That said, I am bemused by the responses to Barr's appearance on Colbert's show, as epitomized by Susan Hogarth's comment at Independent Political Report [and hello Austin, by the way, your site still won't let me register to comment]:
I found it very disappointing. ONCE AGAIN, Barr refuses a golden opportunity to say he was wrong, his antilibertarian votes (patriot act, DOMA, flag burning amendment) were wrong, and he’s seen the light. Instead, he talks about how libertarian-leaning republicans and good conservatives have been left by the Republican Party and how the *awful* things he supported have ‘been taken too far; particularly after 9/11′. They were TOO FAR *well before* 9/11.
Barr is still campaigning as a ‘libertarian-leaning Republican’ and a ‘true conservative’, which I find extremely disappointing. He blew a golden opportunity to connect with actual libertarians.
Let's parse this one a little. As I noted in an analysis last week, the Libertarian base (Hogarth's "actual Libertarians") is at best 450-500,000 voters, of whom it appears that about 380-400,000 will vote Libertarian pretty much without regard to who the candidate actually is. That's the definition of a political base.
If Barr has one thing right, it is that such a miniscule base is impotent for actually influencing--much less winning--general national elections. It can't even hope to hold a balance of power or threaten the major candidates.
The expansion of the Libertarian vote will have to occur as the result of enticing new voters to pull a lever or push a button that is neither Republican or Democrat.
These folks are small-L libertarians, libertarian-leaning Republicans, bikers, lesbians, potheads, small businesspeople, gun nuts, and the growing proportion of the buttoned down middle class being slowly crushed to death by taxes, regulation, and the general flow of events.
When we bring them aboard, they will come not with fully formed philosophies or any real interest in internal Libertarian Party politics. They will want lower taxes and government hand-outs, and we're going to have to educate them on the march, as we build an airplane while flying it. Not only will our radicals be discomfited and lose influence in our formerly small pond, even pragmatists like me are going to have to run the Red Queen's Race just to keep some sort of rein on what the party becomes.
In that atmosphere, here's something Libertarians need to realize:
The voters Bob Barr is courting--has to court--simply do not give a flying crap about his Damascus moment or whether he's made mistakes in the past, or even how he got the nomination.
All they want to know is what a Libertarian candidate and the Libertarian Party might do for them in the future.
Now, there are many Libertarians who don't think we should be a political party at all, that electoral success will spoil the movement, and that you cannot overcome the essential paradox of running to get power in order to give it away, because human nature and the political structure is against them.
I don't agree. A half-faithful, half-ideologically pure Libertarian Party that could reduce the income tax by 50% if not eliminate it, or guarantee equal access to marriage for all Americans, or twist us off the path of interventionist foreign policy would be far better than anything we've seen in this country in the past century, even if we don't grant Mary Ruwart's wish list and privatize roads, eliminate age-of-consent laws, or ditch the FDA.
I will take half a loaf now, and worry about getting the second half while I'm chewing.
So this is the message for the Barr campaign: there are a lot of things I don't necessarily think you are doing right, yet, but here's two areas in which you're spot on:
1) Don't apologize for not being a virginally pure Libertarian (after all, it took most Americans a few years to discover in the light of their post 9/11 fears exactly what a danger the Patriot Act was).
2) Don't stop pitching your message to people who don't yet think of themselves as Libertarians. Otherwise, you're going to wake up one November Wednesday morning to the usual 390,000 votes and know you've simply added another chapter to the political inconsequence of the Libertarian Party.