Take their simple philosophy: Whittle pesky government down to a trembling splinter. Or their simple rhetoric: Modern America is a commie state, or at least perilously socialist. And then come simplistic Libertarian worker bees, those jittery fellows drawn to the life uncluttered by complex thought.
At the moment, one such activist, Rich LaPoint, is busily erecting signs outside Old Main on the UA campus. These banners highlight the pending arrival of Michael Badnarik, a computer geek, self-appointed constitutional expert and Libertarian candidate for president. When approached by a reporter, the scruffy LaPoint spins on his ratty sneakers. "Oh, you're with the 'Weakly,'" he chuckles, by way of greeting.
As British novelist George Eliot noted, "A different taste in jokes is a great strain on the affections." But fortunately, LaPoint is given little rope to further hang himself with as Mr. Badnarik approaches on this Thursday afternoon, ensconced in a small clutter of aides. Wearing a tailored gray suit and reddish tie, Badnarik is orthodox-political in appearance, and he's pumped from just finishing an interview for KUAT Channel 6 in its campus studios.
As ultra-longshot candidates go, Badnarik is a shorter version of Ralph Nader, and he does less scolding. And, like Nader, his message isn't exactly taking the country by storm.
Little wonder. In a Libertarian nutshell: The government should halt all activities not explicitly detailed in the United States Constitution. That means that most official functions--from regulating pharmaceutical drugs and inspecting meat to funding Medicare and drafting Social Security checks--shouldn't be government functions at all. In a Libertarian's perfect world, all public lands would be turned over to privateers; endangered species would be herded onto property owned by tree-huggers; and other countries would be ignored until they beach commandos in San Diego.
Unlike Nader, Badnarik has managed to get on the ballot in 40 states, including Arizona. That's striking, considering that the Libertarian philosophy is so far-fetched. Ironically, like communists, these folks boast an almost utopian view of human nature, says Peter Augustine Lawler, who teaches government at Berry College in Mount Berry, Ga.
"What Libertarian ideology promises today is strangely close to what Marx promised would come with communism--freedom from alienation and oppression," Lawler writes in the conservative journal, Society. It's a life "constrained by nothing but personal choice, the withering away of religion, and the withering away of the state."
Still, in today's withering heat, Michael Badnarik has found cause to chat up various state apparatchiks, including the director of a Nogales port-of-entry. And he just dished out his views in the government-owned KUAT studios. But nearby, the comforting wolves of free enterprise await: Channel 13's LiveLink van is idling in the shadows of a UA palm.
In the midst of this media flurry, Badnarik takes precious free moments to speak to the Tucson Weekly. Following are a few highlights.
· Border issues: There are two sides to immigration, he says. "You've got people who are coming to the United States to work hard and eke out a living and raise their standard of living. And the Arizona economy depends upon people being here doing jobs at minimum wage. As Libertarians, we are happy to let people come here to work and spend money," he says. " ... The problem is today, we have this socialist welfare system where we're offering people free health care, free education and free housing. And American taxpayers are having to foot the bill.
"We do not discriminate against any particular culture--we want to eliminate welfare for everybody. Welfare is a socialist concept. A lot of illegal immigrants are somehow eligible for a lot of this free health care. They come here, and their cost of living is dramatically reduced, because they are getting all of these free government services.
"Right now, there's a ballot proposition (Prop. 200) that's trying to split the issue--that we're not going to give all this health care to illegal immigrants. But the correct answer is to eliminate (government funded) health care for everybody. That way you're not discriminating, and you're not requiring people to have all these government issued IDs."
· Medicare: He'd sack it. "I would say it was imprudent of (old people) to give the responsibility of their health care to the government, because the government never does anything well."
· Health care: "The reason it's so expensive is because the FDA has a 10-year testing process for drugs that costs a billion dollars per drug, and that cost is passed onto the consumer."
The alternative? Let the market decide, Badnarik says, since drugs that prove deadly probably won't be wildly popular. "That sounds somewhat heartless, but we have the FDA right now, which only provides a false sense of security. We have people who die right now because the FDA refuses to release drugs that could have saved their lives. Even when the FDA approves a drug, that doesn't mean it's safe."
· The environment: Property rights trump all. In turn, Badnarik would place public lands--forests and the like--in private hands. "It's my assumption that property owners can better care for the land than the government." he says.
· Endangered species on private property: "Who has more rights?" he asks. "Humans or endangered wolves? Given a choice, human survival should take priority. You can't have it both ways. And my individual rights are not negotiable. Say you want to protect a salamander that's on my land. Well, get your own piece of land, and put the salamander there."
And so it goes ...
As Badnarik heads towards LiveLink 13's waiting lens, various Libertarian aides meander about. His top assistant, Jon Airheart (a dapper chap with a tiny, delicate beard and dark shades), is gazing off toward Old Main's venerable fountain.
Given that Libertarians despise all things government, does Airheart see any hypocrisy in holding press conferences on a state university campus?
He glances at the clouds overhead. "Well, there are a lot of votes here," he says, as Rich LaPoint bounces up to the microphone.
"Ladies and gentlemen ..." LaPoint rattles, in a voice that echoes against the welfare state's simple, brick walls.