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August 2002
Volume 16,
Number 8

  Politics  

Targeting Bob Barr

by J. Bradley Jansen

Aside from Ron Paul, Bob Barr is the most libertarian member of Congress. Unfortunately, he supports the Drug War. Is that a good reason for the Libertarian Party to set its sights on him?


The Libertarian Party has targeted drug warriors in the upcoming election as part of a national "spoiler" strategy to defeat leaders of the War on Drugs. The "Incumbent Killer Strategy" targets five federal incumbents — three Republicans and two Democrats. The goal is to scare other House and Senate members into backing away from their support for the War on Drugs.

J. Bradley Jansen is the first vice chair of the Libertarian Party in the District of Columbia.

Among those the LP is targeting is Bob Barr, a former federal prosecutor and four-term incumbent from Georgia's 7th District. In the redistricting done after the last census, state Democrats put him into the same district as fellow incumbent Republican Congressman John Linder, and Barr is in for a tough primary fight. The LP plans to run ads this summer against Barr in the primary.

The Libertarian Party's decision is an unmitigated mistake.

If the LP succeeds, it will take out one of the best friends libertarians have in Congress, a man second only to Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), the LP's 1988 presidential nominee, as a supporter of the libertarian agenda. Except for the War on Drugs, Bob Barr is generally quite libertarian, and his leadership among conservatives has helped advance the libertarian cause on Capitol Hill. American Conservative Union chairman David A. Keene has observed, "Bob Barr is an innovator and a leader. He's considered partisan by those who don't like him, but he's fought for privacy and individual rights alongside folks like Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) to reform our civil asset forfeiture laws and the American Civil Lib-erties Union in warning about the future dangers lurking in our nation's response to Osama bin Laden and his buddies."

Barr was instrumental in the formation of the broad left-right-libertarian coalition, including drug reform groups, that defended civil liberties immediately after Sept. 11. I worked closely with Rep. Barr's office during the four years I worked for Congressman Ron Paul. Barr was on the short list of people on the House banking committee that I could rely on to stand up for limited government, less regulation, and privacy. He was also reasonable and approachable even on drug issues.

When the Federal Reserve System tried to promulgate its infamous "Know Your Customer" regulations, Barr was initially sympathetic to the idea, based on the very limited information he had, which had come mostly from other former prosecutors. But Bob Barr did his homework, and came to realize that the measure destroyed personal privacy and forced banks to spy on their customers for the government. The public campaign against the regulation would not have succeeded without Barr. In this effort, Barr and Paul were joined by the Libertarian Party, whose DefendYourPrivacy. org website enabled people to sign an online petition that was responsible for more than half of the negative comments the Fed received. He even pushed for an amendment that would have also rolled back many existing reporting requirements that undermine individual financial privacy.

Yet the LP is trying to defeat Barr in the GOP primary. How does Barr compare to the incumbent GOP congressman he faces there? I compared Linder's and Barr's voting records to each other. In the 107th Congress when Ron Paul stood up for our sovereignty against the United Nations (Roll Call votes 245 and 246), it was Bob Barr who supported him, not John Linder — just as Barr supported Paul in cutting corporate welfare by limiting funding for the Export-Import Bank (Roll Call vote 261).

If one looks at their willingness to go on the record before forced to show their hand in a vote, it is Bob Barr who again has the better record. Rep. Barr is a co-sponsor of H. Res. 197, "Stop U.N. Gun Ban." Linder is not. Barr supports H.R. 2615 "Stop National Medical ID and the Patient Privacy Protection Act." Linder does not.

The LP effort to defeat Bob Barr in the primary is, at best, a waste of precious resources sorely needed for LP candidates in the general election. At worst, it will contribute to the defeat of one of the most libertarian-minded congressmen we have.

Congressman Barr is a leading defender of civil liberties. He introduced legislation that forces the National Security Agency's Project ECHELON to provide a full accounting to the Congress of their covert monitoring of millions of phone calls, faxes, and emails. He led the fight against National ID Card proposals and introduced legislation in 1998 to check the federal government's abuse of wire-tapping laws — including the use of roving wiretaps — and also opposed governmental interception of cellular phone calls. He introduced legislation to mandate that the federal government issue "Privacy Impact Statements" every time it issues a new rule or regulation.

He was a chief sponsor of a law to limit abuses of the civil asset forfeiture statutes. He fought against OSHA regulations and to limit small business vulnerability to frivolous labor litigation. He is a board member of the National Rifle Association, and a staunch defender of the right of Americans to own and use firearms. He has introduced and sponsored legislation to block litigation against gun manufacturers for the acts of their customers and to limit any background checks and mandate they be conducted "instantly."

Barr has succinctly advocated the principle that while criminals must be punished to the full extent of the law, their civil liberties must be protected with even more vigor. He is a staunch defender of American sovereignty and opposes the executive branch's overzealous use of our military abroad — he even filed suit against President Clinton's war in Kosovo without congressional approval. He is a fierce critic of the United Nations — and to a lesser degree NATO — and has consistently supported efforts to withdraw U.S. membership from the United Nations. He co-sponsored a committee amendment to withdraw the U.S. from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Since his first day in Congress back in 1995, Barr has tirelessly fought to eliminate the Internal Revenue Code, supported the "flat tax" proposal, and consistently supported passage of a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds supermajority of Congress to raise taxes. He was an early supporter of lowering the capital gains tax and recently he introduced legislation to provide tax credits for educators: public, private, and homeschool! More than any other member of the Georgia delegation, Congressman Barr has parted with the Republican majority to vote against bloated "pork barrel" spending.

He has continually fought the unconstitutional "campaign finance reforms." Defending our fundamental rights, he has filed a lawsuit to prevent implementation of the recently passed legislation. Linder personally introduced legislation to ban so-called "soft money" to political campaigns. Barr was a very visible leader of the impeachment of President Clinton.

John Zogby, a pollster for Linder's campaign, admits that the race at this point is tight but thinks his client has the edge. He was surprised to learn the Libertarian Party was targeting Bob Barr. In fact, only two pollsters I reached were familiar with the LP's project. Amy Walter who covers the House races for the Cook Political Report was only vaguely aware of the effort and thinks it offered evidence that Bob Barr is "a leader in Washington," adding that the LP opposition is "sure going to backfire."

Whit Ayers, who is polling for the Barr campaign, echoed Walter's analysis. He could not understand why the LP would target his candidate since "Bob Barr has more libertarian instincts than all of my other Republican clients put together." This observation actually made him a bit uncomfortable since, according to his polls, national security and economic insecurity were the issues that matter most to likely Republican primary voters. He doesn't believe that the LP's plan to target Barr on the drug war will work because the drug war is "way, way down the list" of issues Republican primary voters care about.

I think my friends at the LP should act like a political party and not like a PAC. We are not a single-issue party — except for the issue of liberty. We have an historic opportunity to present ourselves as a viable alternative if we can take the mantle as the party of smaller government from the Republicans and the party who defends constitutional liberties from the party of Bill Clinton, Janet Reno et al.

The LP effort to defeat Bob Barr in the primary is, at best, a waste of precious resources sorely needed for LP candidates in the general election. At worst, it will contribute to the defeat of one of the most libertarian-minded con-gressmen we have, while failing to gain any allies. The LP has a historic opportunity to present itsellf as a viable alternative to the big parties, instead of spending its money and energy trying to defeat one of libertarianism's few friends in Congress just because they disagree with him on one issue.

© Copyright 2008, Liberty Foundation


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