Libertarian candidate Bob Barr just wrapped a combative press conference down the hall from the Ron Paul presser. It took some time for the latter event to end. Paul and the candidates retreated from their main room to a side room with a mix of reporters and people who just wanted to take pictures with them. Max Anthony, the head of the Cecil Chesterton Society, confronted Paul on why he'd written the introduction to a Chesterton anthology that included anti-Semitic footnotes and jokes about Jews. "The best economists are Jewish!" Paul laughed. "Ricardo was Jewish! Von Mises was Jewish!" Anthony pressed the issue. "I'm not familiar with this," Paul said. "I'm not going to get caught in that trap." Nader got almost as much attention as Paul, and posed together for cameras. "The best event we've ever done," said one of his staffers.
Out in the hall, third party candidates for various and sundry offices handed out literature and buttonholed journalists. The buzz was what the hell Barr was up to. "I heard he's dropping out!" "He wanted Ron to endorse him." "He doesn't want to share a stage with Baldwin." Barr arrived at 11:50, and I saw Iraq War Veteran Against the War and Barr backer Adam Kokesh walking towards his room, looking purposeful and pissed off.
Barr opened with a statement on how he'd gotten to this point, and why he'd not attended the Paul event.
- In December 2007, he authored the LP's statement of intent to nominate Ron Paul for president if he lost the GOP nomination. Paul turned it down.
- Yesterday Barr sent Paul a letter (which I have a copy of, and I'll scan in a bit) asking Paul to run as Barr's vice presidential nominee. Wayne Allyn Root agreed to step aside if Paul wanted the job. Paul turned this down.
- Barr signed onto the statement of principles that Nader, McKinney and Baldwin signed, and stands by it. But he declined the offer to appear this morning.
"This is no reflection, certainly, on the tremendous and positive leadership that Ron Paul has provided to the liberty movement over the years. He recognized, for example, the strength of that movement, which has to come from the outside, back in 1987," when he left the GOP. What Barr is offering voters is...
bold, focused, specific leadership. That is not the amorphous kind that says "any of the above" or "none of the above." That's not leadershp. What is leadership is what I, and our campaign, and the LP are doing. Putting before the American people not a wish list, not a menu of things you can pick and choose, not a group of candidates, but a candidate for president, Bob Barr, who stands for very specific programs and policies and direction for this country.
Some of Paul's supporters, sitting in the back of the room, snickered at this. Barr pushed on. "The primaries are over" and the only measure of libertarian success will be how many votes the LP gets.
The print press asked for more details on Barr's offer to Paul and details on what Barr supported from the message of that earlier event. Kokesh raised his hand and started talking; Barr campaign chairman Russ Verney asked him to identify his media organization. "I'm an independent blogger," Kokesh said. Verney and Kokesh talked over each other for about 30 seconds, Verney trying to move on, Kokesh explaining what had made him so angry. "Leadership is not just about knowing when to lead, but knowing when to follow," Kokesh said. "You failed that test today and I retract my endorsement of you."
There were more harsh questions (is Barr a Republican agent trying to destroy the LP?) but nothing quite that harsh. The conference emptied out and Barr's staff kept on message: All respect to Ron Paul, but "support one of these nice candidates" is not a libertarian campaign. "Dr. Paul is allowing the Ron Paul Revolution to wither," said Barr aide Shane Cory.
I asked Barr specifically if he thought Paul was squandering the momentum of his presidential run. That seemed to be the message, not buried too deep in subtext. But Barr repeated that presidential primaries and a third party run were not the same thing. "The votes you get on election day influence policy," he said. "Ross Perot's 19 percent of the vote in 1992 influenced policy. It made the 1994 Republican revolution possible."