On Monday, former Congressman Bob Barr officially announced his candidacy for president as a member of the Libertarian party. Barr spoke with National Review Online’s Stephen Spruiell on the telephone Monday evening about his decision to enter the race. NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE:Shortly after the 2006 elections you told Reason magazine you were not going to run for president as a Libertarian in 2008. What changed?
BOB BARR: I think what changed is the continued deterioration of civil liberties and of conservative government by the Bush administration, and my continued activity in the Libertarian party, which has convinced me that the Libertarian party was really serious about becoming a real player on the national scene and was really serious about putting forward a candidate that could attract a significant number of voters this year. When I looked at the field of [Libertarian-party] candidates, I did not see one that impressed me as the sort that could really appeal to and have the credibility to be a candidate at the national level and help put the Libertarian party on the map, so to speak.
NRO: Just to follow up on that very quickly, a lot of the things about the Bush administration that you criticize were known to the public prior to late 2006. Is there anything specific that happened in the intervening period that particularly made you feel like, “I need to run for president?” BARR:I think the continued deterioration of the rule of law and separation of powers by the current administration really has driven home the point to me that we need to do something dramatic to reverse that trend, and simply working on the outside — not as a candidate — would not accomplish what really needs to be done to highlight these deteriorations in civil liberties, the rule of law, and the separation of powers by this administration. Whether it’s another memo that comes out in support of torture, or another memo that comes out in support of ignoring the Fourth Amendment, it just seems to be piling on worse and worse, the more we know.
NRO:On balance, which of your prospective opponents poses a greater threat to liberty in this country, Barack Obama or John McCain?
BARR: Both of the candidates are very much in the mold of big government, status quo establishment, and a vote for either one of them is not really a vote to change dramatically the course of what we’re witnessing here with the current trend toward bigger and bigger government and more and more power vested in the executive branch. I think it’s necessary to really make a dramatic break with that trend.
If you have a president who supports McCain-Feingold, for example, as Sen. McCain obviously does, then that’s going to be a philosophy that’s going to color his administration. A president, whose signature piece of legislation as a senator, for example, was McCain-Feingold, certainly cannot be expected to name or support jurists who truly believe in shrinking and not expanding the power of the executive.
NRO:So you believe that under either president, the American people’s liberties, broadly understood, would deteriorate at the same rate?
BARR: I don’t know if they would deteriorate at the same rate, but neither of the candidates that are currently in line for their parties’ nominations would move in the direction of increasing individual liberty and shrinking government power, which is certainly what I would seek to do as president, and something that I know is important to the American people.
NRO: Do you believe that the American people would lose more of their freedoms under one of them, or aren’t they distinct in your view?
BARR: They’re distinct in my view. They certainly do support somewhat different programs. For example, Sen. McCain has indicated that it would be his predisposition to remain in Iraq as an occupying force for the foreseeable future. Sen. Obama has indicated that would not be his predisposition. I think in terms of expanding the growth of entitlement programs, Sen. Obama would be more predisposed in that direction than Sen. McCain.
Sen. McCain probably would be marginally better on tax cuts, as he does indicate that he now supports the Bush tax cuts that he did not earlier. Sen. McCain has indicated that he does not favor earmarks, but he really has not taken any significant stance opposed to government spending generally and has not indicated that he would move in the direction of significantly moving to decrease the size of the federal government in terms of the amount of money that it takes from the American people and the amount of money that it spends.
NRO:Newt Gingrich told The Washington Times yesterday that “Bob Barr will make it marginally easier for Barack Obama to become president. That outcome threatens every libertarian value Barr professes to champion.” Do you accept that argument?
BARR:No. I have great respect for Newt. He’s a friend, and I’ve known him for many years and worked with him in the Congress. But I’d be running not as a Republican. Newt’s views are very much colored as an advocate only of the Republican party. My views go beyond, and my principles go beyond, simple adherence to a particular party. The reason that I have entered the race, the reason that I seek to be the Libertarian-party nominee, is to put forward an agenda for the American people of libertarian philosophy and libertarian principles that would seek to maximize individual liberty and minimize government power. That would be the purpose of my running.
Now if in fact, at the end of the day, I am unsuccessful in securing the presidency on that platform, but I have moved that agenda forward, have raised the level of debate and have caused the American people to recognize that there really is a choice there and cause a large number of them to vote for me as the Libertarian nominee, I think that’s very important.
NRO: But you don’t believe that Americans would experience significantly less liberty if a President Obama was to, say, raise taxes, spend more, and enact a series of regulations that curtail Americans’ liberties?