Could Bob Barr Be the Spoiler Candidate of 2008?
As a talk show host, I enjoy getting calls from my listeners. One of those callers is Clay from Woleska, Georgia. About two years ago, he sent a manuscript of sorts to me entitled, "GOP: Great on Promises, Gutless on Principles." It was a bound copy of hundreds of letters he received from dozens of Republican lawmakers over the years, ever since the GOP gained a majority in Congress in 1994. They responded to his concerns about the tax code, spending and other issues of which Clay had seen fit to write. When you look at all those promises bound in one book, it's easy to see why Republicans lost the House and Senate in 2006.
In 2002, Rep. Bob Barr lost his seat in the United States House of Representatives - a victim of those unfulfilled promises. Bob had been targeted by the Left in America for his role as one of the House Managers of the Impeachment proceedings against President Clinton. They had been unsuccessful in 2000, but in 2002 with a little help from redistricting and Barr's own decision to run against fellow incumbent Rep. John Linder, he was defeated in the Republican primary.
After leaving office, Bob Barr separated more and more from Republican positions on the War in Iraq and the Global War on Terror. He opposed the Patriot Act on civil liberties grounds and collaborated with the ACLU on data and informational privacy issues. He seemed for a time to be a man without a party, until he announced his switch to the Libertarian Party in December 2006.
Last week, I talked to Bob Barr about his run for president as the Libertarian Party candidate. The key issues for Barr are the restoration of civil liberties and protecting privacy rights. He believes that these issues will resonate with young voters and noted how they affected the young followers of Cong. Ron Paul and Sen. Barack Obama.
Barr believes that Sen. John McCain represents that status quo in the Republican Party and is nothing more than a Washington insider on domestic issues and won't change direction on our engagement in Iraq. He believes that we have to begin withdrawing troops immediately from Iraq to force the Iraqi government to step up. He says without a significant reduction in troops the Iraqis will not take the lead.
Barr also contends the two parties have become mere debating societies rather than agents for change. Conservatives may relate to a candidate like Bob Barr because of the growing irrelevance of the two party system. Barr believes that parties should be relevant and they have to be true to their ideals.
One of the big stumbling blocks for old-time Libertarians was their view on open borders. In light of the existence of the nanny state in America today as well as a less than free market impeded by regulation, Barr is taking a more forward view than the Libertarian Party now professes on illegal immigration. He believes there must be border security but doesn't support a fence. In addition, he believes it is an issue of sovereignty. Libertarians have acknowledged that in a perfect world involving a free market and personal responsibility, an open border is not a threat because you have to make your own way. But this is not a perfect world and Barr's position on border security may play well with many voters.
There are many reasons why people decide to run as alternative party candidates. Sometimes it's to sell a book, get notoriety, or work to further an issue. Few candidates run with the idea they can win the presidency. However, if there is any election in recent years where an alternative candidate can make a difference, it is this one. The Republicans have their candidate. The Democrats are still tearing themselves apart. But there is still money out there for a candidate tap. Many people thought Ron Paul was a fringe candidate, but you can't deny his following and ability to raise money. This year a strong third party candidate could really muck things up.
So Bob Barr has three obstacles. First, he needs to get legitimate media coverage that is serious and not condescending. Second, he needs to clarify his immigration policy as far as what he means by border security in a way that people will accept. Finally, he has to have a workable policy to fight the Global War on Terror from his constitutional perspective.
Even if he answers all of those concerns, he's got to decide if getting 3-6 percent of the vote is worth making it much harder for Sen. John McCain to be elected president. Is a Barr candidacy worth the possibility of a President Obama or President Clinton?
Martha Zoller is a political analyst and radio host. Her daily show is carried on WDUN AM 550 in Gainesville, Georgia. She makes regular appearances on cable news programs and was one of Talkers Magazine's "Heavy Hundred" talk show hosts for 2005, 2006 and 2007. Her first book, "Indivisible: Uniting Values for a Divided America", was released in 2005. You can contact her at www.marthazoller.com.