Barr’s Road to Damascus Takes a Detour

I hate being wrong, but I’m starting to get the sense that my early enthusiasm for a potential Bob Barr presidential run may have been misplaced.

To be sure, Barr has had a whirlwind of MSM publicity, mostly favorable to the Libertarian Party, since he announced the formation of his Exploratory Committee last weekend. But Barr is coming up way short on delivering an actual libertarian message. The issues section of his campaign website is sparse, and what little is there is a mix of libertarian (non-interventionism and civil liberties) and anti-libertarian (“Fair Tax” and closed borders).

Since Barr is playing his cards so close to the vest, the libertarian blogosphere is vetting his recent public comments and writings to determine just what sort of candidate we can expect, should he win the nomination. Excerpts from some of his columns raise red flags.

First, just as year ago, long after Barr had joined the Libertarian National Committee and supposedly changed his mind about the drug war, he wrote the following about the U.S. policy towards Columbia:

Recognizing Colombia’s essential role in our country’s campaign against illicit trafficking in cocaine, the Bush administration and prior Congresses have responded to Mr. Uribe’s efforts by funding “Plan Colombia” to the tune over its seven-year lifespan of more than $5.0 billion. While critics interpret the fact that Colombian-processed cocaine stills arrives in our country as evidence Plan Colombia should be defunded or dramatically reduced, in reality this support for Colombia’s efforts will continue as an essential component of our anti-drug program. If Congress truly wants the plan work better, the solution would be not to dry up funding but to provide more flexibility for its implementation.

“An essential component of our anti-drug program”? For a former drug warrior, Barr sounds an awful lot like a current drug warrior.

Then just last week, the supposedly anti-interventionist Barr wrote the following about Columbia’s tensions with Venezuela:

While Washington’s current national security worldview remains focused like a laser beam on Iraq and Afghanistan, fires smolder and burn elsewhere. Shifting at least a portion of that concern and those resources to South America, and especially to the Andean region that currently is near the boiling point, is critical to our security. There may not be weapons of mass destruction lurking in the jungles of Venezuela, Colombia or Ecuador (there weren’t in Iraq either, of course), but arms are flowing into the area. Venezuela, for example, is buying billions of dollars worth of Russian military equipment. Leftist guerrillas and narco-terrorists remain firmly entrenched in the region, and evidence that other terrorist groups are using the area for problematic purposes is mounting.

So Barr understands the folly of our interventions when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan, but he advocates “shifting at least a portion of that concern and those resources to South America.” We need “resources” (presumably military resources) in South America like a hole in the head.

Bob, you got a lot of splainin to do!

8 thoughts on “Barr’s Road to Damascus Takes a Detour”

  1. Bob Barr has never been a libertarian and is not currently a libertarian. He has done some truly wonderful work in the past few years on the PATRIOT Act and other privacy issues. That makes him a wonderful ally in the fight against government snooping. No doubt he positions are preety favorable on most economic and education issues as well.

    But when we are looking for a candidate to be the face and messenger of the LP to the masses, I prefer someone who is consistently libertarian like Harry Browne and Michael Badnarik were to yet another libertarian-lite big name.

  2. Mark, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Harry Browne take awhile to evolve into a consistent libertarian, even during the course of his first presidential campaign? My reading of ancient (1996) Libertarian history is that Browne went into the nomination battle with some fairly squishy libertarian positions. For example, “get rid of the income tax and replace it with a national sales tax”. By the time of his 2000 campaign, that had evolved into “get rid of the income tax and replace it with nothing”.

    That sort of evolution leaves one hopeful that Barr could similarly get up the learning curve, but I agree that the presidential candidate, as the face of the LP, should be a consistent libertarian.

    On the other hand, a lot of Libertarian (myself included) were willing to give Ron Paul a pass on some of his non-libertarian positions, particularly regarding immigration and free trade. (I agree with Rich Cooper that Paul’s “principled” opposition to NAFTA is suspect.) So clearly we don’t require absolute perfection from our candidates. The question is how much we are willing to bend in exchange for a higher-profile campaign.

  3. I’ve spoken with many political activists, and I’ve concluded that Bob Barr has the potential to dramatically change the political landscape in a strongly favorable way.

    Not only will Ron Paul Republicans vote for Barr in large numbers. I’ve spoken with rank-and-file and county officers in the Conservative Party, and they can be expected to vote for Barr in large numbers as well, although the NYS Conservative Party leadership will almost certainly endorse McCain. A side benefit here is the ability to widen the split between the party-elite leadership of the Conservative Party, and the true-conservatives in the rank and file who are growing increasingly discontented. This can only benefit the Libertarian Party.

    Consider also the intense dislike of a great number of traditional conservatives for McCain. Some have gone so far as to say that McCain is so bad, it’s better the Democrats win, so when the country goes down the tubes (inevitable with McCain or Obama) they take the blame.

    If they enter the voting booth and see Bob Barr on the ballot, they will support him in substantial volumes. The idea of traditional/authoritarian conservatives pulling the Libertarian lever provides not just the benefit of warm vindication for those of us who have endured criticism from that direction. The act of doing so will also undermine and weaken such arguments from that quarter for decades, because those who make such arguments will have to travel great lengths, and engage in embarassing or shaky circumlocutions, to avoid criticizing their own 2008 decision, or that of their peers.

    The end result of a Barr Presidential candidacy will be a strong showing at the ballot box, sharply increased respect for the Libertarian Party’s stature and effectiveness, and a tremendous opportunity to expand our base of support. Concomitant on all of these will be a dramatic increase in membership, volunteers for party actitivies, and revenue both for party affiliates and candidates.

    My only concern would be whether or not the LP has the talent, organization, and experience to take advantage of the opprotunities presented, and ascend to the next level of success and professionalism which is now within our grasp.

  4. If the LP stands a chance to start winning and capitalize on the growing “freedom movement” it must endure the growing pains of expanding the tent. That means welcoming people that might disagree with some key planks of the traditional Libertarian platform. Some key parts of the current platform prevent the party from ever having mass appeal. It took a new kind of republican for the republicans to start their streak of power in 1980.

    Or, you can choose to keep the party small, principled, and 250,000 strong.

    What are we going to do?

    I say be pragmatic, bust the system open, win, then play intra-party tug of war

  5. As a relatively new member to your tent, Jarrod, I can assure you that if Mr. Barr’s contempt for liberty (supporting the drug war) and fiscal responsibility (why the fuck are we giving money to Columbia regardless or a drug war?) are not clarified, your tent is not for me.

    Course I may be the only member of the “freedom movement” who feels this way. I’m probably not. But i *might* be.

  6. I am herewith withdrawing my premature criticism which I poorly articulated on April 13.

    My mind is open about Barr–he has made more strides away from statism and toward freedom than just about anyone I have ever seen. He still has a ways to go, but he is surely on the right path.

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