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:
- 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.
- People not bound to “artificial constraints of two party system.” Young people not as wedded.
- 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.