all 50 states. Why would people contribute money to a Republican from Texas, unless, of course, it's because they believe in liberty? Well, that same logic applies to my campaign — and even to a greater extent, because I will be elected as a Libertarian. I will have a much greater seismological effect on Congress. I mean, there's going to be a shock wave through Washington when I get elected!
So any monetary contributions that people can give me — and I already have contributions from all 50 states — that is investing in your future. You are putting a down payment on the restoration of freedom. We've already raised very nearly a quarter of a million dollars, and we have the intention of raising one or two million dollars before this election is over.
Imagine going to a horse race and seeing the horses in the back stretch having one horse well in the lead, and you were still able to place a bet on the race. Wouldn't you bet on the one that you thought was going to win? Well, this is a horse race where I'm paying 50 to 1 odds, and anybody who doesn't bet on my campaign is really missing an opportunity for an incredible dividend.
As he was during his presidential campaign, Michael Badnarik is a very busy man with this new campaign. Once again, he's devoting virtually every waking moment to his candidacy believing that he can make a real difference in the effort to restore liberty in this country. I think he's right.
I endorsed Mr. Badnarik for President in 2004 not because because I was disgruntled with the status quo (though I was), but because his was a platform with which I could agree, and because he obviously values freedom as much as I do. Though I don't live in his District, I'm certainly supporting his candidacy for Congress for all the same reasons. Those of you who'd like to know more about the campaign and to offer support should visit the Michael Badnarik for Congress web site at http://www.badnarik.org.
My thanks go to Michael Badnarik and to Jon Airheart for scheduling the time in their jam-packed schedule for this interview, and my gratitude extends to them and the entire Badnarik campaign staff for all of their work in the cause of liberty.
Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, 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