Speed Bumps on the Road to Freedom
by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster
Last Sunday the South East Region of the Libertarian Party, comprising the states of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, had a teleconference. Teleconferences are much lower in cost than getting together in the flesh and so have come into common usage in many organizations.
The agenda focused on the need to replace the Region’s representative, Mark Bodenhausen, on the National Committee. During the teleconference Bodenhausen decided to resign, reportedly because of health problems. National Committee is the body who sets policy for the Libertarian Party, providing oversight to the National Office and carrying out other duties related to senior decision making. Those functions are entrusted to individuals elected for that purpose by the Party as a whole.
On the call the two main topics were the resignation of the recent Representative and the appointment of a new representative. Those meeting included the state chairs from Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and the Vice Chair of South Carolina. The meeting was adjourned and another meeting scheduled for a vote on a replacement for Bodenhausen the next Sunday.
Early the next Tuesday an e-mail instead scheduled another teleconference that evening. The explanation for this was that someone had ‘leaked’ the rumor that a prominent former Republican was to be elected to the now vacant seat for Regional Rep to the NatCom. The representatives from the States met on line and all eventually voted to invite an individual to serve as Regional Representative for the South East Region. The only NO vote came from North Carolina Chair, Phil Jacobson, who had polled his Executive Committee, this being their standard practice. The individual elected was invited to serve by letter that evening. He had been asked in advance if he would be inclined to serve and those making contact with him affirmed that he was positive on the question.
The individual is Bob Barr, former Republican congressman from Georgia. Barr spent several terms in Congress and was strongly associated with the NeoCon agenda. He was defeated for reelection in 2002 and returned home to Georgia and to a career as a spokesman on various issues.
Reason interviewed Barr in 2003. In that interview Barr regretted having voted for the Patriot Act, but not very strongly. In that interview he said, “I was hoping at the time that it would not be used as a floor but as a ceiling. But it’s been a taking-off point for expanded authority in a number of areas.” The fact remains that the Patriot Act was opposed by principled people, for instance Ron Paul. The balance of that interview goes to a reiteration of more equivocation that have the virtue of showing how a Gingrich era congressman thinks.
In 2004 Barr endorsed Michael Badnarik for President and this year he endorsed and gave a speech on behalf of Bob Smither, a Libertarian running for Tom Delay’s Congressional seat in Texas. Barr has also paid $2,000.00 for a life membership in the Libertarian Party.
Barr may have moderated his views on the War on Drugs, marriage, gay rights, and other issues. The question of why the former Congressman would want to join the Libertarian Party is valid, however, and each of us should consider all of the possible reasons for this political move. This conversion is taking place at a time when the faction of which he was unquestionably a part, the NeoCons, are sinking fast. Taken as a whole, it may well be that this is an attempt to reposition the Gingrich portion of the NeoCon Cabal, excising its decades long relationship with Bush, Rove, and company and reconnecting to the still respectable Reagan legacy in the minds of Americans.
But the first issue that should be considered is how the decision was made and the lack of transparency in a matter that is normally entirely routine.
The actions of those involved lead the inquirer to consider the possibility that the cache of having a former Congressman of any kind on National Committee has proven to be too heady a drink for those who normally are allotted sips of second hand power of far lower potency. And while this could be hyped to be a major event the fact is that Bob Barr is not the major pundit today that his supporters think he is. His most prominent role in Congress was during the Clinton Impeachment and those events loom small indeed when placed side by side with the havoc that Bush and Barr’s fellow Republicans have wrought.
For those within the LP who support Barr winning seems to have been allotted a far higher priority than simple civility and the essential virtues of honesty and transparency. For as long as I can remember less than open behavior has been associated with the waves of factions that have moved through the LP, leaving havoc in their wakes. The most recent egregious example was expelled at the Indiana Convention in 2002 and included the remnants of the Berlandista, including Perry Willis and Michael Emerling Cloud. Cloud and Willis are reported to be sharing an apartment in Tucson now.
What do those who are acting in this fashion think they can win? Barr is a former Congressman and a former Republican. It is news that he has changed, but not huge news.
Who suggested the election of Barr is an honest question that should have been answered without pause. But that question remains unanswered. If the seller won’t provide the documentation for the package, don’t buy, is common sense.
The idea for inviting Barr onto the committee seems to have originated with someone outside the South East. No one who was asked, and many were, will specify who that person was. This question was also posed directly by members of the Executive Committee in North Carolina and each of these individuals said that they were uncomfortable with the secrecy demanded and with the lack of information forthcoming from those who insisted that the decision must be made immediately. Eric Smith, Political Director for North Carolina said, “there was a fogginess about the whole matter that left me feeling unclean.” Susan Hogarth, Outreach Director for North Carolina said her questions were treated with hostility by Stewart Flood, the alternate for the South East who is strongly positive about having Barr on the National Committee and asserts that Barr will be personally very active and a positive presence. Flood went on to reiterate, although he was not asked, that Barr’s opinions on specific issues were not relevant because he would not be making statements on platform issues. For more information on what those opinions bobbarr.org.
Frankly, I failed to find anything that persuaded me that Barr had changed his views substantially. He was good on issues of privacy, after having helped cause the problems by voting for the Patriot Act, and he remains good on those issues. That issue and guns does not make you a Libertarian; allowing the use of medicinal marijuana is not enough to move you from Drug Warrior to Libertarian.
Alicia Mattson, Chair for Tennessee, has expressed the opinion that North Carolina should be kicked out of the South East Region because their Chair, Phil Jacobson, refused to over ride the consensus of his Executive Committee and vote to invite Barr to represent them on National Committee.
Bob Barr’s website shows that he has strong opinions. On Chavez, President of Venezuela he said on December 9th of this year of Chavez, “He has since become a magnet for political revolutionaries, dissatisfied agents of change and most importantly, enemies of the United States.
Mr. Chavez’s re-election will cement his position as first among equals among South American “strongmen” who are tweaking President Bush’s nose in the Latin American arena. However, it is more than tweaking that we should worry about after the Venezuelan election. The concern to the U.S. is both economic and military.
Granted, Mr. Chavez is a showman, but he is much more. He runs a country flush with oil wealth and is not shy about spending it in ways that benefit not the growing poverty class in his country but rather arms suppliers in Russia, Europe, China and elsewhere.
Mr. Chavez has made no secret of his disdain for George Bush’s policies. In the fall at the U.N. General Assembly, he got personal — calling Mr. Bush “The devil.” That slapstick venture into international, stand-up comedy made many laugh, but it didn’t do much to calm our allies in Latin America. Nor has Mr. Chavez’s penchant for military hardware.”
Personally, I found this expression startling in someone who now claims to be a Libertarian. It supports the policies of the Bush Administration wholeheartedly, an administration that most Americans now view as criminal; that criminality was undertaken by the Bush Constituency on behalf of Big Oil. Venezuela controls huge oil reservoirs but America has no claim on those unless by open and honorable purchase. Using government to implement policy to benefit oil companies put us in Iraq. Barr evidently does not reject that role for government.
The claim that Chavez does not spend oil money to benefit the poor of Venezuela is unsupported by those who live there. In fact, Chavez is criticized because he uses oil money to benefit the poor instead of giving it to the small cadre of powerful who viewed the Venezuela Petroleum Corporation as their private piggy bank before Chavez was elected. The oil industry was nationalized there in the 70s, long before Chavez had anything to say in the matter.
This phrase in another Barr article on the new make up of Congress also struck me as bizarre. “Whether the Republican leaders will be able to regroup sufficiently to seriously challenge the Democrats for supremacy in 2008 is a question of equal intrigue. Gingrich and his team of neophyte leaders faced the same Herculean task a dozen years ago; a challenge they met with decidedly mixed results. Now, lacking Gingrich’s intellectual power and energy, and having to contend with a president in some respects more “simpatico” with many Democrats than with conservatives in his own party, congressional Republicans will truly be put to the test.”
I would never characterize Bush as more “simpatico” to Democrats than those who still use the word “Conservative” to identify themselves in Congress. Democrats were stealing us blind without starting a war, choosing between the two is a none of the above choice if ever there was one. The “Conservatives,” who include Newt Gingrich, we now know as NeoConservatives. The only voice of conscience is represented by Ron Paul through the last three Congressional terms.
I strongly suggest reading the list of articles before coming to a conclusion on how much Barr has changed. Even more strongly I suggest we look into how this ‘election’ took place.
Melinda Pillsbury-Foster is the author of GREED: The NeoConning of America and A Tour of Old Yosemite. The former is a novel about the lives of the NeoCons with a strong autobiographical component. The latter is a non-fiction book about her father and grandfather. Melinda is an associate editor for Liberty For All and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.