News & Politics

Bob Barr: Libertarian Presidential Hopeful on Barack, Borat, and Spoiling For McCain


As Hillary Clinton clings to the almost mathematically impossible dream that she can be the Democratic nominee, it’s becoming increasingly clear that November’s general election match-up will pit Barack Obama against John McCain.

While Democrats worry that Ralph Nader could, yet again, take votes from their nominee, Republicans might also be concerned about former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr, the front-runner to be Libertarian Party’s nominee. A real right-wing stalwart, could Barr play McCain’s spoiler?

Village Voice: The Libertarian Party is supportive of legalizing same-sex marriage, legalizing currently illegal drugs and keeping abortion legal. You were a sponsor of the “Defense of Marriage Act” and you had a 100 percent rating from the Christian Coalition when you served as a congressman. How do you square those positions with your current involvement in the Libertarian Party?

Bob Barr: Of course, many of the positions that I took in the Congress and that I take now are based on the principle of federalism, which is certainly a libertarian position. It used to be a position reflective of the Republican Party but obviously is not longer a part of the Republican platform. So, for example, regarding the “Defense of Marriage Act,” the fundamental, operative provisions of the “Defense of Marriage Act” say that each state makes up its own mind. I think that’s a fundamentally sound, libertarian-oriented position on federalism. With regard to drug usage similarly, these are issues in my view that ought to be left up to the states, based on the principles of federalism.

With regard to the Christian Coalition I have no idea what my positions, how they would rank them or not. But one thing that I have done, and I’ve explained this on a number of occasions to libertarian groups and other groups, and that is that since 9/11 the threat to our liberty and our basic right to privacy has become so pronounced that it truly has caused me to go back and take a look at the degree to which in previous years I was willing to accept, perhaps, a great deal more government control in certain areas because we did have a sort of residual of freedom and liberty in other areas. That no longer is the case. We have an administration in Washington that claims the power to inquire into virtually every aspect of our lives without court order. Where you have an administration that believes it does not have to abide by the law, where you have an administration that believes that the most fundamental provisions of our Constitution and our Bill of Rights have to give way to executive branch power, clearly something has changed. And that has caused me to go back and really take a long, hard look at some areas where I was willing previously to give the government the benefit of the doubt and conclude that we can no longer afford to do that because there is so little freedom left. We have to hang out every incremental piece that we can and start rolling back the government intrusions in a number of different areas.

VV: So, if different states legalized drugs, or legalized same-sex marriage, it wouldn’t be a problem for you, just so long as it was not at a federal level?

BB: Yes. I believe that those are precisely the type of issues that ought to be up to the voters of the states. There may very well be some aspects of those laws that do bring them within certain aspects of federal jurisdiction, but fundamentally those are states rights issues.

VV: Going back to privacy issues, what is your take on the “Telecom Immunity Bill?”

BB: I see no reason to grant a category of commercial enterprises in this country immunity for violating the law. I think it is a slippery slope and a very dangerous precedent that the government would set by doing that. And it’s unnecessary. If a company receives a directive or a request from an administration that it believes may very well violate a federal law then they have an obligation to tell that to the government and to refuse to violate the law. If they choose, voluntarily, to violate the law as some bureaucrat has told them, then they need to suffer the consequences. They should not be granted retroactive immunity.

VV: Your campaign recently sent out a press release highlighting a seven percent showing in a poll your own campaign commissioned. Have you been getting complaints from some of your former Republican allies that you could hurt John McCain in November?

BB: There have been some. I’ve heard from some Republicans to that effect. I would not enter this race for president to be a spoiler or to take votes from McCain anymore than I presume that his goal would not be to take votes from me. That may happen, on either side of the equation. It may just as well happen if I were to enter the race that I would take votes from whoever the Democrat nominee is, based on my civil liberties positions and the right to privacy. This notion that seems to prevail among the two major parties in recent election cycles, including this one, that somebody that gets in on your side of the ideological spectrum should not do so because it might draw votes from you I think is on one hand terribly arrogant. Neither of the two major parties has a right to exclusivity on the ballot. And I’m not sure its valid at all. The votes that I suspect I would garner if I got into the race would more likely than not be voters that had no intention of voting for Senator McCain anyway.

VV: Let’s say you win. What’s your plan to deal with the situation in Iraq?

BB: My plan for Iraq is to signal immediately to the Iraqi government that they are going to have to start taking responsibility for their own security, their own economy, their own political development. That I, unlike President Bush but like candidate Bush, do not believe the responsibility of the United States government and military is to nation build and it is not to occupy foreign nations. And we will begin immediately a withdrawal. I would not set a timetable, I don’t believe in telling your adversaries when you’re going to do certain things, I think that’s foolhardy and irresponsible. But I do believe that the only way to very clearly let the Iraqi government know that no longer are the American taxpayers going to foot the bill for the management of their country is to start withdrawing. There’s no need, I believe, if our posture is truly defensive, to keep 160,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. I think that can be reduced beginning immediately if I were to be president. That would also signal to the American people that a Barr presidency takes seriously the responsibility of the American taxpayer. Their dollars should be valued much more wisely than they are now. That their tax dollars, to the greatest extent possible, should remain in their pockets so that they can improve the quality of their lives and not worry about the quality of lives of people in some far away land.

VV: We have a presumptive Democratic nominee in Barack Obama. What are your thoughts on him?

BB: He is a very charismatic candidate. He has done phenomenally well and poses a very, very serious threat to the Republican nominee. As a substantive candidate I’m far less impressed with him then as a rhetorical candidate. He delivers a good speech but there really does not seem to be a great deal of substance behind the rhetoric. I’m also concerned that his voting record in both elective capacities that he served in, at the state level and the federal level, indicate a very clear predisposition to increased, not decreasing, the size of government.

VV: When you talk about decreasing the size of government, are their any particular agencies or departments that you would specifically target immediately?

BB: As president, there are certain areas where the president, himself or herself, can set the example. There certainly are limitations on that because appropriated funds, if signed into law by a president, cannot simply be ignored. But there are certain expenditure of administrative funds that the administration has control over. I think its important for a president to set that as an example from the top down in terms of going to the Congress to start affecting the return of the government to the people. I would start pretty much where Ronald Reagan did, and that is with those agencies like the Department of Justice, for which there is no constitutional or federal policy justification at all for the existence of the agency. I would look very carefully at agencies like the Department of Energy, which if there indeed are, as there are some, legitimate federal functions for a Department of Energy, such as maintaining national security energy stockpiles and facilities that can be much more efficiently and less costly maintained by the Department of Defense.

VV: Do you think you’re in the position to build on some of the momentum that Congressman Ron Paul created during his run in the Republican presidential primary, where he drew a different kind of voter to his campaign? Would a Ron Paul voter be more inclined to vote for you than McCain?

BB: I think so. What Ron Paul, during the time he was an active candidate in the Republican primary, tapped into indicates to me that in which the same way that Senator Obama has tapped into on the Democrats’ side, is a very real phenomenon. It indicates to me that there are a lot of people out there, and I think this is reflected in that preliminary poll that we did also, who are now willing to support new, nontraditional candidates, even to the extent of supporting and considering candidates from third parties. This is the result, at least in part I think, of the large number of young people that are now either by choice or age entering the political marketplace, so to speak. I think it’s the result of seven and a half years of an administration that has been filled with very inherent contradictions. Virtually everything that candidate Bush said is different from what President Bush has done. That, I think, has left a very clear impression on people. The tremendous cost of government, especially in Iraq, I think is finally hitting home to the American people as they face a situation where their standard of living is dropping the standard of living in the government is not,

VV: How would you push back against the recession?

BB: Certainly not by moving to create and implement an entirely new regulatory overlay on the economy, which seems to be the direction both parties are going into to different extents, but certainly in the same direction. We don’t need another “one size fits all” regulatory mechanism for the mortgage industry, similar to what we recently put in place on corporate entities through Sarbanes-Oxley, for example. I would not move in the direction of increasing the regulatory reach of the federal government to investment houses, for example, and mortgage brokers. The lessons that we’ve seen in recent years and in recent decades do not lend themselves to solving problems in the economy by more regulation and more federal government. To the extent that we can what we should start doing is cutting back on federal spending, reducing taxes, returning that money to the taxpayers themselves.

VV: And finally, how often do you get recognized from the Borat movie?

BB: It’s hard to say whether people recognize me from that or simply from something else. But it still does surface, not as much as it did a year, year and a half ago when it first came out. Every once in a while somebody will mention it but mostly nowadays it’s for more political reasons.

VV: Do you have a good sense of humor about it?

BB: Hell yeah! If you can’t have a good sense of humor about this business, the way I look at it, you have no business being in politics.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 9, 2008

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