Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Raising the Barr, part 1: Marriage

OK, so I've said that it's up to Libertarian Party radicals to both support our party's presidential candidate and to help him make his message consistent with libertarian principles.

I've already declared my support for the Barr/Root ticket. I'll help them in any way I can. So, when I critique their presentations, please take it as constructive criticism, designed to help them be better candidates. I'm no longer trying to beat them. I'm trying to help them beat John McCain and whomever the Democrats nominate. I'm also trying to help them be the kind of candidates whom I can point admiringly upward at from my billet as a 2008 Libertarian congressional candidate.

So, let's take Bob Barr's post-nomination comment on the Defense of Marriage Act, as transcribed by David Tomlin, and get to work:

Well, I wouldn’t be too hard, too fast to talk about the Defense of Marriage Act flying the face of anybody’s platform. It simply stands for the proposition that each state is free to make up its own decision, its people are able to decide for themselves what their definition of marriage to be and no one state should force another state to adopt its definition. A very, very sound individualistic and states rights policy.

There are ways to arrive at a libertarian position on marriage that don't require Barr to sacrifice one iota of his credibility with social conservatives. In point of fact, some adjustments would increase that credibility.

Let us start from two propositions:

First, that in one respect marriage is a civil contract between two (or more) parties. Libertarians (and conservatives) generally regard contract as a private matter between the parties to it. Sure, the courts are called in to enforce contracts when they're breached, and if the contract has criminal acts among its terms of performance it's a criminal conspiracy ... but that's about the limit of legitimate public interest. The state has no business regulating the right to contract on the basis of the gender or number of parties.

Secondly, that marriage is, outside of contractual aspects that might have to be enforced by the courts at some point, a personal commitment usually expressed as a religious rite. It's a matter of freedom of speech ("I do," "I pronounce you," etc.), freedom of religion (where applicable), and freedom of association.

Instead of defending DOMA, Barr should be telling "the business of America is business"-type conservatives "I don't like the idea of government fooling around in the business of regulating terms of contract. Right now, the fooling around is by gender and number for marriage. Next week, it could be how many popsicles you can sell to one customer or what color the wrappers have to be."

Instead of defending DOMA, Barr should be asking social conservatives "do you really want the government telling you how you may worship, what the content of your religious services are, whom your sacraments may serve? Right now, it's marriage. Next week, maybe Congress or your state legislature will want to speak ex cathedra on dunking versus sprinkling or settle the argument over the transubstantiation of the host. Who may commit to whom in your church should be for your church, not some politician, to decide."

"States rights" is a compelling argument to a certain audience (and let us not forget that Barr comes to us from Georgia, where that audience is a big demographic), but c'mon: States don't have rights -- people do. Leave that garbage in the bin with the Dixiecrats who last trafficked on it with any success ... and get mainstream, Congressman.

Support equal protection of the laws for all, Congressman Barr. Sustain the Full Faith and Credit clause, Congressman Barr. Show the voters that a libertarian political approach is not at odds with a conservative social approach, but rather protects freedom of speech, religion and association for everyone, conservatives included.

And here's the kicker, Congressman: You got told a lot during the Libertarian nomination process that you needed to apologize for some of your past actions. That was true, but it was framed in terms of "you have to do this to get our nomination." It actually goes beyond that.

Your most effective club as a candidate is not that you're a former Republican congressman. Can't swing a cat around here without hitting one of those. No, your big stick is being able to go to the public and say "My old party was wrong on [insert issue], and I was wrong with them. They're still wrong, but I'm not wrong any more. I've changed my mind and I've changed my ways. Now I'm right, and I'm asking you to help me fix the stuff that my party broke." That approach will get you ten times the media and ten times the support that trying to out-Republican John McCain would.

Being right is not enough. It's a start, but you have to add a good story to it for anyone to notice ... and you've got a very good story. You've got a Ronald Reagan story -- does "I didn't leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me" ring any bells?

Tell that story. Tell it right. Drive it home. Do that, and you can shift the debate, move the center, make America a better nation. We're behind you now, Congressman Barr. Time to lead.

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