Monday, December 18, 2006

Raising the Barr

As you may have heard elsewhere by now, former US Representative Bob Barr (R-GA) no longer has the "R" in front of his name. He's become a life member of the Libertarian Party and, as of last Friday, now sits as a regional representative on the Libertarian National Committee.

This development has already generated some controversy within the party. I'd be hard put to name anything that doesn't generate controversy within the party. I've participated in some "comment duels" on other blogs about the whole thing, but it's time for a bit of a summary/wrap-up:

First off, I'm glad to have Bob Barr in the LP. This may seem counter-intuitive given my self-identification as a "left libertarian," but I'm also "big tent."

In Congress, Barr was sometimes among the best, and sometimes among the worst, from a pro-liberty perspective. Since leaving Congress, his work has mainly been on the issues where he pulled strongly pro-liberty. He hasn't spent the last four years being a drug warrior or a gay-basher. He's spent the last four years working with groups like the ACLU to roll back the USA PATRIOT Act and other anti-freedom abominations.

I don't have any kind of Deep Throat source on whether Barr's views on marriage, drugs, etc., have evolved in a libertarian direction. I hope they have, and I hope he says so. To the extent they may not have, I'd rather have him in the LP working on the issues we agree on, than outside the LP working on the issues we disagree on.

Questions have already been raised as to whether Barr's affiliation with, and acceptance of a leadership position in, the LP presages a 2008 presidential campaign. This is obviously of particular interest to me, given my role as communications director for Steve Kubby's ongoing campaign.

My initial reaction is that Barr's acceptance of an LNC seat militates against a prospective candidacy. Since the LNC administers the nominating convention, party members would tend to take a dim view of an LNC member simultaneously being a candidate for the nomination. David Weigel's weekend interview with Barr seems to confirm his intent not to run:

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.

A secondary -- but important -- controversy has emerged on the matter of how Barr's appointment to the LNC was handled: In a word, badly. For more on that, see Melinda Pillsbury-Foster in Liberty For All, or Susan Hogarth at colliething.

I doubt that that sub-controversy will torpedo the accomplishment. And I very much doubt that Barr himself was involved in, or even aware of, the way things were being handled. But it's still a problem. Those who played the secrecy/ukase game on this may have felt like they were being Machiavellian and realpolitickal. In actuality, they were merely eroding their own credibility as party leaders in an attempt to avoid controversies that were bound to come up no matter how they handled things.

The LP is in an interesting and dangerous position. We stand to benefit from a GOP crackup and exodus that's beginning to happen anyway, and Bob Barr is certainly qualified to lead the charge there. The real question is just how much we should be willing to risk on that opportunity. It's certainly not unworthy of our attention and effort.

On the other hand, we have great potential to pick up support on the putative "left" as well, and we need to be careful not to let our constituencies on that side of the spectrum down. It should be a matter of the "right" swinging toward the LP, not the LP swinging toward the "right." If the price of having Bob Barr in the LP means sacrificing our support for religious, medical and marital freedom, or our opposition to foreign military adventurism, it's just not worth it. Fortunately, I don't think that any such sacrifice is even on the table.

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