JULY 10, 1996
This past weekend, the Libertarian Party nominated author and financial advisor Harry Browne to run as its presidential candidate. Browne argues that power should be given back to the individual. Under his presidency, Browne would limit the government "to provide for the national defense, the federal judiciary, and who knows, maybe a few White House tours."
The NewsHour's election coverage.
June 10, 1996: Richard Lamm talks about the need for a third party with Jim Lehrer.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Harry Browne won the nomination this weekend at the Libertarian National Convention here in Washington. Here are his particulars:
- He is an investment adviser.
- 63 years old.
- He was born in New York City, and raised in Los Angeles.
- He's a high school graduate.
- Attended college for only two weeks.
- He has written nine books and edits a financial newsletter.
- He lives in Tennessee.
- He has never held public office.
Mr. Browne, welcome. Why do you want to be President?
HARRY BROWNE, Libertarian Presidential Candidate: Because I realized two years ago that if I didn't do something, all I had to look forward for the remaining years of my life, twenty, thirty years, whatever it may be, is government getting bigger and bigger and bigger every year. I knew no Republican or Democrat was going to do anything to turn it around, and that if I didn't do something, it would never happen.
Unfortunately, people everywhere in this county recognize today that government doesn't work. It doesn't deliver the mail on time, doesn't educate our children properly, doesn't keep the cities safe. It's just a giant game of "Let's Pretend:" let's pretend the war on poverty really reduces poverty. Let's pretend the war on drugs really does something about drugs. Somebody's got to stand up and tell the truth.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But you've never held political office. What makes you think you're qualified to hold the highest political office in the country?
MR. BROWNE: Because I am the only one running for President who has the will and determination to turn this thing around once and for all and not cave in to Congress, to not compromise, but to go to Washington, repeal the income tax so that every penny you make is yours to spend, to save, to give away as you see fit.
To save Social Security by getting it out of the hands of government, so that our parents and grandparents will be safe, and the rest of us will be free forever from this oppressive 15 percent payroll tax that almost everybody knows is just money down a rat hole.
To do something positive about crime, not by posturing on it like Clinton and Dole are, but by ending the war on drugs which has created crime and drug use in this country.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. You've given me a lot of things to work with here, and I want to get to some of those in detail in a minute, but--let me just ask you this first, though, what--how do you assess your chances of winning?
MR. BROWNE: Well, when I made the decision, I would not have made it if I didn't think there was a chance to win, but I knew it was very long shot. I figured a hundred to one. Then the Democrats and Republicans went to work to try to help me. First, President Clinton decided to run for reelection. I figured the odds dropped to fifty to one.
Then Bob Dole started winning primaries, and I thought the odds dropped to thirty to one. The others dropped out--I thought maybe twenty to one. Now the only question left is who Bob Dole's going to select as his running mate, and the way he's running his campaign now, I figure he's probably going to select Teddy Kennedy and drop the odds to even money on me.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What makes you think that?
MR. BROWNE: (laughing) I don't know. He's made every other mistake possible. I can't imagine that he's going to make a good choice there too. I'm being frivolous, of course. You'll have to excuse me.
But the point is that even I do not win this year, if I get 15 to 20 percent of the vote, it will mean that Democrats and Republicans will have someplace else to go, so that the politicians can no longer come before us at election time and say, gee, I feel your pain, I know taxes are too high, I know government is ruining your life, I know regulation is ruining your business and your job, but just trust me, trust me, and then go back to Washington and do the same old games they've always played before.
Now they'll know that people will have someplace else to go, someone else to vote for, and as a result, I think if I get 15 or 20 percent of the vote, we'll probably lay the groundwork to elect Libertarians to Congress in '98, and a Libertarian President in the year 2000.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So winning isn't everything?
MR. BROWNE: No, it's not everything, but I have--I have certainly not thrown away the possibility of winning this year. If I get into the Presidential debates, I think all bets are off, because if we finally have someone confronting Bill Clinton on why they are even continuing to tax our income and throw half the money in the Atlantic Ocean and dole the rest of us back to--dole the rest of it back to us as though we were children on an allowance.
And confront Bob Dole on keeping Social Security in the hands of the government when it's made such a mess of it, confront both of them on the idea of continuing this insane war on drugs that's killing little children and creating muggers on the street and pushers on high school campuses, then we are going to change the face of politics in this country forever. We'll be arguing about how far and how fast we reduce government, instead of what new government programs are necessary.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But Gov. Lamm and Ross Perot would say there is an alternative, the Reform Party. So what's the big difference?
MR. BROWNE: Well, the difference is that Governor Lamm, like Ross Perot, thinks that he can manage government better, and that is not the answer. The answer is not to reform government. It is not to find somebody who knows better how to manage big government. The answer is to reduce it to the absolute minimum possible, to make it live by the Constitution.
And what I'm asking the American people is simply this: Would you give up your favorite federal programs if it meant you never had to pay income tax again? And all the pundits keep saying, well, people say they want smaller government, but they won't give up the so-called services government provides.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Which is what the taxes pay for. Theoretically.
MR. BROWNE: Right, but I'm--I'm asking them, would you give up your favorite program, whether that's a farm subsidy, a student loan, (smiles) Corporation for Public Broadcasting, whatever it may be, would you give it up if it meant you could escape the income tax forever, so that you knew your children could live their entire lives without having any of their income tax, so that every penny they make is theirs to spend, to save, to give away as they see fit? This is the question I'm putting to the American people.
And you know what the most popular answer I get is: What favorite federal program? I don't have any favorite federal program. And, of course, most other people say, of course, I would give it up, and there are a few people who think they're under-taxed, who think that we ought to be taxed more. But--and I'm perfectly willing to let those people pay for their programs, but I want the same freedom of choice for myself, to be able to choose what my money is spent on, the money that I earn, and I think that's what the majority of the American people want.
But more important, let's put it to a vote. Let's find out what the American people want. Don't offer them dinky little tax cuts like the Republicans do. Don't offer to slow the rate of growth of government and then wonder why people don't come rallying to your help. Instead, let's put it to them. Will you give up your favorite federal programs if it means you could be free of the income tax forever?
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Is that the main difference you see in, in what you're proposing and what you stand for and the other two, three candidates now?
MR. BROWNE: Well, the other three candidates all believe that government can be made to work, and I--if it comes down to a four-way race, they're going to split up the votes of all the people who think government still works and that they can make it work even better. I am going to get all the votes of the people who recognize that this "Let's Pretend" game has to come to an end.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But what, what would government do in a Browne administration? I mean, what would be the purpose of the federal government?
MR. BROWNE: It would do exactly what the Constitution says, and that is to provide for the national defense, the federal judiciary, and who knows, maybe a few White House tours, but we would limit the government to the Constitution just the way the 9th and 10th amendments say, and we would see to it that government never overruled free speech, even if it thought it had a compelling interest to do so.
We would see to it that government would not take away our right to keep and bear arms, even if some lunatic shot up a restaurant in Texas. We would see it to it that government would not invade our privacy by searching and seizing us without warrant and without probable cause even if somebody fits the description of a drug dealer. We have to stop this business of the government being able to do whatever it wants just because it can prove that it has a compelling interest to some judge some place.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Now, I'm assuming that what you've just laid out complies with the philosophy of the Libertarian Party. Can you just, to clarify it for us, if that's true, and what exactly is a Libertarian?
MR. BROWNE: A Libertarian, anybody might come up with his own definition, but mine is that a Libertarian is someone who believes in individual liberty, personal responsibility, and freedom from government on all issues at all times. We don't say, gee, government's too big over here, we need to cut it down, we need to reduce taxes, but then over here say, oh, we need more government here; we need a law to make people obey what we want to do over there. We believe in individual liberty and personal responsibility and freedom from government on all issues at all times.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Does that include the hot social issues like abortion--
MR. BROWNE: Yes, it does.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: --and affirmative action?
MR. BROWNE: There's nothing in the federal Constitution that permits the government to be involved with any of these issues: marriage, abortion, family values, any of these things. Government can't help any of those areas. It can only get in the way. It can only create problems. And if President Clinton and Robert Dole really want to do something about family values, I issue this challenge to them: Repeal the income tax and let families have the resources to take care of their own values, not your values.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Browne, between 1964 and 1994, you didn't vote. How should the American people who did vote, and whom you now want to judge you, judge that?
MR. BROWNE: Well, I didn't vote because I couldn't see any difference between Bush and Dukakis, Bush and Clinton, Reagan and Mondale, Reagan and Carter, and in all cases, the government got bigger and bigger and bigger. I didn't even vote between Goldwater and Johnson because I knew that whoever won, the war on Vietnam was going to enlarge and the government was going to get bigger and bigger. And I guess I can say it turned out correctly, although we don't know how it would have been if the other person had gotten elected.
Over that period of time, I became, as so many Americans have, very cynical and disenchanted about the possibilities for political action, but since things have changed so much in the last 20 years, out in America, even though not in Washington, uh, I now think that it is possible to turn this around.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Mr. Browne, thank you.
MR. BROWNE: Thank you.
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