Tuesday, May 27, 2008

And my conscience checks in. . . .

. . . which is a good thing, because it's literate, impassioned, and carefully critical without being cynical.

Waldo has functioned, on and off, as a part of my conscience for over thirty years. Sometimes when he did not even know he was doing so (I do remember Mitch P. and the injustice too few people--including myself--were willing to see.)

So, as I contemplate what a Libertarian does when confronted with a Barr/Root candidacy, I have to take this argument into account:

But if I were a card-carrying Libertarian, I'd be majorly pissed at the idea of my party being led by the likes of Bob Barr.

For one thing, I'd be upset that a party would nominate a man who by his own admission was wrong about most of the great issues of his time in Congress. He was for the Patriot Act; now he's against it. Munger says, well, politics is about the art of the possible. You have to make compromises. Which is true. But the compromises that brought Barr around weren't substantive; they were to add sunset clauses. But a good law and order prosecutor like Barr had knew (a) the Patriot Act was just a Christmas tree of civil liberties-trashing law enforcement wish lists that had been kicking around for years; and (b) laws are almost never sunsetted, certainly not when they were adopted with the emotional head of vengeance that attended the Patriot Act's passage. It was a sure as the title on the bill that just as RICO went from being a gangland prosecution act to one for suing abortion protesters, the provisions of the Patriot Act ended up being used to bring down a governor with a taste for high-priced whores.

Barr says he was wrong about the war on drugs, too. He opposed allowing the District of Columbia to even study the medical use of marijuana; now he's at one with the 411 crowd and decries the tens of thousands in prison for drug offenses. It would be interesting to see how many his office put away when he was a US Attorney in Georgia.

Barr says he was wrong about Don't Ask Don't Tell, too.

And Barr says he was wrong about the Defense of Marriage Act, with managing the impeachment of President Clinton, his signature legislative achievement. It doesn't outlaw gay marriage, he said at the time; but by writing it so that it withheld Federal tax, welfare, pension, health, immigration and survivors' benefits, Barr essentially gutted the meaning of the institution he valued so much he availed himself of it three times, then sent it up to serial adulterer Bill Clinton to sign into law. He's still against marriage equality, and any rights the Constitution might protect: "I opposed then, and continue to oppose, same-sex marriage, or the designation of gays as a constitutionally protected minority class," he wrote in The Wall Street Journal last year.

At the time, Barr said he just introduced it because a constituent was concerned about the issue, just as he sought to ban witchcraft in the Army in the name of constituent service ("In Washington, particularly in the area of holding our leaders accountable, one of the great figures is Robert E. Lee. We try to keep in mind the standards of General Lee. There is more to our Southern heritage than whether the economy is running well,'' Mr. Barr, a native of Iowa City and graduate of the University of Southern California whose mother, an Ayn Randian, used to denounce him as a liberal). He denounced the Environmental Protection Agency ("Barr blasts E.P.A. for Promoting Homosexual Behavior") for extending family leave policies to partnered gay employees. In a 1998 New York Times interview at an airport, the story recounts, "There was one bit of good news. Glancing at a newspaper, Mr. Barr said, ''Hey! They canceled 'Ellen.' '' Mrs. Barr said: ''It wasn't as funny after she made her announcement.'' During floor debate over his bill, Bar thundered, "the flames of hedonism, the flames of narcissism, the flames of self-centered morality are licking at the very foundation of our society, the family unit."

"America is not ready to change its definition of marriage," the bill's author, Representative Bob Barr, a freshman Republican from Georgia, said at a news conference after the bill had passed. "America will not be the first country in the world that throws the concept of marriage out the window and for the very first time in the history of civilization says that homosexual marriages are as important as, and rise to the level of the legal and moral equivalency of, heterosexual marriage." He ran for re-election on it: "On radio programs and before volunteers, he hammered away on his major bill, the Defense of Marriage Act, which would deny Federal recognition to marriages between homosexuals. ''The legal institution of marriage,'' he said, ''is under direct assault by homosexual extremists.''

Yet Barr declared a prenomination conversion on repealing part of DOMA (essentially adopting the position of Hillary Clinton) after a meeting with some gay libertarians, not two weeks after Outright Libertarians restated their support for another candidate and faulted Barr's "evolution" on gay rights issues for being slow at best. There's nothing on his campaign website, for example, about either what he used to think or what he claims to think now on gay rights. Can states glory in federalism by adopting marriage equality and still see their citizens denied all the benefits federal law confers? Who were those Libertarians who moved Barr, and just how far has his change of mind led him? No one seems to be talking in public. Barr's not, and we're betting on the campaign trail he will make the she-Clinton's Coolidge-like silences on gay rights seem like Wayne Allyn Root selling vacuum cleaners door to door.

The Libertarian Party's convention delegates seemed willing to mortgage their party's soul for the prospect of a few extra points in the November polls and future promises of goodwill. The question will be, can they get it back by 2012?

I also have to note the willingness of people to hear what they most want and need to hear. Outright Libertarians is running this comment above a Barr clip [and the post is credited to Brian Miller, a Libertarian I respect every bit as much as Thomas Knapp or Michael Munger]:

Libertarian Presidential Nominee Bob Barr described the Defense of Marriage Act as a "mistake" and decried how it is used to "club down the rights of law abiding citizens." The former Congressman, during his nomination speech, made an impassioned commitment to repeal the law.

Now take a look at the clip:

But here's the problem, as Less Antman [another credible Libertarian] points out in a comment on Last Free Voice:

I want to be fair, but Barr has been carefully wording his comments on DOMA to refer to SOME provisions of it, not IT, and he has so far failed to unequivocally state that DOMA should be repealed. Keep an open mind, folks, but keep pressuring him for an explicit repeal, or else plan to write off the LGBT community and the people who care about them (which thankfully is a population far, far, far larger than just the number of LGBT).

I have many gay couples as clients in my financial advisory practice who have lost and will lose tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to gift, estate, and income taxes because of the refusal of the federal government to acknowledge same sex marriages. It isn’t enough to let each state determine its state treatment of gay marriage when it affects so many federal treatments of gay marriage.

DOMA should be repealed, and we should continue to pressure Barr until he removes the Clintonesque wording of his answer. For those who believe Barr’s journey toward consistent libertarianism is incomplete, there’s no reason to think he can’t grow between now and September, which will be a critical month (once the Republican convention is over, many Ron Paul r3VOLutionaries will take a look at Barr and determine if they think he is r3VOLutionary enough).

In a year wherein I have already found myself unable to support the candidates from the two major parties, I think I'm going to have to lower the bar significantly just to find a reason even to go into a voting booth this November.

So here's my challenge to Bob Barr and Wayne Allyn Root: as an opener, if you want this Libertarian's support, I need to see an an unambiguous campaign statement that marriage, same-sex or otherwise, is not for the State or Federal government to recognize or legitimize as per the Libertarian Party platform.

If they can't do that, they might grudgingly get my vote in a lesser-of-three-evils sense (although I am a long way even from that), but what they won't get is any activity on my part to help sell or support this ticket.

I'm not leaving the Libertarian Party. I intend to stay inside and work for positive change, and to keep building a party in Delaware.

But I will not check my principles at the door to do it.

This is my challenge to Michael Munger, Thomas Knapp, Brian Miller, Less Antman, and all the others--from Mary Ruwart to Mike Jingozian and George Phillies:

We've got Barr/Root now, so let's take a shot at making them live up to the principles they claim to represent.


David said...

You guys aren't very tolerant. I thought the purpose of the Libertarian Party was to move the debate and build a future constituency for liberty. You are trying to tell me that a person is not allowed to reflect and change positions. How else is a party going to move from 1% to electing people? You have to be tolerant of converts.

I think that Bob Barr is mainstream enough to allow people who liked the party but thought the most important issues aren't sex and drugs, to see that they can have a home. The positions that you accuse Bob Barr of having are held by 60 to 85% of Americans. That won't hurt the party. Even better for you if he can show why he moved on a couple of them.

I think the reason is obvious. He is concerned about the bigger issues and won't get tripped up on what he sees as smaller ones.

Steve Newton said...


Unfortunately, there's not a hell of a lot to suggest that Barr has really changed too many positions. If you check my archives, you can find that he has also consistently supported Republican candidates against Libertarian candidates while serving as a member of the Libetarian National Committee.

The positions that you accuse Bob Barr of having are held by 60 to 85% of Americans.

Which is the point. Let me put it to you this way: suppose a candidate had managed to win the GOP nomination who was pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage.

You don't think conservatives would have more problems with that candidate than they are currently having with McCain? Of course they would; those two issues are fundamental to how conservatives construct their political and social identity. Would they buy the argument that they should support this candidate because he/she might have a better chance of winning?

br said...

Being tolerant of new converts and making them the presidential nominee are two very different things.

As a party that people know very little about, the LP must be a beacon of consistency based on a foundation of liberty. Our candidates don't have to win (yet), they do have to educate and get people thinking about the merits of a system in which participants are left to create their own solutions. Things are going to get a lot worse between now and 2012, 2016, and 2020. The LP needs to be ready when the sh!t really hits the fan, because only then will the vast majority of Americans put aside their prejudices and pursue true reason.

If Barr goes on stage at the debates and starts promoting a non-libertarian agenda, it could be devastating.

I think becoming a libertarian can happen very quickly for some people. At some point, contemplation and logic and reason just "snap" and voila you "get it". But, just because you finally "get it", doesn't mean you're ready to go in front of 300M people and defend it.

Brian Shields said...

Compromising principles for votes is what made the Democratic and Republican parties into what they are today. That's why the libertarian party is here, and why it is growing every year. If we start turning our party into theirs, then why bother?

Jim Fryar said...

Steve; a hell of a lot of us have been wrong about a lot of things in politics prior to finding libertarianism, I was until about 30 years ago.

Politics was a choice between the big government conservative Liberals, the big government socialist Labor party, the big government agrarian socialist Nationals, the big government anti communist socialist Democratic Labour Party, and the rest were statist.

It took a while to realize there was another alternative but when I came across the concept of limiting government, I grabbed it with both hands.

Barr/Root will do a hell of a lot to raise the profile of the party, what comes later will depend on how much the party itself deals with the influx.

Good luck with it.

Brian Miller said...

Steve, I more-or-less agree with you. I am willing to give Barr and Root the benefit of the doubt and choose to believe what they've said about their conversion until proven otherwise.

While obviously I would have preferred a different candidate -- and have identical reservations to yours -- I also am willing to accept that Barr had as dramatic a conversion as he's had if he's talking the talk.

Remember, the presidential candidate isn't the leader of the LP -- he's a figurehead who carries the LP message to the masses. As long as he's saying the right things, he helps LPers downticket who *do* have a chance at victory. And we have a lot of good candidates downticket.

I could be wrong -- it wouldn't be the first time -- but I'm also a believer in giving people a chance. If Waldo's Barack Obama deserves a second chance and queer consideration after campaigning with the Democratic Party's most vile homophobes, then Bob Barr deserves a chance at redemption himself. Time will tell whether he's serious about it or not, and if he's not, you can count on me to call him out on it.

Craig Porterfield said...

I agree that Bob Barr should say, as Ron Paul did, that the Federal government should not be involved in recognizing or legitimizing marriage, same-sex or otherwise. However, Bob Barr is a candidate for a *Federal* position, POTUS. What right does the Federal government have to dictate to the states about how the states should handle gay marriage? Shouldn’t federal candidates like BB stick to LP planks that pertain to the federal government, and leave it up to state candidates to address LP planks that pertain to state government?

Brian Miller said...

The Libertarian platform is not a "federalist" platform, nor does it distinguish between federal, state and local government. The LP platform clearly states that discrimination is discrimination and statism is statism, regardless of "level" of government.

Craig Porterfield said...


I don't understand your point. Wouldn't it make more sense for the LP to address discrimination at all levels of government by running candidates at all levels of government?

This issue aside, I am alarmed by the un-libertarian statements that Bob Barr's running mate is making about foreign policy:

How is Wayne Root libertarian?