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Dark Horse on the Third Ballot

By now, most libertarians know that the Libertarian Party chose as its presidential nominee Michael Badnarik, the darkest of dark horses, and a figure hardly known within the party and virtually unknown to non-LP libertarians. Badnarik is a self-taught constitutional scholar whose views were scarcely known to most LP members and delegates prior to the nomination.

Badnarik believes that the federal income tax has no legal authority and that people are justified in refusing to file a tax return until such time as the IRS provides them with an explanation of its authority to collect the tax. He hadn't filed income tax returns for several years. He moved from California to Texas because of Texas' more liberal gun laws, but he refused to obtain a Texas driver's license because the state requires drivers to provide their fingerprints and Social Security numbers. He has been ticketed several times for driving without a license; sometimes he has gotten off for various technical legal reasons, but on three occasions he has been convicted and paid a fine. He also refused to use postal ZIP codes, seeing them as "federal territories."

This article has been getting a lot of play in the blogosphere lately. It's long, and informative, especially for those who don't know much about Badnarik. I confess that it worried me somewhat, but after thinking it through, I don't think the problems are nearly so bad as they are portrayed here.

First, the Browne scandal (which I had heard of, but not encountered a great deal of detail on) is obviously a bad sign. It explains a lot about the party's performance in those two elections. It also explains why the nomination this time around was so heavily contested, and why anti-establishment candidates Russo and Badnarik both did so well. (For the record, I supported Russo going into the convention because I thought he could use his skills and contacts to get the word out effectively; I wasn't familiar with Nolan at all; Badnarik interested me because he comes from Austin, TX, but not enough to overcome Russo's advantages).

With respect to Badnarik himself... obviously he has opinions, often unusual ones and frankly unPresidential ones. But they are just ideas; they are not part of the party platform, and since the nomination Badnarik has backed off of the more outlandish ones. There's a difference between ideas and policy, and that's being showcased here. Of course, you don't run on ideas which are not policy -- and that's exactly why those statements are being consigned to oblivion.

Just so you know what I'm talking about, the most widely talked about idea is that of confining those in prison to bed rest for their first month or so -- the idea being to reduce their physical condition and make it easier for the guards to handle them. Obviously it's got a lot of flaws; but similarly, so does the current prison system that allows (and provides equipment for) prisoners to exercise. With little else to do with their time, prisoners can build a fairly impressive physique. That's the problem Badnarik was trying to address. So, I can't really blame him for having an odd idea on how to solve a legitimate issue when he isn't running on that idea or proposing it as policy.

The other "odd idea" that gets a lot of play is "blowing up the UN building". That's the sort of dramatic statement of position that can safely be taken as exaggeration. The UN is not well regarded within the Libertarian Party, and certainly one of the items on the agenda of a Libertarian president would be how to reduce their influence. I'm not sure I would go so far as to leave the UN entirely and demolish their headquarters building, but it's certainly an idea that's on my radar screen. Badnarik's position on this issue is a radical one by modern standards, but it is derived from sound principles with which I agree.

Another major issue with Badnarik is his dispute with the IRS. It seems that Badnarik has been a tax protestor; that is, he has refused in the past to pay income tax without the IRS specifying the laws under which he is required to do so. This is, in my opinion, a fairly risky stance to take. I think the income tax is Constitutionally valid, which means it should be paid as a matter of law, and opposition to it should take the form of political efforts to repeal the appropriate amendment. A large part of this stance is based on simple pragmatism: I'm willing to pay taxes to keep the IRS off my back.

But there is a long tradition of civil disobedience to unjust law, and the IRS's actions in this regard are extremely unjust. I can't disagree with Badnarik's decision to engage in civil disobedience on this matter; as the Libertarian candidate it would doubtless be embarassing to be arrested and convicted of tax evasion, but it might well generate publicity as well. Anyone willing to stand up to the IRS gets points for sheer spunk in my book. Properly handled, it could even be a positive thing for the party.

Finally, the driver's license thing. As a Texas resident, Texas requires a thumbprint and a social security number in order to get a driver's license. Badnarik refuses to give a thumbprint or give out his social security number, therefore he doesn't have a Texas driver's license. That's one of those positions that many Libertarians hold in their secret hearts, but don't have the guts to stand up and say "No!" to the state.

So... is Badnarik an embarassing candidate? Sure, a little bit; there are things that I would have liked to have known before the convention. But they are tactical considerations. None of the information suggests to me that Badnarik's principles are wrong, only that we have tactical differences... and that Badnarik is a man who stands up for his principles even at great personal cost. I can respect that. I think it's a quality that far too many politicians had surgically removed when it began to trouble their conscience.

How would the Democratic party react to a candidate who was arrested for participating in anti-war protests? How would the Republican party react to a candidate who was arrested for a technical violation of concealed-carry laws with a valid license? I suspect they would be a little embarassed -- but I doubt it would change many minds. Indeed, I think it would be taken as a refreshing change to have a candidate who visibly practices what he preaches. And that's how the Libertarian party should deal with the Barnarik situation: we don't need to apologize for our activists.

This entry was published 2005-09-24 10:43:35.0 by TriggerFinger and last updated 2005-09-24 10:43:35.0. [Tweet]

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