Happy Birthday, Bob Barr!

Up the road from Atlanta's election ecstasy, the Libertarian campaign sputters to a close

(Page 2 of 2)

Barr turned 60 the day after the election. There wouldn't be such a ready crowd that night. So after his concession speech, caterers rolled out a cake, and the candidate blew out the candles. The night moved on at a languid pace as he signed autographs, reminisced with staff, and did a "live" media interview that was pushed back more often than the release date for Chinese Democracy. Later Barr and his staff decamped to his office to drink champagne and shoot plastic "Livestrong"-style bracelets at each other like rubber bands. The candidate sat down briefly at a computer to load up the Georgia Secretary of State's page. "I'm looking for something interesting in the state House races," he said. "Nothing yet."

In May, Barr had disputed the idea that 2008 represented a "libertarian moment." "I think," he said then, "that we're in a libertarian era." If that's true, it's an era that won't include any elected members of America's largest third party in Washington. But pundits are no longer talking about a "permanent Republican majority" based on social conservativism and small town votes.

This year is ending with Bob Barr, Ron Paul, and Wayne Allyn Root holding media megaphones they didn't have as recently as January. What will they do with that prominence? What will libertarians do now that the Republican Party has receded back to pre-Reagan levels of influence? That's for no one candidate to decide.

David Weigel is an associate editor of reason.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Nigel Watt||

    What we did see is that themore radical message of Ron Paul got more done than Barr's toned-down, moderate one.

  • jkp||

    David, you actually LAMENT the electoral shift and what it means for libertarians? After wedding yourself to Obama during the campaign?

    REASON was basically a no-show in this election, as far as advocating a libertarian philosophy. McCain was not ideal, and I certainly don't suggest that REASON should've come out swinging for him. There was much to criticize there. But instead, you let Matt Welch divert attention onto McCain's personality instead of engaging Obama on issues that we, as friends of liberty, care deeply about.

  • ||

    This pig's got enough lipstick, Dave. Barr didn't sell, and libertarianism didn't sell. Collectivism is gaining, not losing momentum, here and around the world. We have to think about demographics. Cultures that are rooted in individualism are lagging the others. The median age of cultures with little or no history of self-definition and self-determination is going down, while the median age of societies rooted in the rights and responsibilities of the individual is creeping up. Libertarians have a big sell job to pull off, and there just isn't much time.

  • bv||

    This year is ending with Bob Barr, Ron Paul, and Wayne Allyn Root holding media megaphones they didn't have as recently as January.

    Media megaphones? Try doing a Google news alert for any of those names -- minus Weigel -- and see how much you get.

  • ||

    Root seems like sleaze to me. In fact, I ended up writing in Baldwin because of it.

    By and large, freedom is in the trash can. Ron Paul's run was our best hope of making any kind of impact (maybe getting a 6 or 7% on a VERY good day), and I feel like Paul let everyone down by not running as a 3rd Party candidate.

    I'm starting to feel the only way to make anything libertarian happen is for one of the major parties to accept us (not anarchists, but people who are socially liberal and fiscally conservative) under their tents. I don't see that happening though as they're both rather authoritarian parties.

    Everything sucks.

  • svf||

    Everything sucks.

    NO AUDACIOUS HOPE FOR YOU!

  • ||

    Collectivism is gaining, not losing momentum, here and around the world

    I think not so much in Eastern Europe. Having just thrown off the shackles they don't seem as eager to put them back on as Americans and Western Europeans do.

    Sometimes I think maybe I'll end up moving there, to say the Czech Republic (after all they have the best looking women in Eastern Europe), but all those countries have the annoying tendency to get run over by their neighbors' tanks.

  • ||

    The sooner Libertarians realize that a third party strategy will never amount to anything the better off they'll be. Voting Libertarian for president is and never will be nothing more than a logging a protest vote. What if you got 15% of the vote? Big deal!

    A better strategy is to take over one of the existing parties from within, and like it or not, the Republicans have a lot more in common with Libertarians than do the Democrats.

    The GOP is in such a sorry state right now that I see a perfect opportunities for an ideological coup d'etat. To do this Libertarians need to groom a slate of candidates who are charismatic, articulate, and can relate to the average American without pandering to them. We can do better than Barr and Paul.

  • Orange Line Special||

    jkp writes: But instead, you let Matt Welch divert attention onto McCain's personality instead of engaging Obama on issues that we, as friends of liberty, care deeply about.

    Weigel and the others at Reason might care, but they're too busy writing "Democrat" into this PDF (h/t this).

    See also Reason Magazine tries to pretend they opposed Barack Obama, and read about BHO's voluntary/mandatory plan for CommunityService. What's on one part of change.gov (his transition site) contradicts something on another part and in his earlier documents. If Reason were interested in real reporting they'd endeavor to find out which is controlling. Don't expect them to do that.

  • ||

    A better strategy is to take over one of the existing parties from within, and like it or not, the Republicans have a lot more in common with Libertarians than do the Democrats.

    Does that mean Libertarians would also have to accept Jesus and denounce gays? Can you be a popular pro-choice, pro-equal marriage rights, anti-drug war Republican? Such a thing sounds to awesome to be true.


    Which means it probably is.

  • ||

    rats, I wrote too fast to tell the "to" to be too instead of to.

  • ||

    Danno, if the LP got 15% of the vote they'd be courted by one of the other parties.
    Past successful LP candidates all over the country have reported such entreaties to "run as a Republican next time." [See Jim Hedbor in Vertmont, for instance.]


    The "secret infiltator" strategy makes it hard to identify your potential supporters and to widen the conspiracy. And proudly proclaiming your libertarianism will get you nowhere with the entrenched GOP leadership except in states where it is totally non-competitive and they are dying for warm bodies.

  • ||

    I certainly disagree with Danno. Maybe the opportunity for libertarians to burrow into and eventually take over a crippled and stunned GOP is better now than it has been in decades, but I note that Ron Paul has been trying to encourage and promote "change from within" the GOP for a long time -- standing a lonely vigil -- and even he repudiated that approach in the press conference that Barr skipped. Regardless, I think the window of opportunity for "infiltration" will close quickly. And even if a small-government faction ascends in the GOP, how can we hope for better results than the Reagan-faction achieved -- or DIDN'T achieve, to be more correct -- in the 1980s? Maybe it's possible, but I wouldn't go so far as to say "likely." Reagan didn't bring much, if any real change in a small government direction, and his legacy didn't count for much: the size and influence of federal government are MUCH larger now than when Reagan left office. Frankly, I would just as soon not dignify or prettify the GOP with small-government "cred." That's what happened during the Reagan years, and the Republicans ultimately squandered it all.

    For many years, it has seemed clear to me that the only way to get the Demos or GOP to do right by liberty is to be able to DENY THEM ELECTORAL VICTORY, either through election of third-party or independent libertarian, or at least via the spoiler effect. For that reason, I think we need a libertarian third party, and it must start winning enough elections for significant office to BE the force that keeps the other parties "honest," or at least close enough to a good path to keep the country from plunging over a cliff.

    At the moment, with widespread ballot access, a decently long history, at least a loose network of organizations at the national, state, and local levels, and many members actually in elected or appointed office at this time, the Libertarian Party seems best-positioned (and best PURPOSED) to be the big stick that libertarians can use to drive the other parties in the right direction. Let's make it happen.

    Let's be thinking about how a Libertarian candidate can win a US House seat or a major Statewide office, or more than one libertarian can get into state legislature, in 2010. Time's-a-wasting!

  • ||

    Just in case the point was lost on anyone, I think we need to get one or more libertarians into the significant offices I mentioned as a way to demonstrate our ability to deny victory to the other parties, and to prove to the electorate in general that it is "OK" to register and vote LP. Once those points are established, I think we will will start to see some real change.

  • Angela Keaton||

    "But I didn't lose big money. I bet on Barr/Root!" Back on stage, he promised the crowd that he'd "see you again in 2012, maybe as your president-elect!"


    "This year is ending with Bob Barr, Ron Paul, and Wayne Allyn Root holding media megaphones they didn't have as recently as January. What will they do with that prominence?"

    Weigel, what episode of Fantasy Island was this on?

    Root's future? Barr and Root conflated with Paul? Prominence? File this one under, "Bitch, please..."

  • The Democratic Republican||

    Angela:

    I don't know what episode, but I'd say you have a good view of Fantasy Island from your seat on High On Crack Island.

    Look, Paul got 1.1 million in his primary run, most of which was after it really mattered. Barr got 500K and Baldwin and Paul picked up another 200K.

    What it comes down to is that half of Paul's supporters were libertarians and backed Barr and the other half are nationalists or racist wackos that voted Baldwin or stayed at home in case the aliens landed.

    Besides, acting like Paul is the gold standard for libertarian prominence? Bitch, please.

  • The Democratic Republican||

    Oh, and Angela, as if I needed another reason, your place on LNC is all the more incentive to never again have anything to do with the LP. I hope you have fun running the party into the ground along with Mary "I-defend-child-porn" Ruwart, and be sure to enjoy the circle jerk afterward with the 15 other radicals who are left.

  • Andy||

    Is it possible that neither strategy would work? The LP is going nowhere fast, and Ron Paul literally almost got banned from GOP debates. My opinion on what would work (not really what I want to do) would be the Free State Project. Get a bunch of libert-minded people to move to smaller states, and vote progressivly libertarian ideas into power. Decriminaliztion, school choice, low taxes, etc. Then hope that you prove they work before the federal govt brings the hammer down.

    Better (smarter) organization helps too. And fair media coverage (is it worth it to whine about bias?)

  • daveednyc||

    "Ultimately we've got to have a galvanizing issue that gets people so angry that they abandon the two parties,"

    For any reasonable person, it should have been the bailout. But that even failed to do it.

    The truth is, Obama's broad support among the center showed that those voters prefer "feel-good" government intervention over "fear-good" intervention.

  • ||

    I know this is a little mean spirited but Bob Barr? The drug warrior Bob Barr? The socially, seriously to the right of the Pope, Bob Barr? It would have been nice if Libertarians had run, for starters, somebody socially liberal and fiscally conservative, just for the heck of it, instead of this guy. I watched McCain abandon all integrity, in his bid, and I watched the Libertarian party kinda do the same thing in theirs. In both cases it was painful to watch.

  • Geotpf||

    danno | November 7, 2008, 2:00pm | #

    The sooner Libertarians realize that a third party strategy will never amount to anything the better off they'll be. Voting Libertarian for president is and never will be nothing more than a logging a protest vote. What if you got 15% of the vote? Big deal!

    A better strategy is to take over one of the existing parties from within, and like it or not, the Republicans have a lot more in common with Libertarians than do the Democrats.


    They do? Republicans are more like Libertarians than Democrats? Really?

    I can think of only one issue where the default position of the Republican Party is the default position of the Libertarian Party-low taxes.

    That's it.

    You can't say spending-both parties want to spend on all sorts of stuff. Granted, they want to spend on different stuff, but they both want to do so.

    Both parties seem intent on nationalizing half the economy.

    However, the Democrats agree with the Libertarians on the following policies:

    Medical majijuana
    The war in Iraq
    Warrantless easedropping
    Gay marriage
    Closing Gitmo

    I'm sure there are more, but you get the idea.

    The days when the Republicans and the Libertarians were even remotely aligned are long since passed.

  • ||

    I am not Ron Paul's biggest fan, though I recognize him as a positive.

    I get sick of reading about people blaming Ron Paul for not running as an Independent/3rd Party when he NEVER gave any indication that he would do so and it was obvious to all but the most delusional of his supporters that Ron Paul is a Republican trying to work within the GOP. Regardless of what you think of that strategy, it is what it is.

    Ron Paul was never going to run Third Party and if you supported him you were supporting him as a Republican candidate. It was always obvious that he had 0 chance of winning the GOP nomination ( though he did much better than expected) and almost 0 chance of being a candidate in the general election. If you became wedded to the idea of voting for Ron Paul in the general election, that is YOUR fault, not his.

  • ||

    GEOtpf

    The war in Iraq - the democrats have done nothing to get us out of Iraq since we went there. In the past two years when they have controlled Congress what have they done but given Bush everything he wanted with regards to Iraq, and pretty much everything else.

    Warrantless easedropping - That is why Obama gave the administration and the businesses involved in this a free pass on this when he had a chance to vote against this crap.

    Gay marriage - In the debate of the vice Presidential candidates it is telling when asked about a question on gay marriage after Biden gives his answer, Palin's answer was "I agree with him".

    I am sorry but your version of what you think they believe and their actions are two different things.

  • Nick||

    Someday, the LP will wake up and realize that under that name we don't have a chance. Independents and Reform Party candidates generally poll better than LP candidates.

  • Butler T. Reynolds||

    Only 5-10% of the vote for the LP is all it would take to swing one of the other parties towards more favorable libertarian policies.

    Working within the Republican or Democratic parties might be fine, but voting for the lesser of evils will get us Mike Huckleberry in 2012 faster than you can say "Keep Hope Alive".

  • ||

    Demographics, demographics, demographics. Bob Barr represented the wrong candidate at the wrong time for the lp. He may have been a good candidate 10 years ago, but this country is rapidly changing, and Bob Barr obviously doesn't represent that change. Wayne Allyn Root, depite giving off the vibe of a snake oil salesman represents this new country better than Bob Barr. He's from the fastest growing city in the country,and he's non-Christian and he can appeal more to urbanites more than Bob Barr. The LP needs to stop appealing to disaffected southern white Republican voters, some of whom yearn for the old confederacy. This country is changing and its important that the LP starts to appeal more to urban, non white voters not just look to talk over the GOP dying demographic.

  • ||

    It seems to me that a candidate/party (at any level of government) that could SELL itself to the public as both socially liberal and fiscally conservative would represent a majority of Americans. But as long as the left-leaners are deathly afraid of the right 10%, and the right-leaners are deathly afraid of the left 10%, it's difficult to make a play for the middle if you can't make people confident that you have a chance to WIN. It has to be someone with charisma that will attract and sustain media attention - most people take one look at a bow-tied Bob Barr and say "pass." Game over. No vote.

    The socially liberal, fiscally conservative movement can pick up momentum if done in stages. Step 1 is to nominate someone who looks/feels like a major party candidate. Step 2 is to denounce the extremes (social conservatives and overly liberal spenders) that makes you seem middle-of-the-road. Then Step 3 is to actually communicate your platform, which at least initially has to include SOME level of government spending on something other than defense and entitlements, where maybe you pick one issue and say for the next four years this is THE issue of focus for America. Call yourselves the Priority Party, which allows some flexibility in messaging.

    There is opportunity in this country for a majority takeover if planted in the middle and then spread out over time. If perceived as coming from an extreme point of view, it will be much more difficult to garner any significant percent of the electorate.

  • ||

    You are delusional. Freedom will never come from the state. And its elected officials and bureaucrats.

  • Comrade Laissez-Faire||

    Yes, happy birthday to the first non-libertarian candidate to run for president on the LP ticket. Paleoconservative Barr never was and never will be a libertarian. Ron Paul was more libertarian back in '88, but like Barr, he has drifted back to paleoconservatism.

    Root is a buffoon and would be an embarassment to the LP if it were still "The Party of Principle". It lost that status when the majority of delegates to the convention sold out most of the party's principles by nominating a paleoconservative with name recognition just to garner more media attention and worthless votes.

  • ||

    John White wrote, "I watched McCain abandon all integrity, in his bid, and I watched the Libertarian party kinda do the same thing in theirs. In both cases it was painful to watch."

    Yeah, that's definitely the meme that's been in play since the LP's Denver convention. But if you actually watched and listened to Barr's appearances in the media, or read the rare "free media" print coverage he got, you definitely got the impression that he was standing up for much more libertarianism than any other candidate in the race, and very likely much more than any other non-LP candidate in POTUS races going back to the 1970s!

    I remember how some people called the late Harry Browne an ideological carpetbagger when he ran for POTUS as a Libertarian. Even he wasn't pure enough for the purists. Nobody is ever going to be. Yet I heard candidate Browne described more than once as an "anarchist" by regular folks, on the basis of what he said during interviews on radio talk shows. Similarly, Barr was perceived as being a very strong libertarian by those members of the public who were aware of him at all.

    The tiny differences over which we Libertarians go to war with each other, hurling charges of "charlatan" and "unprincipled," "utopian" and "radical," don't even register on the general public's radar. It's good that we sweat all the small ideological details in vetting and selecting candidates. But once candidates are running under the LP banner, continued carping about their "purity," or whether they are evidence that the party has lost its principled soul, is profoundly counterproductive if we seriously want to get Libertarians elected or if we want the LP to have any influence in the system at all.

    I say this as someone who was very suspicious of Bob Barr's switch to and rapid ascendancy in the LP. I was really worried that Barr's candidacy would do the same kind of damage to the LP that Buchanan's did to the Reform Party some years ago. But guess what? The sky did not fall. We ran a lot of candidates and from the looks of returns, bettered our ballot-access situation for next time. Barr came out against the Drug War and the Middle East shooting war clearly and promoted other Libertarian policies that set him and us far apart from "conservatives" and Republicans. And I must admit that it was wonderful to have so many people agree that the Libertarian candidate could probably do the job of President as well as the major candidates. We really need to go forward with the resolve to nominate only people who are unarguably credible as candidates for the offices they seek.

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  • Michael Gilson-De Lemos||

    "If Monds could win more than 25 percent of the vote, that would mean he received more votes than any Libertarian candidate in any U.S. election, ever .."

    As opposed to the untrained paper candidates fa vored by the US LP (which certainly have a place, though a diminishing one) trained Libertarians are now regularly doing better that that, and many being elected.

    This sort of misinformation is not helpful.

  • ||

    Latest CSPAN/AP vote count update (moments ago) has Bob Barr topping the half-million vote mark: 502,756. The display says 1% of precincts yet to report fully, so the total could go even higher in the next few days.

  • ||

    Weigel, the moon landing comment was stolen straight from Olbermann. Can't you come up with something original?

    And I wouldn't call Obama WINNING perpetually-so-red-it's-in-the-university-uniforms Indiana "losing ground in Democratic areas". Seems to me he increased ground in traditionally red areas, which is a helluvan accomplishment.

    In fact, the numbers destroy your position. Compared to 2004, Obama flipped 9 states and increased blue percentages in 17 red states, including getting an electoral vote in Nebraska, neither gained nor lost ground in three states (AZ, OK, WV), and only lost ground in LA (-2%) and TN (-1%).

    That and the perpetual Barr worship is disgusting. He tanked, just as we Radicalz predicted, just because he ran for Bob Barr and not the LP, just as we warned everyone he would.

  • Craig||

    Ron Paul certainly has a bigger microphone than he did two years ago. He's becoming the go-to guy for the cable news networks when they need a voice of sanity in response to the latest government power grab/big corporate bailout.

    Lots of voters like libertarian positions on the issues, just not on all the issues. There also has to be a certain level of competitiveness reached before many voters will seriously consider a third party candidate -- a level that Ross Perot reached, but one that no LP candidate has reached as yet.

  • Craig||

    Let's be thinking about how a Libertarian candidate can win a US House seat or a major Statewide office, or more than one libertarian can get into state legislature, in 2010. Time's-a-wasting!

    Unfortunately, the only way any of the above will happen is if the libertarian candidate is running as a Republican, Democrat, or well-financed, high-profile independent.

    The sad truth is that most voters know very little about any of the candidates below President and Governor, and vote for the party label they are familiar with, or for the incumbent they have heard of.

    That's also an opportunity, though -- turnout is very low in the primaries, and it would be possible for 5% of the population to sneak their candidate through in the primaries, then dupe them into voting for him or her in the general election. It would probably make him or her a one-term wonder, but it's possible.

    Ron Paul could have won the Republican nomination. All it would have taken is for the 5% of the population that supports him to register Republican and vote in the primaries. 5% of 200 million voting-age adults is 10 million votes. John McCain received only 8 million.

  • Craig||

    If you became wedded to the idea of voting for Ron Paul in the general election, that is YOUR fault, not his.

    Not only did I become wedded to the idea, we're living happily ever after, as I wrote in Ron Paul in California, where he was a "qualified" write-in.

    Still waiting for the write-in votes to be counted.....

  • ||

    ## Let's be thinking about how a Libertarian
    ## candidate can win a US House seat or a
    ## major Statewide office, or more than one
    ## libertarian can get into state legislature,
    ## in 2010. Time's-a-wasting!

    # Unfortunately, the only way any of the above
    # will happen is if the libertarian candidate
    # is running as a Republican, Democrat, or
    # well-financed, high-profile independent.

    Why do you say that? All I am advocating is what the LP has already DONE! Two state legislative positions in NH at one point, and a State Rep in Alaska at another. I personally interviewed one of the NH reps in a well-attended AOL chat in the 1990s. How do we do it AGAIN? How do we get re-elected Libertarians in local office to jump to the next level? That's what I would like us Libertarians to be pondering now.

    I think it can be done, but the Party needs to focus on the goal, choosing races and candidates carefully, and allocating appropriate resources for the race(s) in question.

  • ABC||

    Nothing will get done, or undone, unless folks take an infiltration and shouting from outside approach at the same time. That and focusing on the state level. It´s been given a bad rap, but frankly considering how much Washington DC is screwing things up it seems as though the decentralizationist argument has more teeth these days. It seems a lot of folks on the right and left are beginning to realize that taking the federal approach can end up screwing them over. And most folks are more willing to move to the next state over than to another country.

  • ||

    The Libertarians need to run for local offices such as House and State Senate seats and possibly some U.S house seats in the south and the midwest. They could and would win gaining some power in the legislature branches of some states and the federal government. The republican party has become a rotting moderate to left party. And with the rising tide of ignorant illegal aliens pouring into this country I don't see that shift going back to the right any time soon.

  • قبلة الوداع||

    thank u

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