Six years ago, I parted ways with the Libertarian Party over its misguided attempt to defeat Bob Barr in the Republican — that’s right, Republican — primary. Just as many Libertarians cling to their pipe dream that they had a role in defeating him despite evidence showing their efforts backfired, many now harbor similar delusions about Barr himself.
My favorite criticism of Bob Barr now is that he is a prohibitionist neocon who voted for the USA PATRIOT Act. Some critics decry his Defense of Marriage Act, support of the Fair Tax. Others go further, claiming that he has “changed his whole world view” to snooker the Libertarian Party to get their presidential nomination to “ride Ron Paul’s coattails.”
As Dr. Paul’s banking staffer, I used to have ask Barr to scoot his chair in so I could pass him on the dais to get to my boss, and we always worked closely together. For one committee markup, Barr and Paul both showed up with amendments to withdraw the United States from the International Monetary Fund. His staffer and I hastily cut and pasted ours together for our “ransom note” amendment with different margins, font styles, and sizes. See how fun politics can be?
Like Bob Barr, Dr. Paul himself supports DOMA (neither one supports a constitutional marriage amendment) and either a flat tax or the Fair Tax as preferable to the mess we have now. This “neocon warmonger” Barr joined Dr. Paul in suing President Clinton to stop his illegal bombing of Kosovo without congressional approval.
The “prohibitionist” charge carried some weight, but even while in Congress when the tension of protecting privacy and civil liberties challenged the drug war, Barr defended privacy. He joined my fight against the Know Your Customer bank spying proposal and managed Dr. Paul’s floor amendment on it. He was a leader in reforming civil asset forfeiture abuses.
True to his libertarian instincts, Barr was initially skeptical of President George W. Bush’s anti-terrorism proposal and earned the ire of Karl Rove for speaking up against it. He worked with a broad coalition of groups — including conservatives, libertarians, leftists, privacy activists, and even drug policy reform groups — to protect our civil liberties in the debate.
And here’s the important part: He voted for the bill in the Judiciary committee because we needed him to. Only members who voted for it could be on the conference committee that “reconciled” the House and Senate versions.
THOSE MORE FAMILIAR with how bills become laws than the classic Schoolhouse Rock version understand that the devil is in the details. The conference committee is where the real evil takes place.
The USA PATRIOT Act conference committee suffered the stubbornness of Bob Barr fighting the worst of it and enacted some provisions to sunset some compromises in exchange for his support.
Sure, fellow Republicans Ron Paul and Bob Ney joined “Butch” Otter who spoke eloquently against its passage on the House floor and voted against the final passage, but none of them were on the Judiciary committee. None of them had the opportunity and responsibility to fight over the devilish details.
Thankfully, we had a former CIA agent and prosecutor on our side who knew the ins and outs and the ramifications of the proposals to fight for our privacy and civil liberties. He was our “man on the inside” for us to share our proposals. Some of those proposals were adopted and became law.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Barr has been a defender of privacy in the war on terror. He worked with the American Civil Liberties Union on the 1996 anti-terrorism bill and literally worked for them after leaving Congress to continue his privacy activism.
It’s telling that Barr doesn’t think he did enough to safeguard our liberties. He now regrets the USA PATRIOT Act vote that he exchanged for Bush’s promises. Just as most Americans gave President Bush some benefit of the doubt in those hectic and fearful days immediately after the terrorist attacks, Barr believed the president when he said that the powers in the anti-terrorism bill would be a ceiling not a floor.
Similarly, Barr went along with Bush’s push for war in Iraq, as did a majority of Americans. Now, millions share Barr’s disillusionment. The scales have even fallen from his eyes regarding the federal drug war’s intrusiveness. He lobbied for the Marijuana Policy Project on his road to Damascus and has picked up support from former drug war critics.
These changes should not be at all surprising. Bob Barr had been working with central bank haters, anti-war protesters, and privacy and civil liberties activists for some time. Would he go as far as we would like as quickly as we’d like? Well, no. But the National Review collective recently editorialized against the “new Barr,” saying that he is a “non-interventionist anti-government purist committed to a thoroughgoing civil libertarianism.”