A hurried attempt to shed some light on Bob Barr's alleged "anti-libertarian" record in Congress. by George J. Dance
Thursday, May 22, 2008
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 V-Dare.com, 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.
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I would recommend that the critics read Bob Barr's account of his years in Congress, The Meaning of Is (2004). This is the book to read to understand why Barr's the man for the job. From Waco on, he had the instincts and legal knowledge to fight the good fight for due process and civil liberties. You'll get the full story there, from his perspective, after which you'll be able to criticize him from a more informed position. (I use the word "you" here in the general sense.) Barr's book is a bombshell critique of both major parties. Electing Barr would be the next best thing to impeachment, sending a message to government office-holders that they are not above the law.
I was active in the Libertarian Party of Minnesota in 1994, another defining moment, as I believe 2008 will be.
I voted for Ron Paul in 1988. I supported him again as a local precinct captain until the New Republic article. I found Paul's response unsatisfactory, given Lew Rockwell's article in Liberty magazine in January 1990, "The Case for Paleo-Libertarianism," which had horrified me years ago with its call for "rough justice", for punishment "on the spot", its vigilantism, and its interwoven overtones, and Walter Block's article in the Journal of Libertarian Studies in Spring 2003, arguing for slavery. In his response to TNR, Paul mentioned Block prominently as a measure of his own libertarianism. Slavery's not very libertarian.
Bob Barr explains his "unintended appearance" at a CCC meeting in his book (pp. 143-144, 183-184). In contrast to Paul's explanation, I found Barr's explanation satisfactory.
Bob Barr is a man for whom many people have great respect, as do I. We need his legal training, his network of trusted colleagues, and his congressional experience in this battle for liberty, now.
Posted By: Charles N. Steele
Date: 2008-05-23 09:25:19
You argue in places, e.g. immigration & anti-gay federal marriage legislation, that Barr's position is the same as Paul's, as though that proves it is libertarian. But these are the issues on which Paul himself has turned his back on individual liberty.
If the LP chooses a candidate who believes government should deny some people rights based on their sexual orientation, or that that gov't should criminalize working w/o gov't authorization, or someone who believes in "states rights" (states don't have rights -- this crazy doctrine was invented by Dixiecart racists) then the LP itself will no longer be libertarian... and for the first time in my life I will NOT vote for the LP candidate (I first voted for Roger MacBride, BTW).
Since my first learning of the party, it has always frustrated me to see us repeatly shoot ourselves in the foot, constantly sacrificing the Good for the Perfect. Bob Barr must be rejected because once upon a time he was NOT a Libertarian. Well! Who among us was born such? Reads like a dialogue from a Harry Potter novel about "muguls".
What's wrong with (some of) you people? Bob Barr must be tossed for his past? Hey! Ron Paul is a Republican! Yet he is treated as the Messiah -- a Messiah who squandered a damn good chance to, at least, call serious attention to Liberty. Instead, he allowed the media to bully him at the "debates", ran a flaccid TV campiagn in, of all places, New Hampshire and ignored the friends he did have in the media thanks largely to a Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time campaign organization that was as incompetent as it was embarrassing. But Bob Barr must be tossed because of supurious allegations, unfounded charges, glittering generalities.
I mc'd the Ohio State Libertarian Party Convention in Columbus. All the announced candidates were there. Dr. Mary Ruwart is a class act. Wayne Allan Root has the energy and eloquence to light up a small city. Both of them together don't have the media savvy Barr has. Plus, he brings Name Recognition. And in my business, that is invaluable.
Bob Barr had an epiphany about Liberty. I suspect most of us did. Discussing the Who He Was to condemn the Who He Is is cheap, shoddy and worthy of Republicrat dirty tricksmanship.
George, thanks for the work. Bob's been on my radio shows 4 times in the past month. We've spoken often - even when he was a REPUBLICAN! He will do the party proud.
That said, I have been tired and impatient with the presidential nominees that the LP has traditionally endorsed; typified by the last one, where we had a true libertarian who had name recognition and a campaign infrastructure, an extroverted personality with a proven track record to get things done, and instead we chose a self-taught constitutionl lecturer who lived out of his car.
OK, I say, Bob Barr is not a fully transformed libertarian, yet. But he publicly declares to be, has washed himself down with the Libertarian moniker, has made publicly self-effacing apologies for his past anti-libertarian conduct and stances. He has real name recognition in the real world outside of our insular camp, he has real world experience in prosecuting a political campaign, and he is just what I think the LP needs for purely practical reasons. If he proves to be not the Libertarian he says he is, then he will be drummed out of his position in short order. I say, although it is not the purest avenue, let's give Barr a chance to pull us out of our hovel, and parlay Ron Paul's popularity with the public's dissatisfaction with both of the Big Parties.
The libertarians are so desperate for some publicity, they're willing to accept an anti-libertarian candidate. You are looking very pathetic by making excuses for Barr. You're either libertarian or you're not, and barr has proven himself to be NOT.
Also, Ron Paul was able to see through the lies of the Bush admin, so why couldn't Barr? Give me a break. Many folks, especially those on the left, were able to see the lies from the beginning.
I suppose Bob Barr issuing a press release against the 1ST Amendment wouldn't bother you unless the religion he was against is yours. The Libertarian Party MUST honor ALL the Constitution of the USA; not just the part the libertarian christian candidate is ok with. Or what makes the Libertarian Party any different than the political party the current Presidential Candidate came from?
There is plenty of bad logic here, far more to comment on then it is worth doing. In addition Mr. Dance distorts some facts and skips over others. He speaks of Barr wanting to end the “federal” war on drugs but ignroes Barr’s endorsement of a state run war on drugs. Libertarianism doesn’t support the local violation of rights anymore than the federal violation of rights.
Dance discusses Iraq and avoids foreign interventionism. Barr now wants out of Iraq but called for more US interventionism in South America instead. Once again Dance selectively reports the facts to support his agenda.
Barr is anti-immigration but Dance thinks because Ron Paul is bad that makes it okay for Barr to be bad on the issue as well. Paul is wrong and so is Barr. Paul’s anti-liberty views on issues do not justify Barr’s deviationism from libertarianism.
As for Barr’s anti-gay agenda, it is well known and Barr was quite open in attacking gay people and not just attacking their rights. That Paul was always dismal on gay issues is again no justification -- Paul, for instance, voted to overturn the repeal of sodomy laws in DC, thus voting to make sodomy a crime. Many anti-Barr gays mentioned Barr was against FMA, Dance is either misinformed or twisting the truth here. But that was not the issue. Barr’s law was bad. And he hasn’t gotten better on it -- it is another one of those issues where Barr avoids the issue by saying the states should decide -- states don’t have the right to violate rights. Full stop! State’s rights is conservative, individual rights is libertarian.
He dismisses Barr’s call to ban Wiccan’s from the military because Barr didn’t propose legislation. One does not have to propose legislation to be against freedom of religion. Millions of Americans oppose some important freedoms yet none of them actually propose legislation. That doesn’t mean they are pro freedom at all. Dance uses pathetic logic.
Barr was a Republican and was given Republicans money to defeat Libertarians even while he was in the LP. He gave money to the worst neocons in Congress through his PAC and did so while serving on the NatCom -- Dance ignores those facts like he ignores facts that disprove his points.