Wednesday, April 02, 2008

You don't ask a drunk to run the AA meeting.

The Libertarian Party, for whatever reason, seems to be a magnet attracting candidates who are simply not libertarians. But the “Party of Principle” seems to have long ago abandoned principles. Now the LP is a major force for corrupting the meaning of the term libertarian.

The most recent example of this are reports that Right-wing ex-congressman Bob Barr will be seeking the LP presidential nod. Barr is best known for his viciously antigay “Defense of Marriage Act” which strictly forbids the federal government from recognizing, in any way, that gay couples have the right to be together. Barr, while “defending” heterosexual marriage was himself cheating on his wife, and eventually married the woman he was having an affair with. Obviously the one marriage he wasn’t interested in “defending” was his own. But there was no hesitation to scapegoat gay couples and to mandate that they be second class citizens.

One recent example of this was Jason Hair, who legally married his same-sex partner in Masschusetts. Upon marriage Mr. Hair legally changed his name to Hair-Wynn to reflect his married status. When he applied for a passport in his legal name it was refused to him. The State Department wrote him a refusal saying that they would not recognize the name change "because of the Defense of Marriage Act." Bob Barr did that. Should the Libertarian Party start to bear responsibility for Barr's past actions, especially since he is not repudiating them?

Chris Crain, the editor of the Washington Blade wrote about Mr. Barr. Crain is giving up his job and leaving America because under Barr's legislation it is the only option he has for being with his partner who is Brazilian. Crain, for good personal reasons, says Barr is the "man responsible for the most homophobic law ever passed by Congress". What has Crane shocked is Barr's flirting with running as a libertarian because "Libertarians have a strong reputation on gay rights." But the only benefit of a Barr candidacy he can see is "siphoning off support for Republican John McCain."

(I should note that Ruth Bennett, who I trust completely, says that Barr has said he would support repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. I have not been able to find any public statement on this. Barr has said "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" should be repealed but that is a very different matter. I suspect Ruth has confused the two. I have asked for clarification and will duly report it when I get it.)

Barr was also a major drug warrior. His regrets regarding the war on drug seem limited to the issue of how much they expand federal power. Perhaps he will take on Ron Paul’s recent new view on drugs. Paul, who believed in legalization in 1988, has more recently claimed he never believed that. Instead he claims he merely wanted the states to regulate drugs instead of the federal government. This sort of sham libertarianism is merely conservative hogwash. -- that government doesn’t have the right to violate rights unless it is the state government than anything is permitted. Barr has said he is against “big government... particularly at the federal level.” What about big government at the state and local levels?

Is it wrong for the federal government to infringe liberty or the equal rights of citizens but permissible for the states to do so? The conservative bickers over who ought to violate rights. The libertarian says no one should.

What these sorts of conservatives are trying to do is get away from the Bill of Rights which the 14th Amendment applied to the States.

Barr has not moved far from his original position. He did change positions on medicinal marijuana but as he told Charles Goyette “There’s a lot of room to work on that issue [drug legalization]. For example, on the issue of medical marijuana and the states’ rights issues involving that. I’m very supporting of state’s right. ... I’m working through some of those individual liberties issues....”

Fine, but I certainly don’t want a LP presidential candidate who is still working through whether he believes in individual liberties or not. I would be the first to congratulate Barr for moving on issues. And when he gets to a consistent libertarian position I might even wish his campaign well -- but only when he gets there. If Barr is ready to admit he was wrong on the war on drugs and wrong on equality of rights for gay couples I might consider him a worth candidate. So far I see someone who thinks that the political bodies called “states” have rights but that people who are gay don’t. As a libertarian I thought only people had rights not political entities.

If Barr has changed his mind, and now embraces equal liberty for homosexuals, he might be a good candidate. If Barr campaigned telling the world how and why he changed his mind and why he embraced liberty that might be very effective. If he doesn’t disown his blatant unlibertarian past, but continues to embrace it -- even on a slightly reduced scale-- then all his campaign will do is associate libertarianism with conservative moralism.

Admittedly Barr has been good on the Patriot Act and the assault on civil freedom -- unless that freedom happens to be the freedom of gay couples to associate together. That literally is the case since under Barr’s legislation a gay American with a foreign partner has no right to bring that partner to live in the United States, while straight Americans do have that right. Barr’s view is that gay Americans, who have foreign partners, must either abandon their partner or their country.

I look at politicians the way I look at alcoholics (except politicians tend to hurt more third parties with their power addiction). A reformed alcoholic could make an effective spokesman for sobriety. But the local AA chapter doesn’t put him in as leader if he’s still drinking. And all indications are that Barr is still a power addict. He openly has said that he feels free to disagree with the Libertarian Party on the issue of drugs -- in other words he is still a drug warrior.

The presidential candidate is supposed to represent the party. Barr apparently can’t do that. He is going to asked about his non-libertarian stands and as the LP presidential candidate he will have to attack libertarianism. Consider this: if the Libertarian Party presidential candidate won’t defend liberty then why are libertarians bitching when Republicans and Democrats don’t?

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