Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The two-faces of Bob Barr.

Bob Barr was slippery at the Denver Libertarian Party nominating convention and he’s just as slippery now. One of his great evasions, that fooled a lot of the less observant delegates, was his position on the war on drugs.

The libertarian position has been that the war on drugs is bad policy and does more harm than good. And it is a major infringement on liberty and an impetus for the growth of tyrannical government. It must be ended full stop.

Barr’s position is that of a politician who doesn’t support ending the war on drugs but doesn’t want to piss off too many Libertarians on whose party he has to rely. So Barr gives an evasive answer that makes some really dense libertarians think he is now against the war on drugs. But, it is also a position which he can use to show conservatives that he doesn’t support ending the war on drugs at all.

Barr uses the same “escape hatch” Ron Paul used when Paul was deserting libertarian principles -- that of federalism. When a social issue comes up, which distinguishes a libertarian from a conservative, these conservatives all play the “state’s rights” card. And the bonus is that the politician using this ploy can sound principled in his response while evading principle all together.

In a recent interview Barr was asked about the war on drugs -- as he knows he will be asked over and over. Barr starts out by saying he has “come a long way on the drug war”. The “long way” remark, from a politician, is usually a good sign that he has hardly changed his position at all.

Barr says he came to the conclusion “that it simply isn’t working and we ought to get the federal government out ot it.” Hey, folks! Guess what! Most the real shit that happens in the war on drugs is not the federal government but the state and local governments.

When you hear of some armed thugs breaking into a house at 4 am unannounced and wrongly shooting some grandmother to death because they got the wrong address it ain’t the Feds doing it. It’s your local police.

If we got the federal government out of the war on drugs there would be very little change in the number of people in prison. The SWAT team raids would go on just as before.

Notice that Barr doesn’t say anything about ending the war on drug only about getting the Feds out of the war on drugs.

Barr’s “long way” diversion, to hide his minor adjustment in position worked with this reporter. He says: “But that’s a big switch for you.” Nope, it’s not that big a switch. And when Barr was Fox News not long ago and pressed for being opposed to the war on drugs he made it crystal clear that he’s a “real conservative” and merely wants the war on drugs fought at the state level because it would be more efficient.

One thing about that is true. Barr is a real conservative just not a real libertarian.

Barr adds a bit to his statement on drugs: “It’s obvious to me that the federal drug laws are being used as a club to deny the people of individual states the right to legalize, for example, medicinal marijuana.” So Barr merely wants drug laws decided by the states. He does not want to end drug prohibition. He just wants all the powers to fight drugs devolved to the states.

Barr is not for legalizing drugs. He is for local drug wars.

Many conservatives feel that they have lost their battle to impose Christianist morality on the country from the top down. They prefer, these days, to champion “state’s rights” in the hopes of protecting a number of bastions of social repression. They figure that they lost the Christianist cause in places like New England and the West Coast. But they feel they can turn the old Confederacy into some sort of bastion of moral authoritarianism. But they can only do this if they convince everyone that the individual states have some sort of “right” to deny liberty to the citizens of those states.

This is one reason we will see more and more conservatives rushing to “federalism” and “state’s rights” positions in the marriage debate. The last time conservatives were this hotted up over “state’s rights” was when “Negro revolutionaries” were demanding equal rights against the the “fine, white Christian folk” of the South. Groups like the Klan were orgasmic over the concept of state’s rights.

In fact some of the most extreme racists, in 1958, formed the National State’s Right Party. It was run by the flagrant bigot J.B Stoner and produced a racist publication called The Thunderbolt, edited by Edward Fields. The party basically fell apart when Fields started spending most of his time promoting the Klan. Fields later became involved with the Council of Conservative Citizens (formerly the White Citizens Council). This was the group that had Barr as a featured speaker at their conference.

When “race mixing” was perceived as a threat the bigoted Right championed “state’s rights” as a mean of stripping people of the right to marry a partner of a different race. “Activist judges” overturned those laws as a violation of individual rights. Conservatives favored violating individual rights. And they favored it at the state level only because they knew they couldn’t get it at the national level.

When the moralistic Right has had the chance to impose their stilted morality on the nation they have certainly tried to do so. They tried it with Ed Meese’s campaign to ban erotica. They tried it with federal marriage amendments. They try it with nationally funded abstinence campaigns. They are not against centralized control they just have had very poor results with it. But they know that backwaters like Alabama will long favor social repression long after the rest of the country entered the Age of Enlightenment. They want to preserve those areas as a memorial to the Dark Ages.

The libertarian, in contrast, argues that individuals have rights and that no level of government, federal, state or local, has the right to violate the rights of the citizens. It may be stupid to use heroin but it is your choice and you are responsible for the consequences. That is libertarianism. Blather about getting the “federal government out” of an issue is only libertarian if you are also trying to evict the state and local governments from that domain as well. Barr’s position is classic conservatism and utterly unlibertarian. It is not another variation of libertarianism. It is, however, another version of statism.

But ever since Ron Paul got away with this sort of crap the bar has been lowered and lowered some more.

Barr, of course, used the same logic when he answered about his writing the odious “Defense of Marriage Act”. He says that the most important part is the part that allows “each state [to] decide ... to impose its own definition of marriage....”

Again, the strategy of this sort of law twofold. It acknowledged that the attempt to ban gay marriage nationally had failed. And it realistically argued that the only way to stop equal marriage rights for same-sex couples was to protect the “state’s right” to “impose its own definition of marriage...”

I still wish some reporter had the brains to ask Barr the right questions. For instance, does he think that the state of Virginia had the right to arrest Mildred and Richard Loving, in their bedroom because they were an interracial married couple? Surely, if the state’s have this right to “impose its own definition of marriage” on people then it had the right to claim that the Lovings were not legally married and were in violation of the marriage laws of Virginia.

One of the great moments in the history of the Supreme Court was when it overturned the laws against interracial marriage. And Bob Barr would repeal that tomorrow. His view is that Virginia did have the right to do this to the Lovings. Does Mr. Barr really want to tell the American public that his version of “libertarianism” would permit laws which turn interracial married couples into criminals?

Now supposed he doesn’t say that. What if he says the decision in the Lovings case was correct. Then by what principle does he continue to defend the right to states to ban same-sex couples from having equal marriage rights? Is there a principle or is there merely some antigay attitudes?

In his interview Barr again defended this alleged rights of the fifty states to violate the equal rights of the citizens. His “libertarian” view is that if one state bans gay marriage then other states don’t have to recognize that relationship under the “full faith and credit” clause of the Constitution. Ah, that was the justification behind Virginia’s arrest of the Lovings.

The Lovings were not married in Virginia. They got married outside the state of Virginia. They later returned to Virginia to live and were then arrested for violating Virginia law. Virginia refused to recognize, as valid, any interracial marriage from outside the state. And that is what made the Lovings subject to arrest. Somehow, in Barr’s view that sort of thing is fully consistent with libertarianism. That clause, he said, still “has validity and I still support.”

I find this sort of argument the least satisfactory of any. It is inherently two-faced. To libertarian audiences Barr can pretend he is supporting individual liberty because he doesn’t want the federal government taking away freed. But when he talks to anti-freedom conservatives he can play up how they will still have the right to strip people of their rights at the state level. It is the perfect solution for a politician as it allows him to be all things to all men. But is inherently unprincipled. And for that reason they have to insist it is actually a moral principle. That is how politics works.

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