Why do a hit piece on Bob Barr?

Maybe Bob Barr should count himself lucky that the Washington Post would cover him at all, as a Libertarian Party candidate in a presidential race.  Unfortunately, Libby Copeland spends the first part of her report on Barr ridiculing him rather than treating him seriously, and it’s difficult to understand why.  Rather than focus on his actual political philosophy or the impact of his policies, we get halitosis and Borat:

“I still plan someday to do a book on Bob Barr’s laws of the universe,” says Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate for president.

The rules of Bob Barr’s universe are many and fascinating. Several have to do with his libertarian principles, like “No matter how much power government has, it never has enough.” Others are more holistic, like “The world is full of idiots.” There are deeply personal ones: “The most difficult thing about politics is dealing with people with really bad breath.”


“You wouldn’t believe,” Barr explains in his deathly serious way. “Some people — just awful halitosis.”

Is there any human being on the planet more committed to his seriousness than Bob Barr? The 59-year-old Barr is so into the Founding Fathers that most of his phone numbers, including his cellphone, end in “1-7-7-6.” He only reads weighty books, his wife says, like “George Washington on Leadership.” He talks about himself in the third person. In his office, he keeps a photo of himself as a Republican congressman — calling for the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Even Bob Barr’s mustache is serious.

Unfortunately, Copeland isn’t.  Barr doesn’t have the same kind of recognition that Barack Obama and John McCain enjoy with American voters, so the context of this profile is very strange.  Before poking fun at Barr, maybe the Post would have done better to give him a more straightforward treatment in its coverage, instead of waiting for a full third of the article to pass before reporting on his positions.

Oddly enough, once Copeland gets to Barr’s policies, we find out that he isn’t actually a joke.  He believes in limited government and wants to pare down the federal bureaucracy.  That view is hardly non-mainstream, among Republicans as well as Libertarians.  In a shift that Copeland calls “bizarre”, Barr even believes that marijuana should be decriminalized at the federal level, which may be controversial but is no longer a fringe thought these days.

Jazz Shaw, a Barr supporter, takes warranted umbrage at Copeland’s treatment of Barr:

The author continues a long tradition of MSM outlets trying to paint any third party candidate as being non-serious, perhaps comical, or “whacky.” She makes repeated references to Barr’s “rules of the universe” which he will occasionally quote in lighter moments. I’ve now had the chance to speak to the Congressman and his staff on several occasions and I can tell you that Barr is a very serious person, but he does have a lighter side. His universal rules are reminiscent of the collected wisdom of Lazarus Long by Robert Heinlen. (Lazarus dryly noted that “small change can often be found under seat cushions.” Bar observes that, “The most difficult thing about politics is dealing with people with really bad breath.”)

When given the opportunity to examine whether or not the candidate will be able to enter the debates with Obama and McCain, she chooses instead to dwell on a private moment between Barr and his wife. Jeri was asking about an opportunity to go see “Wicked” which was on the same day as one of the debates, which seems to fascinate Copeland to no end. Scant attention is paid to Barr’s more serious proposals regarding foreign policy, reduction of the size of government and tax reform, but she managed to return no less than three times to observations on the fact that Bob Barr has… dimples.

I’ve participated in one Barr teleconference, and hope to do more as time permits.  Barr has never given the impression of falling into the lunatic fringe, as some other Libertarian Party candidates have at times.  I don’t necessarily agree with all of Barr’s positions and I think his presidential run is a bad idea, but he has always struck me as a serious, thoughtful man and candidate, and his policies rational and intriguing.

It’s a shame that the Post and Copeland couldn’t have offered its readers a more honest and objective look at Barr.  Copeland seemed determined to find and make Barr an object of ridicule, perhaps to damage his credibility.  Instead, both the Post and Copeland have damaged their own.