Bob Barr leaps in as a libertarian — an interview
By: Bill Steigerwald
By BILL STEIGERWALD
With the announcement that he’ll seek the Libertarian Party’s 2008 presidential nomination, former Georgia Republican congressman Bob Barr has added another twist to an already crazy election year.
Barr, who hopes to win the LP’s top spot at the party’s convention that starts Thursday, May 22, in Denver, has an impressive resume that backs up his claim that he’s the most qualified presumptive candidate of any party.
A lawyer, former U.S. Attorney and ex-CIA official, Barr, 59, served in the House from 1995 to 2003, where he was known as a hard-line conservative who hated the IRS and fought tirelessly for privacy rights and other civil liberties.
Barr is far from the perfect libertarian. Many libertarians have serious issues with him over things l ike his vote in favor of the Patriot Act (which he now regrets) and his zealous support of the war on drugs, which he has backed away from.
When I talked to Barr by telephone on Thursday, he was on the grounds of the United Nations, where he said nothing is very good — even the food.
Q: Why did you decide to run?
A: I decided to run for several reasons. One, because I want to restore the Constitution to our federal government. It seems to have been completely forgotten and disregarded by Congress and by this administration. I believe in the Constitution. I believe in separation of powers. I believe in the rule of law. I believe in limited government. And these are principles and policies that apparently neither the national Republican nor the national Democrat Party believes in. I believe great damage is being done to our Constitution and I see no remedy at all, no likelihood of that changing if we rely on the two parties to field our candidates for national office.
The Libertarian Party alone among America’s political parties truly stands for smaller government and maximized individual liberty. I believe if we don’t take a stand now and try to reverse course, we may never have the opportunity again. I think there are a number of factors coming together for this cycle that give us a much greater likelihood for success than any previous election.
Q: Is there any one issue or event or trend that made you abandon the Republican Party — besides the usual ones: its failure to shrink the federal government, the spending and the failure to follow a prudent foreign policy?
A: Well, the Republican Party abandoned me and other libertarian-leaning Republicans. Perhaps more than anything else, aside from those things that you enumerated, it is the utter disregard by this administration for fundamental constitutional principles of governance; to act according to the notions that the president doesn’t have to obey the law, that a president is not bound by court decisio n or act of Congress in what he does, is extremely destructive to the very foundation of our country.
Q: What’s left of your conservative social views, if anything, that would give loyal libertarians pause today?
A: Well, we agree on the fundamental principle of shrinking the power of the government and maximizing individual liberty. I do not wholeheartedly embrace the notion, for example, though, that the government cannot define any social relationship. Some libertarians believe rather strongly that the government should not even define marriage — even the state government. I have no problem with the people of a state defining a relationship known as marriage. I believe that ought to be up to the states, not the federal government.
Q: What is your position on the war on drugs, which has always been the elephant in the room that nobody running for president has dared to talk about for the last 30 or 40 years? It’s been a continuing war against the rights and liberties of Americans, yet no one touches it.
A: We do need to start addressing it. I do not think that the American people are ready to embrace the notion that there ought to be across-the board legalization of drugs. But I do think we need to begin rolling back the massive government power structure that has been built up pursuant to the war on drugs, which has not proved to be a success, certainly. Therefore, I think we need to certainly respect states rights and decisions by the people in an area such as medicinal marijuana. If the people of California, for example, decide that there is an appropriate place for the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, and they pass a law to that affect, that ought to be respected by the federal government.
Q: Libertarians are generally against our interventionist foreign policy in Iraq. Are you?
A: I believe the occupation of Iraq is not something that is sound policy and is not consistent with the historical norms of a national defense policy. So I think tha t we need to — and I would as president — begin immediately and significantly drawing down our military and economic presence in Iraq for two reasons: One, because it is not in our interest to nation-build or to occupy foreign lands and, secondly, if we would ever wish to have the Iraqi government take responsibility for its own affairs, we necessarily have to remove the security blanket that right now makes it very easy for them not to do so.
Q: Assuming you get the Libertarian Party nomination, how will you measure your success as a candidate?
A: There will be several benchmarks. One is securing support generally in order to participate in the presidential debates — that will be extremely important. We don’t have a lot of time — basically about five months from the time of the convention — and we’re going to have a lot of ground to cover and a lot of people to reach. We’re going to prioritize. At the end of the day, our priorities will be to win; secondly to open up the political system so that the Libertarian Party truly becomes a consistent player at the national level; and thirdly, to have raised the level of debate considerably above where it is now in this presidential race.
Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org. ©Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.
Published in The Messenger 5.21.08