Normally, I participate in John McCain campaign conference calls, but today I had the opportunity to join Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr’s first blogger conference call. The invitation explained that “Bob Barr loves bloggers, [and] values your role in informing the public,” and their outreach appears to confirm that attitude. The invitees went beyond the Libertarian/Ron Paul Internet nexus, which indicates that Barr’s team wants some traction across the Internet spectrum.
Bob Barr joined us after a few minutes. He’s in Washington, in the middle of a tough travel schedule. He thanked us for our efforts, and acknowledged that he doesn’t have a great deal of knowledge of the blogosphere, but said it was a “fantastic” way to communicate on politics. He asked for ideas on how to communicate his ideas and policies most effectively.
I asked him what he hoped to accomplish in his run. Barr replied that he felt that politics had become overwhelmingly sour; 86% now say the country is on the wrong track. People recognize that the current system does not serve them well, and that provides “fertile ground” for a new party. That’s just an opportunity, of course, but the Libertarian Party has matured, and with himself as a credible candidate, they have a chance of winning in a three-way race.
Another reason: he wants to free America from the artificial restraints of the two-party system. Also, he wants to recast the current issues in a manner more consistent with the Constitution. FISA reform is one area that Barr wants discussed in real, substantive terms, and not just slogans. Eliminating earmarks will not dismantle Leviathan, and we need to grasp the realities of a $3.1 trillion budget.
Jazz Shaw asked about the elimination of the Department of Education, and where else Barr could make reductions in the federal government. Barr talked about what Presidents can do on their own, and what needs Congressional approval. He wants to institute a 10% reduction in executive-branch staffing and budget to set an example for Congress. Afterwards, he wants to work with Congress to pursue similar reductions. A Libertarian could negotiate between Republicans and Democrats to make those changes, and voters would join in the pressure to accomplish it. He would veto appropriations that raised spending at all over the previous year.
Barr says that he would follow the path of the Grace Commission in reducing the costs of government and eliminating abuse. He would clearly identify the cost-benefit and Constitutional standing of every department in the federal government, and anything that didn’t pass muster would get axed. DoE would probably be at the top of the list for closure. Department of Commerce would be next, followed by most of the Department of Energy.
James Joyner wondered what states Barr thought he could win. He referred James to the campaign’s manager, who also managed Ross Perot’s campaigns. They have a complex campaign strategy, and prioritization of scarce campaign resources will be key. The mountain West states might be strong for Barr. New Hampshire has a clear sympathy for libertarian impulses, as does Barr’s home state of Georgia.
James reminded Barr that Perot didn’t win any Electoral College votes, but Barr says the political landscape has changed quite a bit. That 86% dissatisfaction gives a real opportunity for people outside the two-party system. They’ll need to get poll numbers up to qualify for the national debates, which would give them credibility. It will take 15% to qualify.
Jazz asked about Israel and Iran. Barr committed to a strong alliance with Israel, but he doesn’t want expanded hostilities in the region. Barr used to work at the CIA, and from “everything I’ve seen”, Iran isn’t close to posing a threat from either nuclear or missile weapons. It’s a concern, but it’s not an imminent threat. He wants to take advantage of “all sorts of other opportunities” to work with elements in Iran to reduce the threat. Iran, he says, wants better relations, and we should work in that direction.
Barr, it should be emphasized, sounds eminently more reasonable and competent than Ron Paul. Even on issues where I’d disagree, Barr gave reasoned, thoughtful answers, as opposed to the kind of conspiracy-theory kookiness Paul spouted at debates and in interviews. The Libertarian Party has its most credible candidate in years, if not ever. However, unless he suddenly finds a way to organize Libertarians and convince vast swaths of Americans to start pitching money into the kitty, his best hope will be to influence the major-party candidates to start addressing some of the legitimate concerns of the Libertarian Party.