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Libertarian presidential candidates get airtime for debate

Libertarian Party presidential candidates got some rare national airtime on the Fox Business Network Friday night, as John Stossel hosted what he called the "first-ever" televised debate between contenders for the Party's nomination. 

The hour-long debate, taped in advance of broadcast, featured the Party's 2012 nominee, Gary Johnson, as well as tech executive John McAfee and nonprofit consultant Austin Petersen.

Like the major party debates, each candidate was given an opening statement and was allowed one minute to answer questions. Stossel said his aim in staging the debate was both to offer viewers alternative to the offerings of the Democrats and Republicans and to inject Libertarian ideas into the national political debate.

Johnson kicked off the event, saying he had a “great family” and that he "was in love” before launching into his business and political experience as the former Republican governor of New Mexico.

McAfee asked, “what is liberty?” and responded that it is lost when government “restricts personal liberties and personal freedoms," highlighting the war on drugs. “Liberty cannot be restricted through laws," McAfee said. "It can only be unjustly punished as it is expressed.”

Petersen said “freedom should be as expansive as possible” and government should protect our liberty. Petersen positioned himself as the “anti-establishment candidate in this anti-establishment party.” He said he wants to “take over government so he can leave everybody alone.”

The discussion ranged across a number of standard debate issues including terrorism and the size of government. But the answers to some of those issues may have caught non-Libertarian viewers by surprise.

On terrorism, Johnson said “military interventions have made everything worse." He also warned of a  “capriciousness of executive” — referring to the most recent Oval Office occupants, who waged a global war on terrorism with little to no congressional involvement.

When asked about the specific threat posed by ISIS, McAfee called it "a problem of intelligence-gathering as much as anything else."

"We should know, well, in advance, of any terrorist attack in the world," McAfee said. 

Johnson argued that there needed to be a formal congressional declaration of war before committing U.S. forces to fight ISIS, but preferred to "cut off their funding" as a first step. 

McAfee said owing to a number of high-profile breaches in both private and government data systems, the United States was already engaged in a war with China.

“We are at war with China”, McAfee said. "But we are simply not paying attention to it."

Regarding what the candidates would do to reduce the size and cost of government, Petersen promised an across-the-board, 20-percent spending cut for all federal departments, and would push for the adoption of a balanced-budget amendment.

Johnson said he would eliminate the Department of Commerce because it promotes “crony capitalism." He would also shutter the Department of Education, asking "what has been value added since [President Jimmy] Carter created it?"

Stossel dug into the candidate's backgrounds, looking for reasons voters should not support them. 

Stossel hit Johnson first, suggesting the former governor was "too low-key" to generate enthusiasm on the campaign trail. He also noted Johnson, the former CEO of Cannibas Sativa, a manufacturer and distributor of marijuana-based products, has been a frequent user of the drug in the past.

Johnson said this made him "one of 130 million people in that category." Johnson acknowledged being "beaten badly" in 2012, but also stated that the key to victory for any Libertarian candidate is to be included in the nationally televised general elections debates in the fall. 

Stossel said the downside for McAfee, whom he called "flaky," stemmed from charges that he was involved in illegal drug manufacturing in Belize, and that he is "technically a fugitive" from a Belize police investigation into the shooting death of Gregory Faull in 2012.

McAfee denied the drug allegations, as well as any connection to the Faull murder. McAfee stated he was detained in Guatemala because he refused to pay a "$2 million donation to the government" in order to gain his release.

Stossel closed the debate by asking who the candidates would vote for in the general election — either GOP front-runner Donald Trump or Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton — if there was no Libertarian candidate on the ballot. 

“You’re asking me to choose between a case of the measles and a bladder infection," McAfee said.