Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The 2008 Presidential Longshots: Belly up to the Barr for smaller government and more moustaches!

I wouldn’t want to be a Libertarian today. The financial meltdown that has shaken the core economic gospel of even the current administration has dealt the Libertarian movement, if not a mortal blow, at least a fairly rounded whoopin’. Granted, the public anger over the government bailout could inject some excitement and interest in the Libertarian party and their candidate, but any sense of long-term intellectual authority seems damaged.

My guess is that Bob Barr doesn’t see it that way. The irascible, outspoken candidate for the Libertarian Party is trying very hard to capitalize on the public resentment over the government’s bailout plan (though interestingly enough, less has been made about the government buying shares of banks; it is the free ride that stokes the rage, and many people seem to accept government investment). A cursory glide through his website yields all of the traditional Libertarian talking points—smaller government, foreign isolationism (include pulling out of Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea, Germany, etc.), low-to-no taxes, no government regulation of the economy (!), eliminating welfare, privatizing social security, and tax credits for home schooling.

Bob Barr the Republican and Bob Barr the Person are much more interesting than Bob Barr the Libertarian Candidate. Like most 3rd party hopefuls, a great deal of his website is dedicated to issues relating to ballot access (one of the most important fights that the 3rd parties en masse are fighting) and attacking the mainstream candidate that is closest ideologically. Barr mentions McCain quite a bit, and offers this lovely bit about Governor Palin:

But there’s been nothing I’ve seen in her academic background, in her business background or her husband’s business background or in the relatively short time she was mayor of Wasilla and the Governor of Alaska that would indicate to me a depth of experience that would make me feel comfortable having her sit across the table from Vladimir Putin and not be taken in by him or some other leader. We paid a heavy price for those sort of miscalculations with the current president.

Barr has a reputation for being something of a loose cannon. He was a leading figure in the impeachment trial of President Clinton, though his zeal was not always appreciated. In fact, many other Republican leaders involved in the impeachment process urged caution and patience—people like Dick Armey, Henry Hyde, and John Boehner. Barr didn’t listen and published daily updates on the inquiry on the internet (or, as the linked Washington Post article phrased it in 1998, ‘his World Wide Web site’).

I would be remiss were I not to mention the very public escape in 1992 where Barr licked whipped cream off the “chests of two buxom women”. At a leukemia benefit dinner. Remember that this is the guy that was the quickest to pull the trigger on the Clinton impeachment. He has been married three times but worked hard for the Defense of Marriage Act (which he now opposes in his second life as a Libertarian).

Initially, many thought Barr could play spoiler, especially in his home state of Georgia. Thus far, the polling doesn't seem to reflect that. He would need to pull 7 - 9% of the vote to really swing Georgia for Obama. Part of the problem is Barr's credibility with Libertarians; he is something of a flip-flopper. After years of working for rock-ribbed GOP positions, he switched sides on many issues when he joined the Libertarian party. He was one of the most adamant and zealous opponents of medicinal marijuana and a major player in the so-called "War on Drugs"; he now supports marijuana legalization. He voted for the Iraq War and the Patriot Act, votes he now regrets. He even apologized at the 2008 Libertarian Convention for championing DOMA.

I must admit, it is really hard to see how many of his positions on the economy and energy policy make any sense in the real world. With energy policy especially—the Barr-Root ticket’s energy policy is basically whatever—when energy becomes prohibitively expensive or destructive enough environmentally to harm the economy, something will be done by someone that will help somehow. That’s really the big problem with the Invisible Hand of the Market argument—it is only ever reactive. There is no mechanism for heading off problems before they start doing damage to the economic system, even if you have an awesome moustache that makes you look like Floyd the Barber from The Andy Griffith Show.