Libertarian Presidential Candidates Clash in NC-Based Debate

RALEIGH (March 8) – Six of the leading contenders for the Libertarian Party’s nomination for President participated in an online debate sponsored by the Libertarian Party of North Carolina (LPNC) and hosted by UNC-TV last night. Gary Johnson, Austin Petersen, Steve Kerbel, Darryl Perry, Jack Robinson, and John Mcafee each took turns outlining their respective proposals and, occasionally, mixing it up over their differences in response to a series of policy questions posed by moderator Barry Smith of the Carolina Journal.

Former New Mexico governor and serial entrepreneur Johnson, the Libertarian nominee in 2012 who is seeking a second opportunity and finished first in a qualifying poll conducted by the LPNC, took the high road, never mentioning his debate opponents by name or criticizing their programs. He called for a 20% cut in the Federal budget to bring it into immediate balance, an end to military interventions overseas “which are making things worse, not better,” and an end to what he called “an erosion of civil liberties” in the US.

Petersen, a veteran political organizer who runs his own consulting and media production company and hails from Missouri, demonstrated well-polished communications skills in outlining his proposals to balance the budget over five years by cutting 1% each year, end the war on drugs, a free-market monetary system, and stressed his appeal to younger voters.

Kerbel, an experienced Colorado businessman who also runs his own consulting company, focused on the need to “immediately reduce the size, scope, and cost of government,” calling for an end to the income tax, the “insane drug war,” and military interventions abroad. “In my view, everyone in some way, shape, or form is a libertarian,” he stated. “It’s our job to explain that to them; make them see it.”

New Hampshire-based publisher Perry staked out the “libertarian wing of the Libertarian Party.” Asserting that “all taxation is theft,” he called for voluntary funding of government, total elimination of restrictions on immigration, and an immediate 50%-to-90% cut in military spending.

Robinson, a South Carolina businessman, split his time between talking up his “trickle-up economics” plan, which would make every American “wealthy, healthy, and free without big government or high taxes,” and running down his fellow candidates.

Security software entrepreneur Mcafee, a last-minute addition to the lineup, wandered the furthest afield from libertarian talking points, occasionally weaving his observations about particular social and economic trends into theories about how political change is effected and criticizing the party platform for being silent on cyber security, which he considers “the greatest threat facing America today.” However, he agreed with Kerbel that “all Americans are libertarians,” adding “I know of no one who does not believe in personal freedom and personal privacy…I know of no one who believes it’s ok to hurt someone, or take their stuff.”

For the most part, the atmosphere was collegial, with wide agreement on several issues such as supporting Apple in their iPhone backdoor fight with the Justice Dept., the need to privatize entitlement programs (though they did not all agree on how to accomplish that), and on keeping government out of attempting to address broad social problems such as the effects of automation on reducing jobs available for humans.

The notable exception to the harmonious atmosphere was Robinson, who in his opening statement characterized his opponents as “a drug kingpin, a businessman under investigation for securities fraud, a hobo anarchist, another who wants public hangings in front of children to induce fear and compliance…and a cowardly liar.” The debate rules allowed for 30-second responses for candidates who were attacked either personally or for their positions, but aside from responses to Robinson’s verbal assaults that option was only used once all night.

That occurred when Petersen suggested that Johnson’s position as the head of a marijuana production company and Mcafee’s decades-old felony drug conviction could be liabilities in the general election. Johnson responded by suggesting that the work his company is doing in producing medicinal marijuana would “make the world a better place.” Mcafee’s response elicited the biggest laugh of the evening: “I like you Austin, very much. I would recommend that since you have very little experience with it, that you spend an afternoon with me dropping two hits of acid. It will change your life. I do not recommend drugs for anyone. But I’d be happy to do that for you, sir. I’m not going to take it with you; I don’t take it anymore. But I’ll make sure you don’t try to fly off of a building, OK?”

The event was conducted via Google Hangout on Air, the first time the Libertarian Party has staged a presidential debate with candidates participating virtually from remote locations, as opposed to all being on the same stage at the same time…and inexperience with the technology was evident at times. Kelly McCullen, Director of UNC-NC “The North Carolina Channel,” who provided a studio to host the event commented, “[T]he content was good but TV viewers will be less forgiving than die-hard web stream viewers who sought out the debate.” UNC-TV plans to air a “cleaner edited final-video” of the event—with closed-captioning added—on The North Carolina Channel on Thursday night at 8pm. It will be carried on Time-Warner Cable 1276 and broadcast over-the-air across the state. In the Raleigh-Durham area you can view it on channels 4.4 or 26.4. Check here to find other stations.

Brad Hessel, IT manager of the LPNC and director of the webcast was philosophical. “Hey, it was a Google Hangout—it’s just not going to approach broadcast TV quality video given current bandwidth limitations. But it’s important that libertarians learn to use social media tools such as these because they have the potential to level the playing field in terms of getting our message out when competing against establishment party candidates. As with any learning process, there are bumps along the way. Smart organizations will sort through the criticisms for good advice and potential volunteers who can help the next event go more smoothly.”

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