The Economist on Bob Barr

|

In 2004, the Economist was the first magazine to take the hammer and tongs to Libertarian Party presidential candidate Michael Badnarik. The candidate's staff hurried to purge damaging and weird material from his web site after he, surprisingly, won. The Economist dug it up and painted Badnarik as a kook.

All of which is prelude to Lexington's column on the LP and Bob Barr.

The new Libertarian champion, Bob Barr, a former four-term Georgia congressman, is most famous for his poor judgment and sour temper… he once accidentally discharged an antique pistol at a gun show… The Libertarian Party is one of the perennial jokes of American politics… The party is also badly divided between what might be called its Ruby Ridge wing and its Reefer Madness wing.

I spent a few minutes grasping for the right word to describe this "ha, rubes!" throat-cleaning. I'll stick with "trite." Barr's reputation has undergone a surprisingly successful, and deserved, rehabbing since he was thrown out of Congress. (There was a four-year gap between his exit and his hitch-up with the LP, despite Lexington's snide assertion that Barr took the LP job as a consolation prize.) He's better known now for his anti-PATRIOT Act and pro-marijuana lobbying than he is for anything in his previous career apart from the impeachment. He did not accidentally discharge a pistol "at a gun show," but at a supporter's home (although the way the supporter tried to take the blame was, at the time, sort of pathetic). As for the LP, the survivalist/pothead framework is obviously pretty silly: for every Stan Jones, there are 20 or 30 David Nolans.

But! Lexington kids because he loves.

The libertarian pool also contains more fish than you might think. Polls suggest that 10-20% of the electorate are willing to define themselves as "libertarians" in the sense that, like this newspaper, they are "conservative" on economics and "liberal" on social issues. These soft libertarians have been strikingly willing to break party ranks, whether to support John Anderson in 1980 or Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996.

I think Anderson got more votes from Democrats than Republicans, but sure, here's some evidence that a serious and media-savvy LP can actually take chunks out of the GOP coalition.

[I]t would be wrong to underestimate how angry many small-government Republicans are with Mr Bush. Ronald Reagan once remarked that he did not leave the Democratic Party: the Democratic Party left him. That is what many libertarian sorts now feel about the Republicans.

The LP's opportunity here is that the Democrats, in the long run, don't offer solace to libertarians the way that Republicans offered solace to anti-New Deal, states' rights Democrats. There are exceptions that prove the rule, like Montana Sen. Jon Tester, but the Democrats are not interested in taking on politically unpopular (Social Security privatization) or politically difficult (rollback of the national security state) libertarian issues. A legitimate LP that drives a wedge into two-party elections, or grabs the balance of power in state legislatures (as the Constitution Party has done in Montana) might be the best chance of bringing lasting attention to those issues.

NEXT: Baltimore's War on Blunts

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.

  1. The party is also badly divided between what might be called its Ruby Ridge wing and its Reefer Madness wing.

    Ya gotta admit, that’s some funnys stuff.

  2. Two things:

    1) The Economist has to be the world’s most overrated magazine.

    2) The real possibilities for the LP, in this time of massive political realignment, is not to hold the balance of power but instead to draw all libertarian-leaners away from the two parties and create a political paradigm of individualist versus statist.

    This is why Barr-haters are so short-sighted: they can’t see that he is only the beginning of a massive wave that, once and for all, will crystalize the true struggle in American politics.

  3. Ya gotta admit, that’s some funnys stuff.

    Cheap shot stereotypes are weak humor and are beneath The Economist (although Lex certainly has a history of this type of cheap shot humor).

    Also, it’s baseless. Where does this perception come from? Sure, the LP attracts both anti-drug warriors and anti-government people whose preferences may not overlap. But badly divided?

  4. but are people gonna waste their vote?

    *ducks*

  5. The LP’s best hope is in Instant Runoff Voting. That way people can vote for principles and at the same time for the lesser of two evils. It is a good system.

  6. This is why Barr-haters are so short-sighted: they can’t see that he is only the beginning of a massive wave that, once and for all, will crystalize the true struggle in American politics.

    How is that supposed to work? Barr may bring in right-libertarians, but will alienate left-libertarians. You acknowledge that the LP needs to draw support from both parties. What hope do we have of appealing to disenchanted Democrats now?

  7. I used to subscribe to The Economist before it was easy to get news online. It still makes Time and Newsweek look like People when it comes to straight reporting, but its opinion pieces became so lame that I let my subscription lapse. It appears that things have only gotten worse on that front.

  8. Even if overrated, the Economist is the best general news magazine out there.
    And even if Lexington is wrong, he still reflects a broadly held view of our movement. We shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

  9. IRV | May 30, 2008, 11:59am | #
    The LP’s best hope is in Instant Runoff Voting. That way people can vote for principles and at the same time for the lesser of two evils. It is a good system.

    Fuck that noise! The LAST thing a libertarian wants is to put more Green Party and Constitution Party candidates into office.

  10. “our movement.”
    Sorry. I should have said “my movement.”
    I shouldn’t assume to know what the hell the rest of you are up to.

  11. So is Neil writing for The Economist now?

    Shouldn’t we expect something a tad more thoughtful from these folks? Maybe not…

  12. Go ahead, throw your vote away! Hahahahahaha!

  13. The Economist does some fine stuff but it also harbors a statist bias.

  14. Irrational Crazy Supporters
    Crazy Pastors
    Hillary Blogs
    Obamas resume
    Want to know the difference between Clinton and Obama supporters

    This and more on?

    http://sensico.wordpress.com/

  15. “Ronald Reagan once remarked that he did not leave the Democratic Party: the Democratic Party left him.”

    I don’t expect much from the Economist, but it’s annoying to see them repeating Ronnie’s self-serving lie. In his autobiography, written prior to his run for governor, Ronnie described his earlier self as a “hemophiliac liberal,” and when Truman won in ’48, Ronnie was overjoyed. With the Democrats controlling both the White House and Congress, we’ll be sure to have national health insurance! Wow! The Democratic Party didn’t leave Ronnie. He left it.

  16. Barr may bring in right-libertarians, but will alienate left-libertarians.

    Well, I’m more left than right but I’m ok with Barr.

    His name alone will certainly alienate some lefties. But at least he should get enough of a media hearing that some of them might be turned with enough “mea culpas” for his past stances.

  17. For a magazine called Economist….

  18. There is absolutely no way to partially or wholly privatize Social Security without raising taxes – making that a neutral issue for the LP forever (or until the national debt goes away – which is the same as forever).

  19. For a magazine called Economist….

    It ain’t cheap.

    That piece reads as if “Lexington” conducted exhaustive research on libertarianism at a series of Beltway Republican fundraiser cocktail parties.

    I’ll agree with the others; the once-great Economist seems to be careening Hell-ward in the same hand-cart as the rest of western civilisation.

  20. Warren | May 30, 2008, 12:03pm | #

    This is why Barr-haters are so short-sighted: they can’t see that he is only the beginning of a massive wave that, once and for all, will crystalize the true struggle in American politics.

    How is that supposed to work? Barr may bring in right-libertarians, but will alienate left-libertarians. You acknowledge that the LP needs to draw support from both parties. What hope do we have of appealing to disenchanted Democrats now?

    This is what I’m talking about. This fear is short-sighted. Next time, Gravel or someone like him will be the nominee and then the “other wing” will say “But what about Republicans?”

    America does not belong to Ds and Rs. Americans are people with complicated political preferences. Having a credible LP will start to drive a wedge into otherwise reliable voting blocks. People will begin to decide on the most fundamental issue: do we choose more government or do we choose less?

    Obama’s stunning failure (either by losing the election or his crappy performance as president), a Hillary miracle comeback, and the purging of libertarians from the GOP are just the beginning of a massive realignment that we haven’t seen since the mid-19th century.

  21. shrike | May 30, 2008, 12:25pm | #

    There is absolutely no way to partially or wholly privatize Social Security without raising taxes – making that a neutral issue for the LP forever (or until the national debt goes away – which is the same as forever).

    Agree with your analysis but disagree over the value of the issue. There should be nothing wrong with a pragmatic LP or LP candidate saying that we have to raise a tax (or cut spending) in order to get rid of an entitlement. To me, it is the perfect issue on which to show moral courage (and show that Libertarians can think outside of the fundamentalist box).

  22. To me, it is the perfect issue on which to show moral courage (and show that Libertarians can think outside of the fundamentalist box).
    TDR – There are some who can’t think outside the fundamentalist box and would cry bloody murder.

    Ron Paul tried this with the proposals to save overall amounts of money by cutting spending elsewhere and only increasing it a little bit on Social Security so that we could phase it out.

    I thought those sorts of things were well received, fortunately.

  23. Reinmoose:

    Ya, I thought RP was right on with his thoughts on the matter. At least it is helpful to have him on record supporting that type of idea, so that when people start bashing Barr or the next guy for not being (whatever ideology)-enough, we can point back to RP.

  24. Next time, Gravel or someone like him will be the nominee and then the “other wing” will say “But what about Republicans?”

    I don’t buy it. Gravel injected himself into the fray and got deservedly stiff-armed. I just don’t see the LP reaching out to the left, and with Barr at the top of the ticket we’re even more toxic.

    If you ask me, I say the trouble is this whole fetishizing of the Presidential candidate. I’d like to see libertarians get behind a gubernatorial, senate, or congressional candidate in a serious way. Serious enough to get the elected. Libertarians in office higher than town council would be the best thing for the LP.

  25. There should be nothing wrong with a pragmatic LP or LP candidate saying that we have to raise a tax (or cut spending) in order to get rid of an entitlement.

    Cato takes this tack all the time. It’s only the fringe purists who believe that the best solution to ending an entitlement is to go cold turkey.

  26. I fully agree, DR and RM.

    I liked Ron Paul’s pragmatism on entitlement reform.

    It was a lot more palatable than yelling “socialists!” at retirees and scaring the hell out of them.

  27. MP,

    Is there any evidence of incrementalism working to get rid of a program? It almost worked for the NEA and Farm subsidies but they are both back and bigger than ever.

    Incrementalism is great for growing a program but horrible for killing it off.

    I would be more than willing to support incremental killing if I thought it would actually work. But, pragmatically, cold turkey is the only thing that works.

  28. As much as I am opposed to Cold Turkey, robc does have a valid view.

    Incremental change falls victim to its own success. If the goal is to completely kill something off, making the host BETTER gradually usually is counterproductive.

    But from a purely political standpoint Cold Turkey would be a disaster. Thus – Ron Paul and Cato are more astute.

    I don’t know where Bob Barr stands on this – it seems have been overlooked recently — (in the “Barr Era” at least).

  29. Fuck that noise! The LAST thing a libertarian wants is to put more Green Party and Constitution Party candidates into office.

    You’re kidding, right Warren?

    If opening up the possibility of electing Libertarians also opens up the possibility of electing members of other “minor” parties, you’d really oppose it?

  30. Funny comment indeed! 20% of us may identify our politics w/ the Libertarian party but voting for one like Bob Barr (or Badnarik) for president is another thing.

  31. If opening up the possibility of electing Libertarians also opens up the possibility of electing members of other “minor” parties, you’d really oppose it?

    Your goddamned right I would. Six days of the week and twice on Sunday. It’s not even a txt msg of a close call. What succubus has stolen your sole that you would actively wish the acceleration of government sweep and authority, in return for empty election victories?

  32. I cant seem to find the Official Barr Root Web site. They are running on the libertarian ticket right? Could someone out there help me out. Im thinking about voting for the libertarian ticket this year, but I cant fing the Barr/Root site to learn more about the candidates. Ive been to
    http://www.BarrRoot.com http://www.BarrRoot08.com and http://www.BarrRoot2008.com
    None of these websites are up and running yet? Someone told me that the libertarians Campaign mainly online? But I cant figure out why I cant find a campaign site. If anyone knows Please let me know. Thanks.

  33. Warren, you should get that massive head trauma looked at. Seriously.

  34. And I didn’t know succubi were interested in shoes.

  35. charles,

    Some reason you didnt try leaving the root out?

    http://www.bobbarr2008.com

  36. Some reason you didnt try leaving the root out?

    Every time I try that I get arrested.

  37. The real possibilities for the LP, in this time of massive political realignment, is not to hold the balance of power but instead to draw all libertarian-leaners away from the two parties and create a political paradigm of individualist versus statist.

    You sure you want that? See my link.

  38. or grabs the balance of power in state legislatures (as the Constitution Party has done in Montana)

    When did this happen?

  39. Yes, Robert, I’m sure that I want a realignment of politics on an order that vast and profound.

  40. “….there are 20 or 30 David Nolans.” –David Weigel

    Say again?

  41. The website is Bobbarr2008.com. It would be silly to switch to a new website just because Barr now has a running mate.

  42. I have always wondered if he was passing, cause I always saw him as one of us Brothers.

  43. “There is absolutely no way to partially or wholly privatize Social Security without raising taxes”

    Raise the minimum age to collect benefits by 3 months a year, indefinitely. Retired people keep their benefits. People nearing retirement only have to work a little while longer. Young people entering the work force understand that they will have the responsibility of saving for their own retirement (at least until they’re 90). Reduce taxes as the number of collecting retirees dwindles.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.