Bob Barr Conference Call

Bob Barr Conference Call

I was invited to participate in Libertarian Party presidential nominee Bob Barr‘s first blogger conference call and decided to do so as a public service to OTB readers.

I called in three minutes before the call was scheduled to start and was the first one in.  Doing so required entering two different sets of pin numbers, which strikes me as not very Libertarian.  Then again, the call started late and (unlike every other such call I’ve participated in) everyone was live the minute they completed the login gauntlet, so I was able to chat with Ed Morrissey and Jazz Shaw while I waited.

Jazz points out that Barr finally has an Issues Page up for examination.  I’ve yet to examine it.

Congressman Barr joined us at 2:09 and we were apparently the entirety of the audience ( a couple of others joined in during the call).   The difference between major parties and third parties, I guess.

What follows is a summary, not a transcription, unless quotation marks are used.

Morrissey: What does Barr hope to accomplish with this campaign?

Barr: Three goals:

  1. Sour political climate. Current system not serving us well. Presents opportunity, especially with maturation of Libertarian Party, to make this truly competitive three-way race. Winning our goal.
  2. People not bound to “artificial constraints of two party system.” Young people not as wedded.
  3. Discuss issues of importance to people in “more fundamentally constitutional ways.” Beyond sound bytes. FISA, e.g., about listening into conversations of Americans, not just al Qaeda operations. Econ and tax policy, go beyond “earmarks” and other simplistic solutions. “Get people to focus on what a $3.1 trillion budget is” and whether all spending needed.

Shaw:  Where to make substantive cuts in spending?

Barr: Most Presidents can’t do without Congress.  “First day in office” mandate 10 percent cut in EOP spending to “set the example.”  Both parties part of same fraternity, need a broker.  Would be beholden to country, not party.  His victory would “send shock waves” and demonstrate that they would be out if they don’t fall in line with the people’s wishes.   Would call for freeze in federal spending as starting point.

Would follow Reagan’s example with Grace Commission to identify and study waste, fraud, and abuse.  Would folow through better, though.  Two commissions:  1) Identify every agency’s Constitutional basis and cost-benefit analysis.  Slate for disbanding if fails to meet test. Dept. of Education likely at top of list.  Stands in the way of improvements at state and local level.  Dept of Commerce does “little more than spend billions of dollars putting out statistics” and the Dept of Energy, most of whose legitimate functions could be spun off.

Me:  Given constraints of Electoral College, which states does he think he can win?  Map to 270?  And how to break through fraternity as outsider?

Barr:  Russ Birney, the campaign manager, is “the best guy in the country” to figure this out after experience with Ross Perot’s campaign.  Will have to “prioritize our efforts” by focusing on states and regions where we feel we’re competitive.  The Mountain West states, “common sense tells us,” would be more receptive than Northeast.   New Hampshire, Georgia, and others also quite likely receptive.

Me: Follow-up:   Perot won zero Electoral Votes.  How is 2008 different?

Barr:  Perot got close to 20 percent of the popular vote in an environment less ripe for a third party.   We “need to boost our poll numbers to meet the requirement to participate in the debates” and they’ll do that by focusing on key states.

Shaw: Switching to foreign policy, what would a President Barr say to Israel right now?

Barr: Would emphasize our friendship but also the need for cool heads.  Iran not at all close to posing threat to Israel, so rash action not warranted.   We’re making a mistake and boost Ahmadinejad’s prestige unduly by focusing so much on him, especially since he’s not in charge.

Overall, despite the call’s brevity, it was an interesting exercise.  Barr comes across as serious, with none of the “Crazy Aunt in the Basement” vibe that one got from Ross Perot, the narcissism of Ralph Nader, or the Wrestlemania circus act of Jesse Ventura.  He’s an intelligent, experienced guy who has command of the issues.

At best, though, his candidacy can serve as a platform for getting out a message.  It’s simply inconceivable that he’ll win a single state, much less 270 Electoral Votes.  Jazz noted in the call that all Barr has to do is to deny either McCain or Obama 270 votes.  But, at that point, the election would go to the House of Representatives with its 435 Members, none of whom are Libertarians. As such, as much as third party candidates hate to hear this, Barr’s role is that of spoiler.  He is likely to take away votes that would otherwise go to John McCain, making him essentially an Obama stalking horse.

None of that’s to say that Barr doesn’t have a right to run.  He does.  And it may well be that he doesn’t think there’s enough difference between Obama and McCain or the Democrats and Republicans for it much to matter.

UPDATE:  Jazz Shaw and Ed Morrissey have their own summaries and reactions.

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, Environment, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Well, he’s right about this:

    his victory would “send shock waves”

    It would certainly shock the hell out of me.

  2. James Joyner says:

    It would certainly shock the hell out of me.

    You and me both. Honestly, he might have been an intriguing contender in the Republican primaries. But swooping in an taking the LP nomination, despite not being Libertarian beyond a Barry Goldwater small-l sense, ain’t the path to victory.

  3. Triumph says:

    J-Dawg- Was there any mention of climate change in the interview? I always wonder what the libertarian response is to this issue. It is not mentioned on his website.

  4. Jeffrey W. Baker says:

    The Libertarian position on global warming is that there is no position on global warming. Capitalized Libertarians believe in absolute property rights, so any harm to the environment is irrelevant. It’s all part of man’s right to exploit nature, or at least the part he holds deed and title to, as he sees fit.

    Tellingly, there is no issue page on climate change at, but there was a poll a month back titled “What is the cause of ‘global warming’?” in which 66% of 526 visitors indicated either that global warming is not real, or it is not anthropogenic.

  5. James Joyner says:

    Was there any mention of climate change in the interview?

    Nope. The summary above was the entirety of the Q&A, although I’m sure I didn’t capture every thought. But there was only about 20 minutes of discussion with Barr.

  6. Fence says:

    Most small-l libertarians are generally distrustful of the government’s competence, but not to the point of opposing government role where government is really our only chance. Like much of criminal law, environmental protection is such an issue. Sure, there may be way too much red tape to protect the West Broward Fairy Shrimp when the East Broward subspecies is booming, and not enough protection on more comprehensive issues of overall ecosystem protection and conservation. But the Bush head-in-sand God-wanted-us-to-subdue -Earth approach is so obviously wrong for a society such as ours that can afford better that I find myself forced left on this issue even though much of the Democrats’ agenda here is overdone or misprioritized. It is one of the few or maybe only domestic economic issues where I am more comfortable (or less uncomfortable) with the Dems than GOP.

  7. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    Against my better judgement that you are right about Barr being a spoiler, I would love to see him win and so plan on voting for him. Which really isn’t much of a problem because if Barr can’t get it, I would prefer BO to win.

    For y’all inside the Beltway it may come as news but there is a tremendous degree of discontent out here in the hinterlands about the quality of both the two major candidates. Many Democrats are swearing to either vote for McCain or sit this one out and there are many Republican equivalents out here.

    Wouldn’t it indeed be interesting if there are enough of us to actually get Barr elected.

  8. bill says:

    Cynthia Mckinney ’08!

  9. mill says:

    Obama yo mama vs McCain= Douchebag vs Turdsammich.

    What a lousy choice. On purpose. Feeling manipulated yet?

  10. mill says:

    Time for pitchforks and torches vs Beltway.

  11. Deeptoad says:

    Should have listened to Ron Paul.

  12. Deleted says:

    This space is for commenting on the post above, not advertising your site.

  13. Lance Brown says:

    If Barr could somehow attain an equal media profile, there’s no reason why he couldn’t make it a 3-way race. There are certainly enough potential voters who aren’t committed to either of the two major parties to provide the percentage points.

    Ross Perot and Jesse Ventura have both shown that outsider candidates can accomplish serious percentage climbs in a relatively short period of time, once awareness of them becomes widespread, and the media starts to talk about them as a potential real threat.

    So, theoretically, it could go like this:

    Barr, currently at ~5%, gets some major attention-getting endorsements, or has some sort of fortuitous publicity coup (like when Giuliani and Ron Paul quibbled at a debate, propelling Paul into the news mainstream). He tops 10% in national polls, 15% in select states.

    The media shifts the story from “spoiler” (and Ralph Nader comparisons) to “will he get in the debates?” (and Ross Perot comparisons). Barr starts topping 15% in polls. The CPD miraculously doesn’t find/make up some other reason to exclude him, so he gets in the debates.

    If Barr got in the debates, he would come out looking like the winner, or at least the upset/surprise. He would be polling at ~25%, and certain targeted polls would give indicators that folks are willing to consider him as a real potential president.

    From there, Barr would be in the place where Perot was in ’92, meaning, in a position to win it if he can play his cards right. Perot in ’92 played his cards about as poorly as one could imagine, and still made an incredible showing. Barr would be unlikely to stumble anywhere near as badly as Perot did.

    Folks assume that voters aren’t interested in considering another candidate beyond the two “major” ones, but history has shown that’s not true. It’s largely up to the media, and how they decide to paint the story. Find a mainstream news website that has Barr alongside Obama and McCain, on an equal footing visibility-wise. I don’t think such a site exists.

    If Barr can top 10% and stay above it, the story will have to shift, and at that point, anything is possible. People forget that there was a time when a lot of people seriously (and reasonably) believed that Perot could potentially win the presidency. That phenomena is going to happen again. Maybe not this time, but it will happen. And it will start at around 3-6% in the polls.

  14. jeff b says:

    That’s an nice fantasy Lance, and very entertaining, but I think you are projecting. The fact that a lot of people are unhappy with McCain does not translate into a lot of people being unhappy with both major party candidates. Obama is quite popular. The idea that Democrats are not going to vote for Obama is 100% myth. There has never been any evidence to support it, other than the claims of a handful of hystericals who said they were Clinton supporters but then it turned out they were all Republicans.

    Barr is lacking two things that Perot had going for him: billions and billions of dollars, and a memorable personality. Without those he’s going nowhere.

  15. DL says:

    300 million people and we have to chose our president from the bottom of the barrel. If you believe these candidates aren’t the bottom of the barrel, then we are in even worse trouble than I thought!

  16. Dave Schuler says:

    300 million people and we have to chose our president from the bottom of the barrel.

    It’s not a new phenomenon. Going on 100 years ago H. L. Mencken characterized our form of government as “boobocracy”; a system under which a bunch of boobs got together and picked the biggest boob as president.

  17. Scott says:

    Barr’s campaign manager is Russ Verney (not Birney).