While in Los Angeles for the Libertarian Party of California state convention Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Austin Petersen took the time to sit down with me for an in depth interview. And it was quite the in depth interview at that. We talked for over half an hour and as a result the Austin Petersen interview will be split into three parts. What follows is part one.
In part one of my interview with Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Austin Petersen we talked about the most important thing a candidate needs to be thinking about: how to win the election. We talked about Petersen’s plans to win over new voters especially those disgruntled Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders fans who will be shut out in the cold when Trump and Hillary get their nominations.
In part two of my interview with Austin Petersen we went into his actual plans for if he becomes President. First and foremost, we talked about his support of the Penny Plan which he thinks is a realistic proposal the American people will support. We also talked about a possible libertarian solution to foreign policy and why libertarians are perceived as weak on this issue. Austin also talked about marijuana legalization and his livestreaming plans.
J. Wilson: One of the things that Gary campaigned on in 2012 was his 43% budget cut. Now it’s a 20% cut, which is more doable, but you’re proposing something different: the Penny Plan. Can you explain the reasoning behind that?
Austin Petersen: Well it’s tactical. The idea is that if you move to cut an enormous chunk or one single entire program the special interests behind it are going to rally to stop it. But if you make everybody take a one percent haircut I think it’s politically feasible for you to do. I want to abolish the IRS and get rid of the income tax entirely. But, if I become President of the United States I’m not a dictator and I have to work with Congress. Congress may still give me a hard time and say ‘No we’re just going to continue to send you budgetary increases’. And I can veto that and they can try to go over my head but I will have the American people behind my back. I’ll go to them and say these people will not give me one penny and that wouldn’t be politically popular. They would say ‘Give him his penny!’.
JW: That’s reasonable.
AP: Exactly, give me one penny out of every Federal dollar. And then let’s cap the budget at 18% of GDP.
JW: How did you come to that number?
AP: These are the numbers that the economists crunched and that my economist team checked over. It’s what we think is a reasonable estimate. Somewhere between 15 and 20% of GDP. Right now we’re at 105%. So we need to get that down.
JW: It will take awhile to get there.
AP: Well that’s what the power of the veto is for. If Congress is sending me unnecessary legislation, unnecessary spending, then I’ll veto every single bill until they give me the cuts that I want. I’m going to make them all take a haircut. It’s just reality. I don’t owe anybody in Washington anything, in fact, there are a lot of people in Washington who owe me favors. I’ll call em in and we’ll work together towards a solution.
AP: Are you telling me we can’t work with 1% less spending than last year? Come on. I think it’s totally feasible.
JW: And then after you balance the budget, what would your plan be for getting rid of the remaining $20 trillion of debt?
AP: Once we close the deficit we can finally start paying down the principle. It’s going to take five years for the budget to come into balance [under the Penny Plan]. It would have to be in my second term, which hopefully I would earn, but then we would be able to start paying off the principle.
JW: Moving on to foreign policy, because that’s become a huge issue this election cycle…
AP: It’s the issue.
JW: And that’s normally perceived as a weakness for libertarians because of the Republican/Democrat messaging against us. So how do you make the case for a libertarian foreign policy in contrast to the Trump/Clinton strategy?
AP: Well I think as libertarians, we have marketed ourselves improperly there. We are anti-war, war is the health of the state, we want to have less war and less killing. But we also want to defend ourselves and do so according to due process. You know, there are Constitutional processes that we can follow and still maintain a strong national defense. We should never go to war without a declaration of war. But the reality is we do have to fight this new style, fourth generation, warfare. This isn’t like fighting the Nazi’s, taking down Berlin, and killing Hitler. This is fighting insurgencies and terrorist groups. It’s less institutional type of warfare. In order for us to do that, I think we need to revive the Constitutional letters of marque. This is…
JW: This is what Ron Paul proposed after 9/11 to go after Al Qaeda…
AP: Yeah, and a lot of libertarians give me hell about this because I bring it up. But if I preface it by saying this is what Ron Paul proposed then even the extreme pacifists of the libertarian movement tend to be quelled. There are some people where there is just no end to their pacifism. They want us all to go down with the ship. They don’t care if they are killed. They’re more than happy to sacrifice all of us for their dogmatic ideology of extremist pacifism. That’s fine. People without guns are protected by people with guns.
AP: I think that if Congress were to reinvigorate these letters of marque there are thousands of veterans out of work who would…
JW: Or the Turks or the Jordanians or the Egyptians might take us up on the offer perhaps?
AP: Potentially. I would probably trust American veterans first.
JW: Or maybe an organization like Blackwater [now known as Academi]?
AP: Yeah, let them go to Raqqa with their sniper rifles on the roofs. Then you’ll avoid that collateral damage that we see with the drone war we have right now. Drones are a much more surgical method of taking care of national security problems than carpet bombing like Ted Cruz is proposing. But [letters of marque] are to me, the most surgical way of doing it. And they would operate similar to how Special Forces operate but the problem with them is you bring in the government and you have some inefficiencies there. Not that they aren’t fantastic. Delta Force and Seal Team 6 are fantastic operators and I applaud them for how they took care of Bin Laden. But we need to obey Constitutional processes. These people need to operate under a declaration of war or some other process that is in line with Constitutional principles.
AP: ISIS is a threat but politicians are always going to use threats and fear to grow government. We have got to resist the call to fearmongering that we have with people talking about patrolling Muslim neighborhoods, blocking Muslim immigration, these are anti-American principles. I would never, ever, go after people here in the United States on charges of domestic terrorism without a warrant. If you want to prosecute terrorists obey the law, obey the Constitution, get a warrant. Then you can spy, but not until then.
JW: A lot of Democrats are using the foreign policy argument against Bernie Sanders right now. They say Hillary has foreign policy “experience” where he has none since she was Secretary of State for four years. Do you consider that real experience at all?
AP: Yes, I do. I may be an ideologue, but I’m not disingenuous, I’m not a liar. That is obviously credible foreign policy experience. But, if you saw what happened with Benghazi, not all experience is good experience.
JW: That’s more of my question, not that she doesn’t have experience, just that it isn’t good experience given all of the poor decisions that she’s made during her tenure.
AP: Yeah, she’s obviously made many poor decisions over the years. But, gosh, you’re going to make me say something nice about Hillary! The reality is government is inherently inept and any person being given that could make mistakes. I don’t know that Hillary is uniquely inept or it’s that the system that we have which places people in impossible situations. If government were smaller decisions like [Benghazi] would perhaps be a little less bureaucratic and that would help national security. There is too much redundancy when it comes to that.
JW: California and a dozen other states are going to have recreational marijuana legalization on the ballot in November. Do you see that as an opportunity to get people to vote Libertarian?
AP: Sure, potentially. I love my stoner friends, and I think marijuana should be totally legal, but sometimes my stoner friends can be a little forgetful and unreliable in such matters. Maybe if we can figure out some way to set a reminder or something that will help remind them that they need to vote for the Libertarian as well as the weed ballot. Again, I don’t like to talk smack on my friends but sometimes they tend to be a little forgetful.
JW: Adrian Wyllie, the Libertarian Party Gubernatorial candidate who, after he was excluded from the debates, would show up anyways and take interviews outside. Would you be interested in doing the same?
AP: Absolutely. And I’d livestream it.
On fiscal issues Austin Petersen is clearly trying to take a tack towards general election appeal. The Penny Plan is a modest proposal that could actually be implemented. But then, on foreign policy, he takes the more obscure, albeit Constitutional, position of supporting letters of marque which haven’t been used in two hundred years. While Ron Paul did propose them after 9/11 it’s not exactly the foreign policy that many average Americans will be able to understand or support. Nonetheless, Petersen does have plans to make himself a formidable candidate in November if he get’s the nomination and we’ll cover that in part three of our Austin Petersen interview.