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Libertarian Presidential Candidate and Ex-Republican Rep. Bob Barr on Impeachment, Opening Up the Debates, and Why He Left the GOP

StorySeptember 04, 2008
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A decade ago, Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr was serving as a Republican congressman from Georgia and led the Republican drive to impeach President Bill Clinton. Since then he has become a vocal critic of the Republican Party, the war in Iraq and the erosion of civil liberties. Barr joins us in St. Paul. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In just over three weeks, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain will face off in their first debate at the University of Mississippi. None of the third-party candidates have been invited to participate. Silenced will be the voices of the Libertarian candidate Bob Barr, Independent Ralph Nader, Green Party’s Cynthia McKinney and others.

Tonight, Ralph Nader will be holding a rally in Minneapolis calling for the debates to be open. Bob Barr has also called for the debates to include more than just the Democratic and Republican candidates. A recent Zogby poll found 50 percent of voters nationwide want both Barr and Nader to participate in the debates.

Today, Bob Barr joins me here in St. Paul. A decade ago, Bob Barr was serving as a Republican Congress member from Georgia, led the Republican drive to impeach President Clinton. Since then, Bob Barr has become a vocal critic of the Republican Party, the war in Iraq, erosion of civil liberties. In 2006, he left the GOP to join the Libertarian Party. In May, he was elected as the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee.

Bob Barr, welcome to Democracy Now!

BOB BARR: Good to be with you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: So you left the Republican Party. Why are you in St. Paul, where the Republican National Convention is taking place?

BOB BARR: I’m here in St. Paul for the convention, because there’s a great deal of media here, and it provides a tremendous opportunity to discuss the political issues from the perspective of the Libertarian Party. As you noted, we have not been and probably won’t be invited to the debate. So we have to take advantage of every other opportunity that we can. And there is a great concentration of national and world media here. And we’ve been invited to discuss the issues from the Libertarian perspective with many of the media reps.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you leave the Republican Party? I mean, you were invaluable for them. When it came to the impeachment of Bill Clinton, you were a real pitbull on that issue.

BOB BARR: The Republican Party left me. I mean, the Republican Party of this early twenty-first century is a party that has no regard for individual liberty, that is focused dramatically on increasing the size, the scope, the power of the federal government, particularly in the executive branch. We have an administration and a party that supports it, that believes that habeas corpus is no longer important, that the government can spy on its citizenry without going to a court and really without any cause whatsoever. We have a government that is utterly spendthrift, yet which still calls itself conservative. This is a party that bears no relationship to the Republican Party of ages past.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet you supported the PATRIOT Act when you were a congressman from Georgia.

BOB BARR: I voted for it. I never supported it. I led an effort in the Congress, you know, a very broad coalition, with the ACLU, the American Conservative Union and a number of other organizations, to try our best to scale it back. And we were somewhat successful in those early days before it was adopted by the Congress. We were also successful in getting some sunset clauses into the PATRIOT Act. And I was — I was willing to vote for it based on what turned out to be several false promises from the administration: that they would not use it beyond the scope of terrorism investigations, which was what it was intended to apply to, that they would not seek to expand it, which they then immediately started to do after its initial passage, and that they would report fully and openly to the Congress on it, which they have failed to this day to do.

AMY GOODMAN: The eavesdropping, has it surprised you? We were at the Democratic convention last week in Denver. And the party bags, the delegates’ bags had AT&T emblazoned on it. Coming here, it was certainly the push of the Republicans to grant retroactive immunity to the telecoms that spied on Americans. The Democrats went along with it, ultimately, and they got that retroactive immunity.

BOB BARR: It didn’t surprise me that the Republicans went along with it. They’ve been absolutely feckless in standing up to the erosion, the dramatic erosion, of civil liberties, including the right to privacy by this administration. It did somewhat surprise me that some of the leaders in the Congress on the Democrat Party side went along with it, in particular Senator Obama; the standard-bearer for the Democratic Party in this election had very eloquently spoken out against it, particularly those provisions that did grant retroactive immunity to the telecoms that violated the law. And then he turned around and voted for it. And I’ve never seen, since he did that, an adequate explanation of why. So that remains somewhat of a mystery.

AMY GOODMAN: What concerns you more, an Obama presidency or a McCain presidency?

BOB BARR: It’s two sides of the same coin. I’m concerned about both of them. There are certainly — there are nuanced differences, different areas, different policy directives and directions that each one of them would go. But both of them are very clearly in the mold of expanding the scope and the power of the federal government. And that bothers me in either case.

AMY GOODMAN: In swing states, would you support another candidate?

BOB BARR: No, absolutely not. We are doing actually very well in a number of swing states, according to the most recent Zogby poll, polling at six percent nationally, but in a number of swing states, polling actually in double digits in some and six, seven, eight, nine percent in a number of others.

AMY GOODMAN: Iraq war?

BOB BARR: The resolution initially that the administration presented to the Congress, of course, was based on information that was provided to us that turned out not to be the case. There were no weapons of mass destruction; therefore, there was no imminent threat and no capability to use them, since there weren’t any weapons of mass destruction. Also, the resolution was presented as an authorization to allow a specific military action. There was never a consideration or a rationale that this would provide for a multi-year occupation at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars. So it was sort of a bait and switch by the administration.

AMY GOODMAN: So you’re against the war in Iraq?

BOB BARR: Certainly against the occupation, and the rationale for voting for the resolution in the first place clearly was not there.

AMY GOODMAN: Alaska governor, the vice-presidential nominee of the Republican Party, Sarah Palin, is a fierce gun advocate, a proud member of the NRA. You, too?

BOB BARR: Very much so. I serve on the NRA board.

AMY GOODMAN: You fired off a weapon at a 2002 event?

BOB BARR: Well, there was a handgun at the event. And it illustrated the need for appropriate gun safety. You don’t hand somebody a firearm that you have not checked out and made sure is not — is not armed, that there is not a round in the chamber. So it was a perfect illustration of what somebody should not do, and that is to hand you a firearm that has a round chambered in it.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask about gay and lesbian relationships, about same-sex marriage. You’ve in the past called it bizarre. What are your feelings today?

BOB BARR: The issue of marriage is a social issue that ought to be left up to the people of the states. And if, in fact, the people of a state — California, Massachusetts, other states — decide they wish to broaden the recognition and the definition of marriage or do away with it entirely, that’s up to the citizens of that state.

AMY GOODMAN: But you were a fierce proponent of the — supporter of, originator of the Defense of Marriage Act.

BOB BARR: And the Defense of Marriage Act still stands for, I think, a very valid proposition, in that it protects each state’s ability and decision-making in the area of marriage. It protects any state from having a different definition of marriage forced on it from another state. It essentially protects the ability of each state to practice federalism.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your evolution as a politician. You’ve really changed on a number of issues, from the PATRIOT Act to issues of gay marriage. Why? What has changed you?

BOB BARR: The dramatic increase in government power in the post-9/11 world. And it’s not simply that government has become more powerful. What we’ve seen since 9/11 with the Bush administration and a compliant, if not complicit, Congress is an administration that believes that it is, as an institution, above the law and separate from the law, this notion of a so-called unitary executive, where — under which theory advanced by this administration and its proponents and advocates on the outside, if in fact a president is exercising a power that that president believes is granted to him or her in Article 2 of the Constitution, then that’s not reviewable. And that is a very dangerous proposition.

AMY GOODMAN: Bob Barr, you were known as one of the most conservative members of Congress, yet you were — when you were in college, you joined the Young Democrats of America. You opposed the war in Vietnam. Ultimately, though, when you left and you got your degree from George Washington University in Georgetown, you went on to work at the CIA.

BOB BARR: I spent about —- oh, about eight years at the CIA. And it gave me a very solid background, following on my two degrees, both an undergraduate and graduate degree in international relations and international affairs. Working at the CIA as an analyst and then as an attorney on legislative matters gave me a strong feel for the need for sound, good analytical intelligence and the need to gather solid intelligence. It also gave me a feel for the tremendous power of the government in that particular area and the need to retain very strong limits on it.

AMY GOODMAN: And your thoughts on particularly Vice President Cheney and his relationship with the CIA and how the intelligence was manipulated around the war in Iraq?

BOB BARR: We’re seeing some of the same problems, but on a much larger scale, that what we saw back in the 1960s with also the manipulation and misuse of intelligence and intelligence agencies. We paid a heavy price for it back then, with regard to the administration misusing the CIA, for example, to advance both foreign policy goals and indeed domestic policy goals. And now we’re seeing that again. It’s very, very dangerous, whether it was practiced by the Nixon administration or the Bush administration.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of seeing these protesters coming out of jail here in St. Paul?

BOB BARR: Certainly, I don’t condone any use of violence. What disturbs me, though, greatly is, as we saw in the 2004 national conventions, as well, is the preemptive use of police force to try and identify those that might be demonstrating, might be pushing a particular point of view, and using the powers of the government to stop them in advance, sort of this notion of preemptive war applied to preemptive law enforcement.

AMY GOODMAN: A big controversy awhile ago when you were congressman, speaking at the White Citizens Council. It’s a sort of modern-day Klan group.

BOB BARR: I never spoke to a White Citizens Council. There was a group that I was invited to, I think called the Concerned or Conservative Citizens Council, or something like that, the same group that Dick Gephardt, a Missouri Democrat, had been invited to. I think Trent Lott had been invited to address them. They were presented as a very legitimate group, asked me to come in on a Saturday, I think it was, and discuss the state of the impeachment inquiry at that time. I was happy to do it, came in, spoke to them. We found out later on that it was a group that had very, very clear racist views, and we completely disassociated ourselves from it.

AMY GOODMAN: You supported the impeachment of President Clinton. Do you support the impeachment of President Bush?

BOB BARR: The Congress —excuse me, unlike the Congress back in 1988, 1997 -—

AMY GOODMAN: We have thirty seconds.

BOB BARR: Pardon? Where we conducted a legitimate inquiry. The Congress this time has not done that. There are very serious questions about violations of law by this administration. But the Congress hasn’t done its homework to answer that question.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think they should? And do you think Bush should be impeached?

BOB BARR: Absolutely, they should.

AMY GOODMAN: Bob Barr, thank you for joining us, Libertarian candidate for president.

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