Introducing Bob Barr, Yet Again
Former GOP Congressman from Georgia Bob Barr seems, at least for the moment, to be steamrolling his way to becoming the Libertarian Party candidate for the presidency in 2008. Insiders are now hinting that he may be a declared candidate within a week. The conventional wisdom has thus far been that he would draw the majority of his support from conservatives and Republicans, potentially dashing the hopes of Senator John McCain. George Will went so far as to describe a Barr run as being potentially “ruinous” on the same level as Ralph Nader keeping Al Gore out of the White House in 2000. But how much of a worry should it be to McCain’s supporters? And what sort of platform will Barr run on?
During a challenging and revealing interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Barr provided some insight into these and other questions, including what we could expect from a Barr presidency. To examine how much GOP support he should expect and how much of a “spoiler” he might be, let’s take a look at this one question and answer from that interview.
Inquirer: What do you hope to accomplish?
Barr: I want to move the agenda of smaller government and increased individual liberty forward; help the Libertarian party to become a major, consistent player on the national political scene; raise the level of debate; bring the issues of smaller government back to the table, and cut government spending – that’s at the root of all the issues facing the American people. I want to end the artificial control of the economy and end burdensome taxation; take a hard look at cutting cabinet positions; reduce the cost of the occupation of Iraq by beginning the process of removing the security blanket from the Iraqi regime . . . return respect for habeas corpus; reinstate the rule of law; stop the warrantless surveillance of American citizens; and remedy the abuses of the Patriot Act. . . .
Granted, the first portion of this answer will carry a lot of appeal to some conservatives who didn’t receive the nomination of John McCain very warmly. Smaller government, reduced spending and lower taxes are hallmarks of the conservative credo, and were all issues which Barr championed in Congress and for which he will be fondly remembered. However, some of his more recently adopted platform planks from the Libertarian party will likely give pause to that same group of people.
reduce the cost of the occupation of Iraq by beginning the process of removing the security blanket from the Iraqi regime: This is not even a thinly veiled message. It is a clear statement that Barr intends to begin pulling us out of Iraq. McCain and the Republicans are too heavily invested in the Iraq war to show any sign of support for this, and it will have the scent of the Democrats on it. That’s a big non-starter right there in terms of stealing a lot of McCain’s votes. The anti-war Republicans are probably already supporting Ron Paul and will likely shift over to the Democrats in November.
return respect for habeas corpus; reinstate the rule of law: This one takes a bit more parsing, but not much. It ties into the entire “war on terror” mantra among GOP supporters, and suggesting that Habeas Corpus is important is most always translated into “going easy on the terrorists.” This, again, will be spun up as being a Democratic initiative, turning off the base.
stop the warrantless surveillance of American citizens; and remedy the abuses of the Patriot Act: Again, this ties into the war on terror. Republican supporters are married to the full enforcement of the Patriot act, often displaying an attitude of willingness to trade personal liberty for national security, much to the dismay of the Democrats. It’s a talking point straight out of the playbook of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and will not endear Barr to the national security Republicans.
And from a different part of the interview:
I believe it’s important to turn that decision [marijuana laws] back to the states. If California voters decide in a referendum to recommend the use of medical marijuana, it should be respected by the federal government.: The war on drugs, much like the war on terror, is strictly a GOP stomping ground. It ties in strongly to the old “pot smoking smelly hippy” pictures which conservatives like to paint when speaking of liberals. This is another non-starter for Barr in terms of sniping McCain’s November supporters.
The Libertarian Party offers much which is attractive to large segments of the Republican base on certain issues. However, as long as Iraq looms large on the political radar, along with the war on terror, disgruntled core Republicans will likely still swallow some bile and vote for McCain. The real base for Barr is likely to come from the independent middle, which both McCain and Obama desperately need. Could Barr draw significant numbers of voters? It certainly seems possible, but it may be too soon to assume that he’ll be shopping almost exclusively from Senator McCain’s grocery cart.