Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you give it to others.”     William Allen White

April 14, 2008

Bob Barr’s Missed Opportunity

by Stephen Littau

When I learned that Bob Barr was going to be a guest on Hannity and Comes, I was excited to see a rare opportunity for a Libertarian candidate to explain the Libertarian philosophy to an audience which is largely unfamiliar with what the Libertarian Party is all about: personal liberty. To my dismay, Barr instead promoted federalism rather than individual liberty (federalism is important but is not the same thing as individual liberty). Both Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes raised some very good questions which Bob Barr failed to answer (it seemed to me that Alan Colmes, a loyal Democrat, had a better understanding of the Libertarian Party’s positions than Bob Barr did).

The area where Barr disappointed me more than anywhere else was his response to Hannity’s questions regarding the war on (some) drugs. Rather than answer the question directly, Barr chose to dance around the issue and ultimately answered that the drug issue should be left to the states. While surrendering the war on (some) drugs at the federal level would be a vast improvement over the current failed policy, simply surrendering on the federal level does not go nearly far enough (a great first step would be to release the P.O.W.’s – the non-violent drug offenders).

The following is the response I would have liked to hear from Congressman Barr to Hannity’s question: “What would your vote be? Would you vote to legalize heroin and crack?”

Sean, I think you misunderstand the Libertarian position on the war on drugs just as I did for most of my life. The underlying principle of the Libertarian Party is that the government, whether local, state, or federal, has no right to tell a person what to do with his life, liberty, or property provided that he does not violate the rights of life, liberty, or property of a non-consenting other person. It’s none of my business if my neighbor uses heroin or crack in the privacy of his own home so long as he does so without violating my rights or anyone else’s.

Furthermore, Sean, I would like to point out the three most important reasons why Libertarians are opposed to drug prohibition: it’s ineffective, it puts an unnecessary strain on the criminal justice system, and is dangerous because it breeds violent crime. It’s for these reasons that I would declare an end to the war on drugs as my first act as president by pardoning all non-violent drug offenders; all prisons would be free of non-violent drug offenders for the duration of my presidency.

I know that this format will not allow me to go into any detail on any of these reasons why the war on drugs is harmful to society at large, but I would encourage you and your viewers to visit the Libertarian Party website, the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition website, and Cato.org to get a more comprehensive understanding of these arguments [Liberty Papers readers can follow this link for a comprehensive explanation of these arguments].

This is the kind of answer I would expect from any person seeking the Libertarian Party nomination (up to and including the faux Libertarian Mike Gravel). Rather than clarifying the Libertarian position on the war on (some) drugs, Bob Barr unnecessarily made the issue more confusing to potential Libertarians and others unfamiliar with the Libertarian philosophy. Libertarians (both “small l” and “large L”) are also left to wonder: Where does Bob Barr really stand on the war on drugs?

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22 Comments

  1. Stephen,

    You’re right, but the other side of the coin is that one doesn’t talk to Sean Hannity with the expectation that you’ll have a conversation with an actual intellectual.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — April 14, 2008 @ 1:22 pm
  2. Ahhh you’re wrong….such a response would be disastrous if not downright foolish.

    His answer was perfect because it was constitutional and left the power to the states.

    He didn’t have to answer the question of right and wrong because he focused on the question of who has the power to decide. It shuts Hannity down.

    Comment by Chris Kachouroff — April 14, 2008 @ 7:39 pm
  3. I agree with Doug and Chris. It wasn’t an opportunity for a principled education. Hannity would have fired back with some sweet-sounding non-sequitirs and his audience would have lapped it up.

    Barr got some good PR out of the interview. If you want to know where he truly stands on the nuances, keep an eye on his low-profile interviews.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — April 14, 2008 @ 7:56 pm
  4. Got to agree with Doug, Chris, and Jeff on the smaller point…there’s a place and time for a nuanced discussion of politics and the War on Drugs. Hannity & Colmes isn’t it…that would have blown up in his face because Hannity would have gone into blowhard mode and shouted Barr down. He made a smart move by ducking the question because it didn’t allow Hannity to go on the attack.

    That said, I completely agree that merely legalizing at the federal level shouldn’t be the end goal for libertarians, but since the states are the ones taking the more progressive approach to drugs anyway I think that repealing federal anti-drug laws should be all the federal government attempts to address. If we want complete legalization of drugs, we should work as individuals at the state level to achieve that…not have the feds dictate it to the states.

    Comment by UCrawford — April 14, 2008 @ 9:08 pm
  5. Stephen,

    Where does Bob Barr really stand on the war on drugs?

    He works for the Marijuana Policy Project and he’s publicly spoken out for quite some time now against the War on Drugs…there’s really no reason at this point to believe that Barr hasn’t changed his views on drugs from his time in Congress.

    Comment by UCrawford — April 14, 2008 @ 9:10 pm
  6. Barr’s answer was a conservative answer NOT a Libertarian answer. The reason is simple. Barr is no Libertarian. He is a Rightwing social conservative who opposes libertarian ideas. As such he is not worthy of the LP nomination. And people ought to ask why it is that some libertarians are promoting him.

    Comment by WRR — April 14, 2008 @ 11:34 pm
  7. Crawford,

    Hannity would “go into blowhard mode” ?

    When is he not in blowhard mode ?

    Let’s face it, William F. Buckley he ain’t.

    Besides that, the only question that the former construction worker cared about was how Barr could dare run for President if it might cause John McCain — the same John McCain who Hannity was blasting daily on the air only two months ago, by the way, — to lose votes in November.

    This is why I don’t bother with talk radio anymore.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — April 15, 2008 @ 3:52 am
  8. Doug,

    When is he not in blowhard mode?

    Whenever he’s asking questions, trying to figure out where to attack…he can’t bloviate as effectively until his guest actually takes a solid position on something. That’s why you give responses that are evasive enough to keep him asking questions.

    Fuck Hannity anyway…his show sucks. And I haven’t bothered with talk radio since the early ’90s, when Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern were still somewhat interesting.

    Comment by UCrawford — April 15, 2008 @ 5:35 am
  9. Doug and other Folks at Liberty Papers like to bash Ron Paul’s “rambling answers” but, viewed in hindsight, he was far superior to Barr. He was not only more precise but, more importantly, was not so evasive and had a deeper understanding of liberty Doug and company also made fun of Paul’s “quirky” emphasis on the Fed. It turns out that he was very much ahead of the curve on the Fed issue which is very much in the news. Will they ever admit it or do they want Barr to pretend that the Fed doesn’t exist?

    I hope that Paul will reenter the race. As the economy heads toward recession, who else is there?

    Comment by Dodsworth — April 15, 2008 @ 5:38 am
  10. WRR,

    Barr’s answer was a conservative answer NOT a Libertarian answer.

    He was appearing on a conservative show, run by a conservative host who’s hostile to libertarians, while trying to win over conservative voters…he’s trying to bridge the gap between libertarians and conservatives, he’s not supposed to start preaching to the choir. That’s what a politician running a serious campaign is supposed to do. You’d prefer that he start rambling about the Fed and how we never needed to fight the Civil War?

    And his actions outside of the talk circuit indicate he is plenty libertarian these days.

    Comment by UCrawford — April 15, 2008 @ 5:41 am
  11. Dodsworth,

    Will they ever admit it or do they want Barr to pretend that the Fed doesn’t exist?

    The Fed is not an issue most mainstream voters care about, abolishing the Fed is not a solution most mainstream voters are interested in, therefore it’s not an issue that anyone who wants the libertarian candidate to do well wants Bob Barr to focus on. No matter who were to get elected, the Fed’s not going away, the gold standard’s not coming back anytime soon and it’s a waste of time discussing either of those things in regards to the presidential race.

    Comment by UCrawford — April 15, 2008 @ 5:49 am
  12. …Slamming head against wall repeatedly….

    I’m getting sick of fever swamp commenters, both the libertarian-ish Paulestinian version here, as well as the far left version that I’ve been putting up with at my own site and Megan McArdle’s site. Not to mention the conservative version I’ve been putting up with at McArdle’s site. At some point I need to realize that it’s not even worth debating these people. You’re better off just ignoring (or deleting) their comments and moving along. Otherwise, you’re just having a conversation with a wall.

    Comment by Mark — April 15, 2008 @ 6:48 am
  13. Mark,

    Preaching to the choir, brother…

    Comment by UCrawford — April 15, 2008 @ 6:56 am
  14. I know, UCrawford. I just needed to vent. It’s the left-wing fever swamp that’s been the worst, actually. For them, hatred of libertarians is an outright religion. It’s not the entire left-wing, of course – I’ve got some great relationships with a bunch of leftie blogs. It’s just the fever swamp I can’t stand.

    Comment by Mark — April 15, 2008 @ 7:03 am
  15. Mark:

    At some point I need to realize that it’s not even worth debating these people. You’re better off just ignoring (or deleting) their comments and moving along. Otherwise, you’re just having a conversation with a wall.

    So far, I think the discussion in this thread has been quite productive. I don’t really know what to make of Congressman Barr at this point so I really appreciate hearing the arguments on both sides. To be honest, I haven’t followed his career or post-career very closely (but I will look into his work on the marijuana policy project when I have some time). I do however, remember John Stossel interviewing him when he was in congress defending the war on (some) drugs.

    Did Barr really have a change of heart about his ant-libertarian record (some of which Alan Colmes pointed out) after leaving congress? If so that’s great, I would love to hear more about how and why he changed (some of which he explained in the interview).

    I do find it disheartening though seeing people like Mike Gravel, who is clearly not a libertarian, join the LP for opportunistic reasons. The LP is the third largest political party and has ballot access in nearly every state. I could imagine a scenario where others like Ralph Nader would join the LP as a vehicle to further non-libertarian agendas.

    I don’t think that Bob Barr is one of these people but if he wants to promote the LP agenda, he needs to stand up to people like Sean Hannity (as I believe any of the other candidates seeking the LP nomination would have).

    Comment by Stephen Littau — April 15, 2008 @ 11:30 am
  16. Stephen:
    I was just blowing off steam at the Paulestinian interlocuter. Nothing directed at you or at the thread more generally, which I agree is good.

    Comment by Mark — April 15, 2008 @ 11:47 am
  17. Barr belongs back in the Rupugnant Party. He, as the Libertarian presidential nominee would be an insult to the entire libertarian movement. Here, when pushed, he states he wouldn’t vote to legalize hard drugs. We don’t need Libertarians who pussyfoot around issues they are afraid the majority of moronic voters will not approve. Libertarianism is still in the educational phase. So educate those who can be reached by explaining we’re about liberty, then point out the real world horrors these drug laws cause. None of the masses will learn anything with sell-outs like Barr speaking for us.

    Comment by marlow — April 16, 2008 @ 5:48 pm
  18. If I’m going to vote it will probably be for Bob Barr. He isn’t perfect. Neither was Ron Paul. Bob Barr went on a crusade against Wiccans awhile back. However in this society that is a badge of honor.

    Mike Gravel is seeking a party to use for his run for presidency and has an inability to defend his rigid belief system. He goes on a Bill O’Reilly like tirade like some of his supporters when faced with facts and reality, hurling abusive accusations to hide his ignorance.

    Comment by uhm — April 17, 2008 @ 3:13 pm
  19. Bob Barr went on a crusade against Wiccans? What’s that about?

    Comment by Stephen Littau — April 17, 2008 @ 5:13 pm
  20. As I recall bob Barr was incensed that the military was allowing Wiccan service-members to practice their religion on base.

    Essentially, he tried to get the millitary to ban the religion.

    Comment by tarran — April 17, 2008 @ 5:23 pm
  21. Even though I think Barr’s conversion to libertarianism is authentic, it’s worth pointing out something else that got his name in the papers back in the day.

    He was legendary for his crusade to name pretty much the entire DC/NoVa region after Ronald Reagan. At one point, IIRC, he was responsible for withholding funds from the DC Metro until they changed the name of National Airport on their system maps to Ronald Reagan National Airport. But my memory might be wrong on that account- it may have been someone else, although I’m pretty sure it was Barr.

    I would tend to think that today’s Bob Barr largely regrets some of those crusades, but I might just be overly optimistic.

    Comment by Mark — April 17, 2008 @ 6:08 pm
  22. http://www.religioustolerance.org/burn_aw2.htm
    http://www.rickross.com/reference/wicca/wicca5.html

    Comment by uhm — April 17, 2008 @ 7:12 pm

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