College Libertarians Host Pre-Election Debate

by Julie Ershadi - Bryn Mawr College on November 2, 2012

A rising libertarian group on college campuses around the country wrapped up its pre-election debate series at American University in Washington, D.C. on the evening of Nov. 1.

Sarah Harvard, president of the Young Americans for Liberty chapter at American University (AU), said, “The whole main idea of this event is a lot of American students are not satisfied with the presidential debates. A lot of questions were left unanswered, or they were dodged, or they weren’t even asked.”

According to the organization’s website, Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) is the largest and fastest growing pro-liberty organization on college campuses in the United States. The Nov. 1 debate at AU was filmed by C-SPAN and hosted in an auditorium in the campus’s Kreeger Building.

“I’ve always had this passion for people-formed policy, economic issues, and civil liberties and I feel like libertarians pull a lot of weight to that,” she said.

“I was actually a borderline socialist before being a libertarian,” she said.

Harvard is a 2nd year transfer student at AU and a contributor to the 6-month-old online magazine Define: Liberty. Her tipping point into the liberty movement took place when President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA).

Jack Hunter, a columnist at The American Conservative and the moderator for YAL’s campus debate at AU, began the debate with a question about that same act of Congress. He asked Bill Scher, the liberal representative on the debate panel and author of Wait! Don’t Move To Canada!: A Stay-and-Fight Strategy to Win Back America, how he justified the NDAA’s provisions for the indefinite detention of Americans suspected of terrorism.

“I don’t accept the premise of the question,” Scher said.

“There isn’t really a singular liberal foreign policy vision, nor is there a conservative one,” he said.

Scher said that Obama ended the systematic use of torture that existed under former President George W. Bush, but he did not outright answer Hunter’s question about the NDAA.

The debate lacked a discussion of gun laws or a dissenting voice on the war in Iraq, which all three panelists agreed was a mistake. The panelists still covered a wide range of issues largely or entirely left out of the presidential debates, including the war on drugs, the drone campaign, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other public works as compared to private enterprise.

Coming via a delayed public transit system, conservative and Editor at The Daily Caller News Foundation Jim Antle arrived 1 hour and 11 minutes late to the debate and said, “Well, I think my experience getting here has kind of altered the composition of the panel. I’ve become now a radical anarchist as a result of this process.”

Members of the audience laughed.

“I’m now in favor of privatizing all streets in addition to all forms of public transportation. I don’t see how it could be a more disorderly process than what now exists,” he said.

By way of summary, Tim Cavanaugh of Reason magazine and Suck.com fame said, “After 8 years of Bush and 4 years of Obama, I’m not really sure what conservatives or liberals stand for.”

(Click here to watch a video of the entire debate at C-SPAN.org.)

Julie Ershadi is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College.

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