The question of whether the Paulistas will rally around Barr, hold their noses and vote for McCain, or just stay home is potentially critical to both Libertarians and the general electorate.
Paul captured over a million votes in the Republican primaries--more than twice the total either of the last two LP presidential candidates managed to tally--and thus his supporters are key to Libertarian hopes for finally breaking the 1 million vote mark for their presidential candidate.
Likewise, between them the former Paulistas, the Libertarians, the Greens, and the Naderites potentially hold the balance between Senators McCain and Obama in at least half a dozen battleground states.
Finally, many Libertarians (including me!) remain skeptical or even outright hostile (not me) to the idea of Barr as an LP candidate.
Miller, a key player in the LGBT group Outright Libertarians, argues that on at least two issues Barr derives a significant advantage from the comparison:
The LP platform says that “Economic freedom demands the unrestricted movement of human as well as financial capital across national borders.” Where do Bob Barr and Ron Paul stand on this?
Barr says that “we must be aggressive in securing our borders while at the same time, vigilantly fighting the nanny state that seeks to coddle even those capable of providing for their own personal prosperity.” He proposes an approach identical to the LP platform — maintaining control over the borders to allow peaceful people in, while denying entry to criminals.
Ron Paul, in contrast, favors the imposition of visas, including demanding that federal bureaucrats “track visa holders and deport anyone who overstays their visa.” He also complains that open borders will “allow up to 60 million more immigrants into our country, according to the [arch-conservative] Heritage Foundation. This is insanity.” He advocates an end to citizenship by birth, a concept of American law since the beginning of the Republic. He also ran one of the most anti-immigrant television advertisements in the Republican primary.
On personal relationships:
Barr has advocated a repeal of the DOMA provisions that force the federal government not to recognize same-sex marriages performed by states that do recognize them. In his nomination speech at the Libertarian National Convention, he declared that “The Defense of Marriage Act, insofar as it provided the federal government a club to club down the rights of law abiding citizens has been abused, misused and should be repealed. And I will work to repeal that.” This position moves the federal stance on this issue significantly closer to the Libertarian Party platform.
Ron Paul, in contrast, has declared that “I would have voted for the Defense of Marriage Act… to ensure that no state would be forced to recognize a ’same sex’ marriage license.” That’s directly opposed to the Libertarian Platform.
The most interesting part, however, is the comments:
Hugh Jass dismisses Miller's comparison:
Very well then, I’ll concede Barr’s superiority on those two minor-level issues. However, when we go to top issues, we see Paul’s libertarianism outshine Barr’s. For example, whereas Paul would legalize competing currencies to help abolish the Fed, Barr thinks a magic wand is required. Whereas Paul believes in replacing the income tax with nothing, Barr wishes to replace the income tax with a national sales tax.
Since when was Barf [sic] running against Ron Paul?
Steve LaBianca challenges Miller's take that Barr has actually changed his mind on DOMA, or that Paul is anti-same-sex marriage:
Let’s not forget that Barr is the one who authored the DOMA. While I have said that I disagree with Ron Paul on a few issues, I believe that Miller is mistaken on this front . . . Ron Paul doesn’t oppose civil unions. If the traditional definition of “marriage” is one man and one woman, who cares? Ron Paul has said repeatedly that is none of the government’s business in regulating private behavior. Can Bob Barr, the author of DOMA say the same thing. If he can or has, I have yet to hear it.
What I take away from all this (and I encourage you to read all the comments) is two-fold:
1) Libertarians still have not decided among themselves whether to be a philosophical debating society or a political party. This is essentially the distinction between the pragmatic and radical Libertarians, far more so than whether we should go for a minarchist government or unvarnished anarcho-capitalism. Those who aren't sure they want to become a political party don't want a candidate who pitches his answers toward small-L libertarians and libertarian-leaning fellow travelers. I'm with Brian Miller on this one--but the argument is not over.
2) Most Libertarians have too much time on their hands. I'm not kidding here, even though to write it is going to piss a lot of people off. I think about Brad Paisley's So Much Better On Line, and the fact there aren't too many Libertarians (Jason Gatties, Allen Buckley, and Michael Munger come to mind as exceptions) willing to get away from their computers and engage their local and state communities on the real nitty-gritty issues of day-to-day government operations. I look too often in vain for Libertarians at school board meetings or zoning variance hearings, where the Democrats and GOPers break in their minor leaguers in the actual rough-and-tumble of compromise and consensus. So, when the LP announces every four years that it's running somebody for president who has no discernible political track record, it is understandable that people around the country say, "Who? What? You're kidding, aren't you?"
A candidate like Bob Barr brings positives and negatives to the table. Your take on their relative importance will depend on your own ideology.