The pollsters are now telling us John McCain could pull it off, with match-ups pitting him against both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton showing the War Party’s favorite son neck-and-neck with the Dems. Aside from the nearly complete meaninglessness of such data at this time, what these polls fail to take into account is one factor likely to have a large and possibly decisive impact on the presidential race: I’m talking about the Barr Factor.
Yes, that Barr: the former Georgia Republican congressman who led the Clinton impeachment effort in the House, then later dissented from the red-state fascist tendencies manifested in the PATRIOT Act, the Military Commissions Act, and the Bush White House’s obsession with increasing presidential power, allying with the American Civil Liberties Union to fight the growing power of centralized state authority over our lives.
It looks like Bob Barr has let himself get talked into seeking the presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party: according to my sources, he does so with the full support of Ron Paul. Which means it looks like the Paulian Revolution is not only alive and kicking, it’s also in the best possible position. With conservatives openly disdainful of McCain for all sorts of reasons, most of them conducive to a libertarian spin, the Barr Factor could very well play a major role in accomplishing the two major electoral goals not only of libertarians, but of all the War Party‘s most dedicated opponents.
One, it will deny McCain the White House. This alone fully justifies the effort and expense, as far as the antiwar movement is concerned. Obama’s spokesman backed off calling McCain a "warmonger," but that lefty radio host is right. How else can one describe someone who longs for a 100-year war in the Middle East? They’re trying to get him off his "war, war, war" mantra, but time and again the man condemns himself out of his own mouth.
Quite aside from his foreign policy views, however, McCain’s "national greatness" brand of conservatism is openly hostile to the old-fashioned Goldwaterite limited-government ideology currently undergoing an intellectual revival in conservative circles. It remains to be seen whether great swaths of the Republican electorate are ready to defect to a third party on the Right, but if ever there was a time to test this proposition, then surely it is now.
The groundwork has already been laid by the Paulistas. If the Barr campaign seizes this political moment, the fields plowed by Ron Paul and tended by his activist followers can blossom into a harvest of votes such as the Libertarians have never seen. After decades of being perpetually on the brink of a breakthrough that never seemed to occur, this may be it for the LP that is, if the party’s afflictions, a weird conjuncture of cultural sectarianism and political opportunism, fail to cripple the campaign before it is launched.
The antiwar movement has a stake in this, on account of Barr’s strong endorsement of a non-interventionist foreign policy in principle. As his Web site puts it:
"Our National Defense policy must renew a commitment to non-intervention. We are not the world’s police force and our long, yet recently tarnished, tradition of respecting the sovereignty of other nations is necessary, not from only a moral standpoint, but to regain the respect of the world as a principled and peaceful nation. The proper use of force is clear. If attacked, the aggressor will experience firsthand the skillful wrath of the American fighting man. However, invading or initiation force against another nation based upon perceived threats and speculative intelligence is simply un-American. We are better than the policy of preemptive warfare."
It remains to be seen whether Barr will emphasize foreign policy issues to the degree Paul did and still does. Ron is quite popular even with antiwar leftists precisely because he always somehow manages to get in references to "our empire," even while speaking on what are normally considered purely economic questions. So Paul will surely be a hard act to follow, and professional nit-pickers and sectarians (of which the LP has a superabundance) are sure to jump on any number of alleged "deviations." Furthermore, the neocon crowd and their "leftist" enablers are already waiting in the wings with Barr’s equivalent of the Ron Paul newsletter non-scandal. In spite of Dave Weigel’s conceit that he and his confreres at Reason magazine had any impact on the campaign’s vote totals, the effect of the smear campaign probably increased the Paul vote marginally, if anything, to the degree it angered and energized Paul’s supporters, causing them to redouble their efforts.
The pattern is all too familiar by now: a candidate arises with "out of the mainstream" views when it comes to the vital issue of war and peace. Since the "mainstream" is synonymous with support for our current foreign policy of global interventionism, i.e., a candidate fully owned-and-operated by the War Party, anyone who wanders outside the very narrow bounds of "Right" and "Left" interventionism is, by these lights, an "extremist." If the candidate’s views can’t be dismissed out of hand as "extremist" on their face, then that’s when the character assassins come out of the woodwork, professionals at the "art" of guilt-by-association, what John T. Flynn and other Old Right activists used to call the Smear Bund. They pulled it with Paul, and they did the same with Obama. You can bet they won’t spare Barr.
Barr is no newcomer to libertarian politics: he joined the LP in 2006 and was seated on the National Committee. More than that, he has been a leader among those "movement" conservatives who have dissented from the Bush administration’s trampling of civil liberties, denounced the rising surveillance state, and taken the lead in forging alliances between libertarians and conservatives who take the Constitution seriously. In short, he is a man who suits the moment the one candidate, other than Ron Paul, who can fulfill the promise of the Ron Paul Revolution and build a popular alternative to the War Party on the right side of the political spectrum.
As far as the left side of the political terrain is concerned, the main battle is, of course, Obama’s campaign for the Democratic nomination. While not a consistent opponent of interventionism, Obama has pledged to get us out of Iraq and criticized the "mindset" that got us into "a war that should never have been started in the first place." He has trenchantly criticized Hillary for "saber-rattling" at Iran, and he has raised the controversial proposition that we ought to at least try talking to our alleged enemies, such as Hugo Chavez and the Cubans, as well as the Syrians and the Iranians. This latter is his real heresy, of course, and the Lobby isn’t going to let him get away with it. If necessary, they’ll pull out all the stops in an effort to defeat him, and the Democratic Party’s big donors are now putting pressure on party leaders, such as Nancy Pelosi, to play the "super-delegate" card on Hillary’s behalf.
If the Clintonites steal the nomination from Obama, the prospects of a Barr campaign will be practically unlimited. We’re talking about millions of embittered antiwar voters, a great number of whom might be attracted to Barr’s libertarian and staunchly anti-interventionist message. In the year of the maverick, the establishment of both major parties will have succeeded in quashing voter insurgencies within their ranks. All that energy will be available for the Barr campaign to harness.
There is, however, another important element that will be missing from the contention between the two major party candidates if Hillary succeeds in her scheme to snatch the crown from Obama’s brow, and that is populism.
This, of course, is the element in the Paul campaign that most alienated the more "cosmopolitan" elements of the libertarian movement, and in large part motivated their campaign to vilify the good doctor. This time, they’ll doubtless either latch on to something similar, or else focus on two areas of special interest to left-libertarians: immigration and gay marriage. There is no appeasing them: if you oppose either, you’re highly suspect, in spite of credible libertarian arguments to the contrary. Such minor matters as the Iraq war, or the possible invasion of Iran, pale in significance. Who cares about mass murder by the state if two gay guys can’t file a joint tax return?
No doubt the libertarian movement’s self-appointed guardians of political correctness will try to cram candidate Barr into their Procrustean bed, but I don’t think it’s a fit. Yet these pretentious sideliners will only underscore their own irrelevance as the twin rivers of antiwar sentiment and populism propel the Barr campaign into history-making territory that is, if the Barr people play their cards right.
The left-populism of Obama’s appeal can be easily served by the right-populism of, say, a Ron Paul, whose views on the Federal Reserve have some resonance with the foreclosed and the unemployed, as well as with small-business owners and the beleaguered middle classes. If Barr replicates Paulian populism, he could appeal to those voters who yearn for a slightly more radical change than Obama promised.
A Barr campaign could, in short, do for the antiwar movement and the libertarian movement what their hearts most desire: defeat the War Party and create an electoral alternative to the defeated, worn-out, sold-out husk of the GOP.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Absent Obama, the prospects for an electoral alternative on the left side of the spectrum are much dimmer than they are on the right side. Ralph Nader is unlikely to create a credible alternative to complement Barr. That conclusion seems counterintuitive, at first, because a seasoned candidate like Nader, articulate and fearless, is a natural to play this role but, unfortunately, no.
This is on account of the candidate’s strange electoral strategy, which consists of pushing away the Green Party organization and mounting an "independent" campaign instead. This, in turn, necessitates an expensive and incredibly complicated ballot access drive, likely to eat up the entire Nader campaign treasury, such as it is.
Why is Nader doing this? Darned if I know, and, frankly, the whole thing sounds more than a little crack-brained, which makes me even less inclined to investigate the ostensible rationale. If the Left can’t get together an independent antiwar ticket in lieu of an Obama-less ballot, then what good are they, even to themselves?
I’ve been accused of "shunning" Nader and of having "fallen into the clutches of the Obama-zombies," but Nader hasn’t exactly inspired confidence. My problem with him, however, isn’t ideological it’s strategic and tactical. He has done everything possible to marginalize both himself and his campaign, and I’m hardly to blame for that.