Daniel McCarthy has an interesting post over at Tory Anarchist documenting the fact that Jim Webb is more libertarian on the war on drugs than the Libertarian Party presidential nominee Bob Barr is. Of course I agree with Dan on this and the evidence is pretty compelling, but what is puzzling to me is why this would be surprising to anyone (though in fairness Dan has been a long time supporter of Webb, and isn't really playing the "shock and awe" card in his post).
For a while now I have been pretty hard on Bob Barr, and some of my liberty minded friends have taken exception to this. The accusation is that I am being unreasonable and holding Barr up to a puritanical standard that regards consistency as a more important virtue than conversion, and doesn't allow for politically necessary "nuance" at all. Similar charges have been tossed at both myself, and my friends Jack Hunter and Daniel Bein, because of our opinion of senatorial candidate Buddy Witherspoon. While I understand and agree that politics is the art of the possible, I can't help but think that many of my critics are missing the depth of possibilities available to us, and I am certain that they are misunderstanding my objections to Barr (and to a lesser degree, Witherspoon).
The ups and downs of political trends is interesting. In 2000 the "hip" third party candidate to cast a ballot for was Ralph Nader. While I believe that Mr. Nader is much more conservative than the overwhelming majority of the Republican Party-and is a true American patriot in ways that most modern politicians would find quant- there is no question that the majority of Nader's supporters were liberals and/or leftists. As someone who grew up in a very leftist household, and pulled the lever for Nader in 2000 at the age of 19, I can say without qualification that I was not voting for Ralph because of his views on "corporate pornography" or his qausi-restrictionist position on white collar immigration. Ralph Nader as "Old Right" revivalist is not the stretch some people think it is, but that was not the base of Nader's support and to pretend otherwise is silly.
Eight years later though and the United States is in a totally different place. The massive expansion of government and draconian advances of the Homeland Security bureaucracy have turned huge portions of the traditionally big government left into skeptics. The office of the Presidency is now widely regarded as the most dangerous force on the planet, even by typically deferential American liberals. The military-industrial complex and the Empire are now openly attacked in books, magazines and even amongst certain sectors of the pundit class in ways that would have seemed unimaginable in 2000. In sum the tyrannical overreach of the Bush administration has taught many, including much of the American Left, that big government really is as bad as big business.
The best evidence to support the intensity of this shift was the strength of the Ron Paul campaign and the depth of its constituency. Paul's anti-big government campaign wasn't so much a vanguard movement as it was an expression of already existing anger with the sweeping statist mindset. While it is true that Dr. Paul changed many minds, the grassroots of the Paul movement were largely already converted or semi-converted opponents of the modern monolithic state. Many of them were reared on the decentralizationist Green campaign of Nader or the pitchfork populism of Pat Buchanan and Paul was seen as the next step, the fusionist who could bring them to the promise land.
I am not going to waste time here ranting about the reason Congressman Paul's campaign wasn't able to fully capitalize on this authentic and spreading phenomenon, but I will say that the level of success reached by a candidate running primarily on an opposition to the Empire, the war on drugs and the Federal Reserve was largely a shock to the political know-it-alls and should be instructive. And that is why Bob Barr fails.
Amongst young libertarians, opposition to the war on drugs and American interventionism are the two key issues. What does it say when their candidate, the assumed heir to the Ron Paul throne, is not only shaky on these two issues, but is demonstrably worse than a top VP contender for the Democrats? What does it say for the direction of this movement when its new standard bearer writes essays promoting hemispheric intervention to combat market based crop production in a developing nation, while his FDR-admiring, defeated adversary, speaks eloquently about removing troops and bases from all international countries and terminating the drug war in full? Finally, what does it say when the "party of principle" nominates a man who refuses to admit that his vote to invade Iraq was anything more than a decision made on faulty intelligence (that was used to authorize force in contrast with his understanding of the bill), while one of the biggest war hawks in the country, representing one of the biggest military districts in the nation, is able to publicly admit that he was totally wrong about Iraq, and still win reelection?
Distrust of the Fed, disdain for the war on drugs and contempt for the Empire are the three primary issues that unite the libertarian right and the populist left. They are issues that led to a loose coalition around the candidacy of a pro-life, Texas, Republican, most well known for his outright contempt for federal government spending. I believe that Dr. Paul was right about much more than just the Fed and the War, but the oppurtunity to push that decentralizationist vision forward is wasted when the person who has assumed the helm of the movement is several steps behind his predecessors.
Bob Barr would have been a perfectly acceptable small government, conservative candidate in 2000 or 2004. Many of the ideas, and much of the language he is running on now, would have been revolutionary for the time. But in a post-Raph Nader, post-Ron Paul, political universe, Bob Barr is a step backward. Not back toward the traditional American Republic, but back toward the managerial state and the totalitarian status quo.