Ramesh Ponnuru points out that Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr voted for the Medicare prescription drug entitlement, which John McCain voted against, and to authorize the use of force against Iraq despite running on an antiwar platform. He might as well have brought up Barr’s vote for the Patriot Act and record on the drug war. When it comes to third-party candidates with little or no chance of actually being elected, I’m less concerned about their past records than I am with their current platforms: While you have to worry about how a major-party candidate might actually govern, a vote for a third-party is a vote to make a statement. As long as the electorate and the media generally associate the candidate with his platform, then a vote for that candidate strikes me as making a statement on behalf of that platform.
Many people are not likely to see things this way. Unfortunately for Barr, one such group of people might be the Libertarian Party, which frequently prefers philosophical consistency to electoral viability (a significant minority of Libertarians found Ron Paul too conventionally conservative in 1988). Given the party’s ideological and educational mission, Libertarians do have a legitimate interest in ensuring that their nominee is small-l libertarian. As I’ve observed on the main site, Barr’s shifting positions might make him the Mitt Romney of the LP.
The second group of people who might object to inconsistencies in Barr’s record are the disaffected hardline conservatives he would need in the general election if he became the Libertarian nominee. Barr, like McCain and the Republicans, may feel that these people have nowhere else to go. But right-wingers who want a presidential candidate who opposed the Iraq war, the prescription drug benefit, and the Patriot Act at the time might prefer Constitution Party nominee Chuck Baldwin.
UPDATE: As Phil, Ponnuru, and Clark Stooksbury point out, Barr voted for a prescription drug bill but the Bush plan actually passed after Barr left Congress. But Barr voted for an entitlement expansion nonetheless.
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