At the end of last week, former Republican Congressman Bob Barr roiled the political waters with two announcements. The first: He had left the Republican Party and become a life member of the Libertarian Party. The second: He was going to do more than pay party dues. As of December 15 Barr is the representative of Region 4 of the Libertarian National Committee, helming the party in Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and his own native Georgia.
Barr spoke with reason over the phone on Friday, after making the announcements.
reason: Why did you join the Libertarian Party, and why did you agree to take this role?
Bob Barr: I suppose one reason is I was asked by two individuals I respect. One is Bill Redpath, the national chairman, and the other is Executive Director Shane Cory. I know both very well. When they asked me to consider it was very important to them. And I chose to join the Libertarian Party because at this time in our nation’s history, it’s fundamentally essential to join a party, work with a party, that’s 100 percent committed to protecting liberty. As great as the Republican Party is -- and I have been fortunate to work with that party for many years and still have the highest regard for it -- the Constitution is under such assault in this day and age. In order to have any chance of saving the Constitution and our civil liberties, we need a party dedicated to that cause.
reason: In 2002, the Libertarian Party called you the worst drug warrior in Congress. No hard feelings?
Barr: To be honest with you that’s never come
up in our discussions. I’m not going to let minor disagreements
come between us.
reason: But you haven’t changed your mind on the drug war, or on gay marriage? [Barr sponsored the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.]
Barr: There are going to be differences with my
colleagues in the Libertarian Party. I can’t imagine there is ever
going to be a party I agree with 100 percent of time. What I’m
interested in is a party honestly committed to liberty and true
checks and balances on government power. That’s something lacking
in our current party system. With regard to gay marriage and the
Federal Marriage Amendment, in my view the FMA does nothing except
to protect liberty of citizens of each state on what basis they
want to recognize marriage. Are there some libertarians who believe
differently? I’m sure there are, and I’m sure we’ll engage in some
debates down the road. I’m not going to let nuanced differences on
aspects of particular policies stand in the way of the most
important mission. That’s ensuring our liberties and protecting the
reason: You endorsed Libertarian candidate Bob Smither in Tom DeLay’s old House seat, and went down there to campaign for him. What did that experience teach you?
Barr: I very much enjoyed meeting him; I hadn’t
met him until I went to Texas to appear at event in his behalf,
although we talked extensively on the phone to discuss his
campaign. He was a very good candidate running for his seat in
right way. If we can field a lot more candidates for the right
reasons, and we develop mechanisms to develop and hone their
campaign skills, I really believe we can win some of these
reason: But do you have any optimism that Libertarians can win when Smither couldn’t?
Barr: Yes. Over the last couple of years, and
definitely during this election cycle in particular, there’s been a
great number of Americans who are disappointed in both major
parties. And they’re hungry for a new approach, a new party, as it
were, truly committed to substantive ideas, and not just to getting
elected and focusing on their particular election cycles. There are
a lot of Americans out there who feel similarly, and this can be a
party that is reaching out to those folks, with a message of
relevance to American voters.
reason: As a former Republican congressman, do you worry about the spoiler effect? Republicans have blamed the Libertarian vote for siphoning off support and electing Democrats in Montana and Missouri’s Senate races.
Barr: What I fight for, and what the
Libertarian Party fights for, is liberty and freedom. In this past
election cycle I don’t think the Republican Party can blame its
defeats on anybody but itself. There were serious concerns voters
had with the record of the Republican Party over the last couple of
years -- the war in Iraq, the prosecution thereof, the scandals.
Their losses had nothing to do with whether there was a Libertarian
or another candidate in the race. It was the Republican Party;
that’s why those candidates lost. And some of the losers were my
very good friends. To blame your loss on another candidate is --
well, you can go back to what the Bible says, about concentrating
on the splinter in your neighbor’s eye instead of the long board
stuck in your eye.
reason: Why join a third party instead of switching to the Democrats?
Barr: Actually, I’ve been very pleased to
listen to some of the things some of the Democrat leaders are
saying. I liked Senator [Patrick] Leahy’s [D-Vt.] pronouncement
just the other day that as incoming chairman of the Senate
Judiciary committee he is going to work on the restoration of
checks and balances and on restoring civil liberties. He’ll look
into the NSA spying, and the PATRIOT Act, and other issues. That’s
good, and I hope to be part of that process. But if you’re looking
at the broad range of issues the Democrat Party is involved other
than civil liberties, there are too many differences.
reason: Is there anything in your former party that’s worth saving?
Barr: It’s not just civil liberties, but how
liberties are governed. Where you have government that doesn’t obey
laws of this nation, we have problem. When you have an
administration that decides it doesn’t have to review the decisions
of our courts, we have a problem. When you have a Congress exerting
no leadership in terms of oversight, we have a problem. The party
in power was not providing a solution to those problems. I’ve
concluded that the Libertarian Party is the best mechanism for
reason: If you succeed in your new role, where you see the Libertarian Party in 10 years?
Barr: I’m not going to predict the future, but
I see in the Libertarian Party what I’ve been looking for a while
now: A party founded firmly in principles of freedom that devotes
its entire resources to accomplishing to those ends. And I want to
move those principles forward in a well organized way.
reason: Are you going to make a Libertarian run for president?
Barr: No. I’m contemplating no runs for any office. I’m delighted to be asked to work in this capacity for the Libertarian Party, and I’m going to work on range of issues. But I’m not a candidate.
David Weigel is an associate editor of reason.