Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate for president, is seizing on Barack Obama's increasing national momentum to urge disgruntled conservatives to vote Libertarian. His pitch: John McCain has no chance of winning on Nov. 4. This, from a candidate who has raised $1.2 million (one-third that of independent candidate Ralph Nader), and who is polling at statistically insignificant levels. Earlier this month, Public Policy Polling placed him at 2 percent in North Carolina, and he received 1 percentage point in last week's Ohio Newspaper Poll—both results falling within the margin of error.
Yet, last week, Barr gleefully wrote in a press release that "it looks increasingly likely that [McCain] won't be elected, and no one will care about his vote totals if he loses." Barr appears to be writing himself in, as an annotated footnote to McCain's impending defeat. In the final week before the election, he is visiting battleground states that McCain must win, including visits to North Carolina, Ohio and Georgiawhere Barr told the Indy he believes he has "a realistic chance to influence the outcome."
In a pair of speeches last night in North Carolina, Barr spread his criticism more evenly, insisting that a vote for McCain or Obama would be a "wasted vote," because both major parties subscribe to the "hallmark of modern American politics at the presidential level." They want to spend "huge, and increasingly large, amounts of our money." One of the few "nuanced differences" between the two major-party candidates, Barr noted sarcastically, is "how they would spend a trillion dollars of our money"—referring to the federal bailout, which both candidates voted for, but which neither would directly control as president.
"Look, McCain's going to lose," Barr told the Indy following his speech in a Duke University classroom, which drew roughly 150 attendees. "If you really care about shrinking government, McCain isn't your guy anyway. But don't feel that you have to vote for him, just because you don't like Senator Obama, because McCain's not going to win. At least cast a vote that actually means something, and that helps us have a place at the policy table."
Nonetheless, Barr has abandoned all pretensions for electoral victory in 2008. He told the crowd at Duke that one of his goals for this election cycle was "raising the level of debate, and having a seat at the public-policy table over the next four years by getting a sufficient percentage of the electoral vote generally, so that the other two parties cannot ignore us."
Barr often uses the first-person plural to describe the Libertarian party, which the former Republican joined in 2006, after losing his House congressional seat in Georgia. During his eight years in Congress, Barr was known for championing morality-based legislation. He authored the Defense of Marriage Act, which made it illegal for the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages; fought to make abortion illegal; and was a principle cheerleader of the War on Drugs. Now, Barr describes himselfas he did during both North Carolina speechesas the "standard-bearer" of the Libertarians, a confederacy of gun owners, medical-marijuana supporters and free-speech activists who generally agree on reducing the scope of government and curtailing its influence of individual rights. In other words, Barr now stands for a philosophy he once directly opposed in Congress.
Following a second speech, before roughly 100 attendees in a UNC-Chapel Hill classroom, Barr was asked to justify his reversal on personal liberty issues like marriage, drug use, and the USA Patriot Act, which Barr said was the "worst vote I cast in eight years in Congress."
"The power of the federal government has become so pervasive, so oppressive, and correspondingly, the sphere of personal privacy and personal liberty has become so constrained, that it has caused me to go back—and this is the result of the post-9/11 world under this administration, the view that the federal government can exert absolute control over the individualand take a much more cynical view of government power in a range of areas," he said. "I've become much more mindful of the need to affirmatively assert personal liberty, and work aggressively to start repealing government power—and those are just three examples."
Mike Munger, Libertarian gubernatorial candidate, introduced Barr at Duke, where Munger is the chair of the political science department. He described Barr in his introduction as a "friend," and afterwards, in an interview with the Indy, as "essentially, a conservative Libertarian."
"His views tend toward more conservatism," said Munger. "But he has two positions that make him a Libertarian. The first is, the federal government shouldn't be involved in anything that's not in the Constitution. The second is, the state shouldn't legislate shouldn't morality."
Munger clarified that Barr's authorship of the Defense of Marriage Act was primarily about preserving states' rights, which Barr reiterated in an interview following his UNC speech. Conveniently, Barr said the he now only regrets the section that prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage, adding that he has testified before Congress against a new federal definition of marriage bill. However, he still believes states should be allowed to define marriage, even if it means banning same-sex unions in Montana.Libertarian-leaning Republican congressman Ron Paul, whom Barr described as a "friend" and "mentor" following his UNC speech, refused Barr's offer last month to join him on the Libertarian ticket. Instead, Paul endorsed Constitution Party nominee Chuck Baldwin, who did not even qualify as a write-in candidate in North Carolina. When someone at the UNC speech asked Barr how he felt about Paul's method of "reforming from within the GOP, rather than the outside," several attendees applauded the question before Barr could answer.
"It's an important component. We have to do both," he said. "Ultimately, you're not going to succeed from the inside."