Barrwatch: Back in the New Yorker Groove

For months, I'd been running into the New Yorker's Raffi Khatchadourian at Bob Barr events. His piece is finally out, and it's good. He analogizes Barr's skedaddle from the GOP to "a man removing his tie at the end of a night of overindulgence: first he loosened the knot, then he undid it, and finally the thing came off completely." He hashes out Barr's biography in a compelling way, and with sympathy.

Before Panama, Barr’s family lived in Peru, where, as a teen-ager, he learned Spanish. He went to parties, drank, and smoked. A friend of his recalled, “Really, there were no rules, and we didn’t like rules, and the few rules that there were we really didn’t follow.” On expeditions into the Amazon, Barr fished for piranhas, and hunted alligators at night. “You would take a .22 rifle and creep along the riverbank with a flashlight,” he told me. “The light would catch their eyes, and you would see these two glowing points of red, and you would shoot for that.” Barr learned to adapt. “You make friends quickly,” he told me. “But you don’t become too attached, because you know you’re not going to be with them for that long.” His hobby was astronomy—the single geographic constant in his life at the time was the sky.

The drama comes in the second half of the story, as Khatchadourian explains why, exactly, Barr got into the race, and why he had so much trouble with Paul voters (whom pollster Frank Luntz compares to "crabgrass"):

Barr began to court Paulites, telling them that the Texas Republican was “a very good friend of mine.” However, it soon became obvious that an imbalance of power separated the two politicians. Paul’s supporters could not vote for him in the Presidential election, but they were committed to him nonetheless; Barr was the only libertarian on the ballot, but he lacked a wide base of support. There was also a difference in style. Paul can assert a policy of radical change, but his Texas lilt makes it sound innocuous, and he often yokes disparate issues—the war in Iraq, the behavior of the Federal Reserve, the right to bear arms—into a single failing, the erosion of a great “moral imperative”: individual liberty. Barr shares most of Paul’s political beliefs but not his record, and he talks in PowerPoint.

I think this gets at the paradox of why media-savvy, witty, point-scoring Barr hasn't lit a fire like Paul did. (That's just objectively speaking. Paul wanted to raise a few million dollars and raised $35 million; Barr wanted to raise $30 million and will raise at most one-twentieth of that.) Paul's rambling style of speaking sounds unlike anything else you hear from politicians. Someone else would be instructed not to keep running on ("and so we've got all of these problems, and the economy is a mess, and the dollar is going down, and..."). Paul is un-trainable. Nine out of 10 people will find it crazy, but that one in 10 thinks it's the greatest thing he's ever heard.

Also, here's more background on the bizarre third party press conference that cemented the Barr-Paul split.

In mid-September, Ron Paul decided to hold a press conference at the National Press Club, in Washington, to encourage his supporters to vote for a third party, and he invited the Green, Libertarian, and Constitution candidates to participate. All of them attended except Barr, whose campaign advisers decided that he shouldn’t be “reduced to their level.” Ralph Nader, who is running as an independent, told me, “He got Ron Paul so angry. I was right in the greenroom”—at the National Press Club—“and Ron Paul was pacing, and it was ten-oh-two, ten-oh-three, and then he heard that Bob Barr was not going to show up, and he went furious. He said, ‘I can’t believe he let me down like this. I was about to say a good word for him.’ ” Two hours later, Barr arrived at the National Press Club and invited Ron Paul to be his running mate; the theatrical gesture only further angered Paul’s supporters, and some libertarians circulated a petition demanding that Barr withdraw his candidacy. (Two weeks later, Paul endorsed the Constitution Party candidate, Chuck Baldwin.)

The fallout from that day has settled, but think back four or five months: What if Paul had decided a little bit earlier that he wanted his supporters to go third party? Would he have lost any more face at the Republican convention? (They treated him like dirt anyway.) Would he have started off vocally supporting Barr and pumping up his campaign account? It was a huge missed opportunity.

Speaking of missed opportunities: the Boston Tea Party, which exists this year mostly as a safety valve for anti-Barr libertarians, is imploding in a rather spectacular manner.

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  • ||

    Wow. . . missed opportunity is right. This should've been a good year for a libertarian-minded candidate to gain support similar to Perot in '92 or Nader in '00. Paul & Barr should've had the maturity to rise above such sophomoric ego trips.

  • ||

    I've been a libertarian all of my adult life. This is exactly the kind of imploding self destruction I've come to expect from those I hang my hopes on. I keep hoping, and trudging on, because there's nothing better. Even so, this past year was the most exciting I can remember.

    I keep hoping we can win a House seat, or a Governorship. Maybe in 10.

  • Françoise Mouly||

    reason sucks.

  • Tom||

    I think Paul's political momentum can be traced back to a couple things that Barr won't enjoy. He was the outspoken "good doctor" battling against the imperial neocons in the debates. Barr is a former neocon trying to catch Paul's momentum, mostly by releasing some youtube vids explaining his positions. His terse, attorney like speaking style makes him seem like a carpetbagger to the Paul movement. He should of been building bridges with Paul at the 3rd party meeting instead of burning them.

  • ||

    What if Paul had decided a little bit earlier that he wanted his supporters to go third party? Would he have lost any more face at the Republican convention? (They treated him like dirt anyway.) Would he have started off vocally supporting Barr and pumping up his campaign account? It was a huge missed opportunity.

    The missed opportunity wasn't so much Paul not going third party earlier; it was Paul not going Libertarian earlier. Encouraging people to vote for wacked out Total Statists who have nothing in common with you other than their outsider status does absolutely nothing to build a viable alternative.

    I think Barr's instinct to stay the hell away from the Greens and their ilk was the right one; if Paul had done the same thing, we might have a more viable political movement on our hands right about now.

    Bottom line: they both should have reached out to each other earlier.

  • svf||

    Barr is a former neocon trying to catch Paul's momentum

    Barr is no more of a "former neocon" than Ron Paul. Barr is a "former Conservative Republican". The term "neocon" has been used and abused as a generic insult by the Paulites so as to become virtually useless.

    His terse, attorney like speaking style makes him seem like a carpetbagger to the Paul movement.

    His terse, bland, lawyerly style is surely one of many factors preventing Barr from "cathing on, I'm tellin' ya." But I don't think it "makes him sound like a carpetbagger to the Paul movement."

    He should of been building bridges with Paul at the 3rd party meeting instead of burning them.

    Granted, Barr (probably at Russ Verney's direction) bungled the whole Ron Paul 3rd party dog-and-pony show situation. But really -- would we see a groundswell of support for Barr if only he had attended that barely-reported-upon event? Would a Ron Paul endoresement have sent him to 15%+ in the polls and triggered an influx of tens of million dollars into his campaign coffers?

    Nope. Barr rolled the dice on this one and came out with snake eyes -- but the fact is he had nothing to gain or lose either way by participating or not.

  • ||

    The proof that Ron Paul is less of a movement and more of a cult of personality is in the fact that Paulistas don't care that he endorsed voting for the Green Party. The Greens are a group of fruitcake socialists and no self-respecting lover of liberty should be endorsing their platform.

  • 24AheadDotCom||

    Gosh, it seems like just months ago Bobarr the Builder was going to steal the election from McCain.

    What happened? I guess the fact that Bob Barr is clearly a fake might have had some impact.

  • james_joyce||

    I think the Paul/Barr split exemplifies the split between radical and conservative libertarians.

    Paul is a radical, saying things like let's abolish the income tax, let's remove our entire overseas military presence, let's end foreign aid even to Israel, let's abolish the war on drugs and gambling and prostitution. That's why he appeals to the young; they're prone to be excited by radicalism (this includes me).

    Barr is a conservative. He says things like, let's have an 18% flat income tax, let's be use foreign intervention less frequently, let's maintain our special relationship with Israel, let's try something different to fight drugs 'cause this ain't working. He gets fiscal conservatives who don't like McCain excited, and Paulistas follow because he has the L.

    I believe this is also the cause of the press conference debacle. Paul sees the third party candidates, even far left ones, as fellow travelers pursuing similar goals. They disagree, vastly at times, but they can make a lot of progress together, and they're all trying to change the system. Paul can work with someone violently opposed to him.

    Barr sees those candidates as dangerously leftist and to be condemned. They disagree and are as separate as Democrats and Republicans. They're clashing elemental forces to be fought not allied with. Barr will oppose anyone not entrenched in his worldview.

    I think that's both why Barr's campaign hasn't been as successful as Paul's, and why there was eventual fallout with Paul. They're talking similar lines, but they're coming from different places.

  • John||

    I was very impressed by Barr on the NewsHour. He's not some raving loon like Michael Badnarik. I'll be voting for Barr as a protest against big government Republicanism and as an endorsement of the new responsible Libertarian Party.

  • Nigel Watt||

    Young people are always attracted to principles, because they see through the hypocrisy of an older generation, and I think that is what has energized so many of them.



    See, how can you not like that guy? As Paul has said himself, it's the message, not him. And as Reason said, another messenger might have been better. But who?

  • ||

    Don't forget that Paul had the third party candidates agree to four points about war and monetary policy etc..so Paul had an impact on getting the third parties to adopt his platform! That was successful.

  • zoltan||

    Paul's endorsements of those third parties is going to come back and bite him in the ass if he runs for President again (if he's still alive and decides to--his campaign is "suspended" for the time being). It was so idiotic of him not to endorse the one person who had the slightest chance to enact the most similar policies to his own.

  • libertarian4321||

    Barr did shoot himself in the foot with his performance at the Ron Paul presser. He ticked off not only Ron Paul, but many of his supporters. It should be obvious that many of those supporting Ron Paul are Libertarians.

    Bob Barr not only accomplished nothing positive with his antics, he lost part of the Libertarian base.

    For the first time in almost 2 decades, I won't be voting Libertarian for President this year.

  • ||

    It was so idiotic of him not to endorse the one person who had the slightest chance to enact the most similar policies to his own.

    Well, first off, that "one person" snubbed him before he even had the chance.

    Secondly, Paul's cross-spectrum third-party endorsement shows that he is not interested in ideology. What he wants is a more open democracy. Try looking past your own blinders for a change.

  • ||

    The pseudo-libertarians at Reason can go fuck themselves.

  • kritarchist||

    "missed opportunity". Is this satire, or what? Reason, of course, bent over backwards to get Ron Paul elected. Right?

  • ||

    Ron Paul's press conference was about how moneyed interests and the lapdog media drive American politics, with the result that the most important issues do not get addressed. This statement would have been far more powerful if Barr had showed. Even so, I send people links to the C-Span archive because the press conference was still a stunning expose of how our political system works. What did the press carry away from the meeting? That Barr did not attend.

    I think if Barr had participated, the press conference could have been levered into a call for a six-way debate. His behavior made me wonder if his primary allegiance might still be to the CIA.

  • The Democratic Republican||

    Paul's personality cult members (i.e. "supporters") are not libertarians. They are tin-foil-hat-wearing, anti-federalist constitutional nationalists. The proof of it was the endorsement of Baldwin. There was never going to be any other outcome of this coveted endorsement.

    I saw it with my own eyes. The money people gave to Paul wasn't about Paul. It was about having a safe, respectable place to vent stupid theories that had been run out of respectable company since Goldwater and Buckley ran them out of the Republican Party in '64.

    The split between Barr and Paul came early in the campaign -- apparently everyone else forgot -- when Barr said there would be no room for racism or homophobia in his campaign.

  • The Democratic Republican||

    Pete -- You're an idiot. Barr is a respectable politician and didn't want to be part of a nutjob freakshow.

    Maybe you are best-suited for the Boston Tea Party, the biggest political joke of a generation.

  • The Democratic Republican||

    Shii | October 21, 2008, 12:51am | #
    It was so idiotic of him not to endorse the one person who had the slightest chance to enact the most similar policies to his own.

    Well, first off, that "one person" snubbed him before he even had the chance.

    Secondly, Paul's cross-spectrum third-party endorsement shows that he is not interested in ideology. What he wants is a more open democracy. Try looking past your own blinders for a change.

    Agreed, especially when we're talking about state-level "democracy" when the good doctor said there is no right of privacy that can trump anti-homosexuality laws. That kind of "democracy" that violates rights ought to be very familiar to Rockwell (the guy running the Dr. Paul sock-puppet) and his racist ilk.

  • That Dude||

    Ron Paul has "a Texas lilt"? I thought he had a Pittsburgh, uh, Yinz(?).

  • zoltan||

    Well, first off, that "one person" snubbed him before he even had the chance.

    Secondly, Paul's cross-spectrum third-party endorsement shows that he is not interested in ideology. What he wants is a more open democracy. Try looking past your own blinders for a change.


    Snubbed him for not engaging in a parade of nutters? Paul's third-party endorsement ended up making him look like a moron who doesn't understand that those crazy people are even farther from his stance than the current duopoly. Also, if Paul wants an "open democracy" like you say, then he doesn't want the Constitution. This is a republic, so hopefully you're not putting words in his mouth about what he wants. My "blinders" are that Nader, Baldwin, and McKinney are fringe lunatics who clamor for attention with their own reality-deprived views. But Paul, of course, can't see the forest for the trees and back the one person who actually stands for what he does.

  • Pete||

    The Democratic Republican | October 21, 2008, 10:44am | #
    Pete -- You're an idiot. Barr is a respectable politician and didn't want to be part of a nutjob freakshow.


    Unrespectable nutjob freakshow: Candidates for the office of President of the United States, all of whom have qualified on sufficient ballots to theoretically be in the running (I'd like to see YOU do this), meet to condemn the workings of the Federal Debate Commission and to introduce four platform planks somehow overlooked by the majors, to which Bob Barr subscribes.

    Maybe you are best-suited for the Boston Tea Party, the biggest political joke of a generation.

    No, thanks. Though I am in favor of smaller government, I am committed to the Constitution. I guess that makes me a (l)ibertarian Republican, as I have been for over thirty years.

  • windycityatty||

    Speaking as a full-on paultard, I disagree that Dr Paul endorsed ANY particular third party candidate at the press conference.

    He specifically urged people to realize that there is NO APPRECIABLE difference between McCain and Obama - that the two parties are flip sides of the same coin, that REAL issues get trivial treatment and the four issues that all third parties agreed to address (at Paul's suggestion) contained some of those issues.

    What is wrong with this? Are you guys so snobbishly deluded to think that the mere presence of Bob Barr on the stage with Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney would have detracted from the 3-5% of the vote that Barr would likely have gotten if he attended? Oh fucking praise jeebus he didnt lower himself to such an embarassment as standing on stage with the Greens. When Ralph Nader wins more votes in the 08 election than Barr, would that be embarrassing enough for ya'all? What if Cynthia McKinney gains more votes? Or Chuck Baldwin? If no-name Chuck gets more votes than the distinguished former congressman from Georgia will all of you Barr supporters then claim that this decision to snub Dr Paul was WRONG?





    Bob Barr fucked up a good opportunity, and offering Dr Paul the vice presidential slot was merely confirmation that he is a total fucking douche bag who had no business being the LP representative in the 1st place.

  • zoltan||

    So Barr should go on stage with a bunch of nutters in order to get more votes? That's selling out. If any of those third-party candidates get more votes than him, it says more about voters than about Barr's decision not to go to that ridiculous parade. Paul should not even have been endorsing or supporting any third party that does not embrace the principles he claims to stand for. Instead of realizing that the Green Party, Constitution Party, and Nader all have fundamentally incoherent and unprincipled stances that in almost all ways are counter to the Libertarian Party, he thought corralling the four all in the same room would have some kind of positive outcome? What a great opportunity Paul, thanks for offering your shit sandwich to everyone equally.

  • svf||

    If no-name Chuck gets more votes than the distinguished former congressman from Georgia will all of you Barr supporters then claim that this decision to snub Dr Paul was WRONG?

    sure, you bet.

  • cd||

    The press conference was about the platform of four points that Ron Paul laid out. The mainstream candidates oppose all four points. So it is on this platform that the 3rd party candidates must unite in order to make a difference.

    If Bob Barr agrees with those points, he should have been there. He lost my vote. Now I'll probably cringe and vote for Nader. He's the least of three evils.

  • svf||

    If Bob Barr agrees with those points, he should have been there.

    I believe Barr did actually sign off on Ron Paul's four commandments, he just wasn't at the sermon on the mount...

  • ||

    "The Angry Optimist: The proof that Ron Paul is less of a movement and more of a cult of personality is in the fact that Paulistas don't care that he endorsed voting for the Green Party. The Greens are a group of fruitcake socialists and no self-respecting lover of liberty should be endorsing their platform."

    PFFFFtttt. Paul wanted people to support each other. Thats the bottom line. Screw Barr for snubbing him. If he couldnt realize that they ARE in the same boat as far as 4 principles that are being ignored. Pauls strategy was to show the American people they are being screwed and that ANY third party is a CHANGE from ONE!!!!

    Paul SHOULD stay a republican, where he can have a CONTINUING influence. Paulista's arent going anywhere and his fiscal predictions only gain more supporters. Hows the L party holding up?

    I am a big time Paul supporter. Not liberitarian. Re-defining the GOP in the next few years is cetainly preferable to joining a party I dont see going anywhere. If Ron Paul supported BJ Lawson gets the nod from his voters and goes to Congress.. its going to scare the dickens out of congress. Congress is more powerful than the other branches. Thats where change is needed most.

    That my friends, is more important than this presidency.

    Ps. Barr voted for the Patriot Act. Screw him.

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