Bob Barr’s Real Record (I)

I. Barr the “anti-libertarian”

When Bob Barr announced his candidacy for the Libertarian presidential nomination on May 12, I wondered how long it would take for the “A” word to come out. By my best reckoning, it took exactly one week.

The first mention of it I read was from it was Susan Hogarth of the Radical Caucus (and in the running for a National Committee slot at the convention), who on May 19 released an Open Letter criticizing Barr's “antilibertarian congressional record and disinclination to fully repudiate it”. Since then, many other voices have joined in to form a mighty crescendo; the libertarian portion of the web has been dominated with talk of Barr's “antilibertarian” record.

There is some substance to the charge, but far less than appears on the surface. Unfortunately, what is on the surface has been largely accepted uncritically; I fear that even Barr boosters now accept the line that Barr's entire record in Congress was one of attacking and suppressing liberty.

This article, and its companion, is a small attempt to set the record straight. Due to time constraints (the Denver convention starts tomorrow) it is written in a hurry; much of it could benefit from a few days' revision and better documentation. Rest assured, though, that I have researched the subject, and will be happy to pursue the subject at length at leisure if there is interest.

So, on to the first part: to examine the evidence for Barr's “anti-libertarianism” and seek clarity on what the radicals in the Libertarian Party like Ms Hogarth are now asking him to “repudiate”. In order, with the most serious charge first:

Barr was a drug warrior

That is the most substantive charge, and the one that definitely distinguishes Barr from, for example, Ron Paul. Now, we are told, Barr has changed his mind. But on what? Not on drugs, for sure; he has not suddenly become an advocate of drug use. What he has changed his mind on, since 9/11, is the federal war on drugs. He now sees greater danger in giving the federal government the power to fight the drug war, than he does in ending the war.

That is not my position by any means — I see little danger from ending the drug war — but I can live with it. I recognize that a great many Americans have a phobia about drugs, and that traditional libertarian arguments have done nothing to sway them. Barr's advantage is that he can speak those voters' language; he may be able to recruit voters that would otherwise pay no attention, and enroll them in ending the federal Drug War. In that regard, his past record is a plus.

Barr voted for the PATRIOT Act

Many radical libertarians will tell you that Barr voted for the USA PATRIOT Act. What they will not tell you is that Barr initially opposed that Act, and took the lead in building the coalition that fought it. So why did he vote in favor? As part of a deal, in which he received two things: first, assurances that the Act would be used only in terrorism cases; and second, amendments under which the most onerous provisions of the Act would expire in four years unless re-authorized.

Sure, the assurances turned out to be bogus, and the Act has been re-authorized for another five years. But what would have been the better alternative? To have voted no, and had the Act pass with no such assurances, and no sunset? That may have made him feel good inside, but what else would it have accomplished?

Barr voted to use force in Iraq

The Iraq war was sold by lies: Lies not just about what Saddam Hussein planned to do, but about what George Bush was up to. The Iraq war was sold as a military operation to take out Hussein, declare “Mission Accomplished,” and go home. Occupying Iraq, much less the neocon nation building going on there right now, were things Congress never authorized. Nor did Barr vote for either occupation or nation building; he has always opposed nation building, as does Ron Paul (and as did George Bush, on the surface, at the time).

Barr was anti-immigrant

On, Marcus Epstein summarized Barr's immigration record quite nicely: “A look at his Numbers USA grades, shows only a few weak spots in supporting guest worker programs for nurses and agricultural workers. Even in this area, he cosponsored legislation to halve H-1B visas. In every other area, he took the lead in promoting sensible immigration policies. Barr co-sponsored legislation to end birthright citizenship, eliminate chain migration, and cut legal immigration to 300,000 people a year. On enforcement, Barr voted repeatedly to put troops on the border, signed a letter opposing Bush's amnesty when it was first proposed in 2001 and fought against 245(i) and other mini-amnesties.”

Except for the proposals to cut legal immigration and put troops on the border, this could all have come from Ron Paul's 2008 platform. And Paul did support putting troops on the border (to replace the Border Patrol, which he wanted to abolish) at the time as well.

Barr was a homophobic bigot

Some of the strongest opposition to Barr comes from the sizeable gay bloc in the Libertarian Party, due to his authorship of the Defense of Marriage Act. Here is how Ron Paul described that Act in a Sept. 30, 2004 speech to the House:

If I were in Congress in 1996, I would have voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which used Congress's constitutional authority to define what official state documents other states have to recognize under the Full Faith and Credit Clause, to ensure that no state would be forced to recognize a “same sex” marriage license issued in another state. This Congress, I was an original cosponsor of the Marriage Protection Act, HR 3313, that removes challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act from federal courts' jurisdiction.

But, Ms Hogarth asks, what about the other part of the Act, which defined marriage for federal purposes as the union of a man and a woman? Well, as Paul points out in the same speech, “government did not create the institution of marriage…. Government regulation of marriage is based on state recognition of the practices and customs formulated by private individuals interacting in civil society.” Within those customs and practices, marriage has always been defined as a man/woman union. Bob Barr did not make it up, nor did the federal government impose it. What DoMA did was recognize that traditional definition, and protect it from a redefinition by any future Supreme Court (which would have been an imposed one).

Of course, Paul also opposes a Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) enshrining that definition in the constitution. Here is his take on that from the same speech: “I agree with the assessment of former Congressman Bob Barr, who authored the Defense of Marriage Act: “The very fact that the FMA was introduced said that conservatives believed it was okay to amend the Constitution to take power from the states and give it to Washington.” Yes, “Bigot” Bob Barr also opposed the FMA. But you will not hear that from the gay Barr-bashers.

Barr was against freedom of religion

The evidence for this is a May, 1999, press release titled, “Barr Demands End to Taxpayer-Funded Witchcraft on American Military Bases,” which I have not read, which Barr purportedly wrote after watching an episode of The O'Reilly Factor which I have not seen. Nor do I think that it deserves any serious investigation; the suggestion that a press release violates the First Amendment (which is how the story was treated) does not deserve to be taken seriously. The First Amendment applies to legislation; I have seen no evidence that Barr ever proposed any.

Barr was a racist

The single piece of evidence for this is that, in 1998, Barr addressed a meeting of the Council of Concerned Citizens, a group exposed (originally by the Southern Poverty Law Center) as a “neoconfederate” organisation. Really? What did he say? No quotes have been provided. One would expect some damning racist quotes to have been produced, if there were any. As for the SPLC expose of the group: I have read it, and it sounds very much like the similar SPLC expose of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. IOW, race-baiting pure and simple; something that all Ron Paul supporters are familiar with, thanks to Jamie Kirchick's efforts last January, and something I certainly hope that Libertarians (who have too often been the targets of such attacks) will refuse to condone.

Barr was a Republican

That is undeniably true: Barr ran, and served as a Republican. Does that make him an “anti-libertarian”? For some, yes. For example, George Phillies, who explained his position in 2007, telling one newspaper that “”Ron Paul is a Republican. Ron Paul is lending credence to a party that is anti-libertarian”.

Would all radical libertarians who are now using the same line against Barr also apply it consistently to Paul (the 1988 Libertarian nominee for President)? Or Roger MacBride ( the 1976 nominee)?

As importantly, would they say the same thing about any Republicans who, as a result of the Ron Paul rEVOLution, would join them today? Would they welcome those people as new libertarians, or bar the door to them? Which is more important to them: growing the Libertarian Party by welcoming new blood, or keeping that blood supply “pure” by keeping new members out?

Oh, but Barr (through his PAC) still gives money to Republicans. Yes, he does. Is there any American involved with the Ron Paul rEVOLution who has not given money to a Republican candidate this year?


In summary (and again I have to mention that this has been after a hasty, cursory examination), the evidence of Barr's “anti-libertarianism” rests on one solid charge (his Drug Warrior past), two misrepresented events (his votes for the Iraq invasion and the PATRIOT Act), one overblown affair (his press release on Wicca), one smear (his CCC speech), and a few issues (DoMA, immigration, and the GOP) on which his positions seem little different from those of Ron Paul.

Which again raises the question in the last section. The Libertarian Party stands well positioned to capitalize on the success of the Ron Paul rEVOLution this year. It is possible for them to take the vanguard of the rEVOLution, and leap into a new position of respectability this year. On the other hand, it is possible for them to keep apart, and stay small and insignificant.

To his credit, Mr. Phillies is completely consistent: He opts for purity and the tiny tent. Many of the Barr-bashers, though, want it both ways. They dream of commanding the rEVOLution and pushing it to a new level. At the same time, they want nothing to do with the rEVOLution's actual positions. Because, let us make clear, most of these positions they are criticizing are also those of Paul and the rEVOLution.

The proposition that such radical libertarians offer the rEVOLution is: Come and work for us, give us money, and vote for us. But shut up and let us do the talking. That is certainly an offer that the rEVOLution can, and will, refuse.



Susan Hogarth, “Open Letter to Bob Barr: Some Questions,” May 19, 2008.

Patriot Act, Iraq War: “Bob Barr: Why I Want to be President,” Reason TV, Apr. 29, 2008.

DoMA: Ron Paul,”Cultural Conservatives Lose if Gay Marriage is Federalized,” U.S. House of Representatives, Sept. 30, 2004.

Wicca: “The “Burning Times Award” given to U.S. Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia,” Religious Tolerance, May 20, 1999.

GOP: “'Dr. No' may say yes to run for White House,” San Antonio Express, Mar. 4, 2007.


See also:

Bob Barr's Real Record (II)


Ron Paul's former aide reveals: “We needed” Barr to vote for the PATRIOT Act


You Tubing the Libertarian Race


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