II. Barr the “libertarian”
Fortunately, there is an objective way to measure how libertarian or “anti-libertarian” Barr's record in Congress actually was. The Republican Liberty Caucus has been publishing its annual Liberty Index since 1991. For Congress, the Liberty Index selects 40 key votes each year, half on economic freedoms and half on personal liberties, using those votes to rank Congressmen on a Nolan Chart (like the one at the top of this article). A rating of 100 would place a Congressman at the top of the chart — a “pure” libertarian — while a rating of 0 would place him or her at the very bottom: an unregenerate statist.
The Liberty Index gives Bob Barr a lifetime rating of 68 on personal liberties, and 85 on economic liberties, for a cumulative total of 76.4, placing him well within the Libertarian quadrant.
But the Index tells us more than that. It also tells us that in 1995 (Barr's first year in office) his personal liberties rating was only 56 (while his economic was 84), for a total of 70; close, but not yet a libertarian. By 2001 (his last full year in office) his personal liberties rating had climbed to 65, and his economic liberties rating to 90, for a total of 77.5.
That shows a very different picture from the one the Barr-bashers are currently painting. It shows, first, a Congressman whose voting record was, on the whole, libertarian; and, second, one whose voting record was becoming more libertarian the longer he served.
The clear indication is that Barr had already evolved into a libertarian while in Congress. Undoubtedly that helps explain his 2002 defeat. But it also provides an explanation for his subsequent actions, including his joining the Libertarian Party in 2006: One does not have to attribute those later acts to flip-flopping or deception (as some of the Barr-bashers are doing), but rather to a continuing evolution that had already begun even before his defeat.
In a 2002 article for Liberty magazine, J. Bradley Jansen (at the time 1st vice-chair of the Washington, DC, Libertarian Party) gives an example of that evolution:
When the Federal Reserve System tried to promulgate its infamous “Know Your Customer” regulations, Barr was initially sympathetic to the idea, based on the very limited information he had, which had come mostly from other former prosecutors. But Bob Barr did his homework, and came to realize that the measure destroyed personal privacy and forced banks to spy on their customers for the government. The public campaign against the regulation would not have succeeded without Barr. In this effort, Barr and Paul were joined by the Libertarian Party, whose DefendYourPrivacy. org website enabled people to sign an online petition that was responsible for more than half of the negative comments the Fed received. He even pushed for an amendment that would have also rolled back many existing reporting requirements that undermine individual financial privacy.
Jansen, who got to know Barr during the 4 years he worked for Congressman Ron Paul, wrote his Liberty article to protest the Libertarian Party's 'targeting' of Barr by running negative ads against him in the 2002 primary. (Those ads may have contributed to Barr's defeat, though (1) his willingness to oppose the Bush administration on civil liberties questions, and (2) the gerrymandering that forced him to run against another incumbent Republican, no doubt played more important roles.)
Jansen gives many other examples of Barr's libertarian record as a Congressman. I would like to reproduce those here, as they are the part of the Barr record that no one else is bothering to mention today:
- “In the 107th Congress when Ron Paul stood up for our sovereignty against the United Nations (Roll Call votes 245 and 246), it was Bob Barr who supported him … just as Barr supported Paul in cutting corporate welfare by limiting funding for the Export-Import Bank.”
- “Barr is a co-sponsor of H. Res. 197, 'Stop U.N. Gun Ban.'”
- “Barr supports H.R. 2615 'Stop National Medical ID and the Patient Privacy Protection Act.'”
- “Barr is a leading defender of civil liberties. He introduced legislation that forces the National Security Agency's Project ECHELON to provide a full accounting to the Congress of their covert monitoring of millions of phone calls, faxes, and emails.”
- “He led the fight against National ID Card proposals and introduced legislation in 1998 to check the federal government's abuse of wire-tapping laws — including the use of roving wiretaps — and also opposed governmental interception of cellular phone calls.”
- “He introduced legislation to mandate that the federal government issue 'Privacy Impact Statements' every time it issues a new rule or regulation.”
- “He was a chief sponsor of a law to limit abuses of the civil asset forfeiture statutes.”
- “He fought against OSHA regulations and to limit small business vulnerability to frivolous labor litigation.”
- “He is a board member of the National Rifle Association, and a staunch defender of the right of Americans to own and use firearms. He has introduced and sponsored legislation to block litigation against gun manufacturers for the acts of their customers and to limit any background checks and mandate they be conducted 'instantly.'”
- “Barr has succinctly advocated the principle that while criminals must be punished to the full extent of the law, their civil liberties must be protected with even more vigor.”
- “He is a staunch defender of American sovereignty and opposes the executive branch's overzealous use of our military abroad he even filed suit against President Clinton's war in Kosovo without congressional approval.”
- “He is a fierce critic of the United Nations — and to a lesser degree NATO — and has consistently supported efforts to withdraw U.S. membership from the United Nations.”
- “He co-sponsored a committee amendment to withdraw the U.S. from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.”
- “Since his first day in Congress back in 1995, Barr has tirelessly fought to eliminate the Internal Revenue Code, supported the “flat tax” proposal, and consistently supported passage of a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds supermajority of Congress to raise taxes.”
- “He was an early supporter of lowering the capital gains tax and recently he introduced legislation to provide tax credits for educators: public, private, and homeschool!”
- “More than any other member of the Georgia delegation, Congressman Barr has parted with the Republican majority to vote against bloated “pork barrel” spending.”
- “He has continually fought the unconstitutional [McCain/Feingold] 'campaign finance reforms.' Defending our fundamental rights, he has filed a lawsuit to prevent implementation of the recently passed legislation.”
And that's the rest of the story. It certainly paints a different picture from that of the racist, antilibertarian bigot that Barr's political opponents have been pushing. Rather, it shows a Congressman whose first-hand experience of government turned him into a libertarian — not a radical or “pure” libertarian, to be sure, but certainly a constitutionalist in the model of Ron Paul.
It also shows the existence, as far back as 2002, of some people in the Libertarian Party who have been willing to overlook that record for the sake of “getting” Bob Barr, just as there are some willing to do so in that party today.
In conclusion, then: Is Barr a libertarian or an “antilibertarian”? I suspect that my own conclusion is obvious. However, I expect the Libertarian delegates in Denver to each decide for him or herself. All that I would ask is that they be aware of all of the facts before deciding.
The Liberty Index, Republican Liberty Caucus (accessed May 21, 2008)
J. Bradley Jansen, “Targeting Bob Barr,” Liberty, 16:8 (August, 2002).