Former Republican Congressman Bob Barr, who has perhaps attracted more mainstream media (MSM) attention to the LP than any individual in the party's history, won the presidential nomination, defeating a well-spoken purist libertarian in the sixth round of voting. Barr was going to be the most successful candidate in LP history, but not without controversy.
I was not at all surprised by the nomination of Bob Barr. I knew going into the convention that he was raising more money and getting more MSM attention than any of the other 7-15 candidates (was anyone able to get an actual count?). However, many of the Libertarians on the televised broadcast, including former presidential candidate and now former-Libertarian Christine Smith, were publicly outraged about the nomination and the Republican "take-over" of the party. The libertarian blogosphere would also erupt throughout the next few days.
Since the moment of the nomination, I have heard outraged libertarians cry that Bob Barr is not a "real libertarian," but a "libertarian-leaning conservative" or the favorite term, a "neoconservative." Still, most of the party (the majority that voted for him), Steve Kubby, and other Libertarian leaders I respect called for "party unity" and support for the Barr/Root ticket. They argued that Bob Barr and his Vice Presidential candidate Wayne Allyn Root would still be a medium for publicizing the libertarian message through a national campaign.
Let's analyze the first reaction that I mentioned. This is the argument that Barr and Root are not "true libertarians." They conspired in a "neoconservative take-over" of the party. The term neoconservative is used frequently by libertarians, liberals, and "real" conservatives, most often in reference to the Bush administration. I am even guilty of using it in my analysis last summer of Barack Obama's foreign policy. Since we use this word to describe all that we despise and oppose in politics, we must ask, do we actually know what it means?
When I first heard the word "neocon" used to describe Bob Barr, I thought, "he certainly appears to be a conservative and a Republican, but is he really a neocon?" Whenever I ask questions like this, I am quick to grab my dictionary. Such a contemporary word was not in the printed dictionary, so I visited Dictionary.Com, where I found neoconservative to be defined as "moderate political conservatism espoused or advocated by former liberals or socialists."
Is Bob Barr a "former liberal or socialist?" Let's hear what he has to say about socialism:
The government has no responsibility, should have no responsibility, and was never intended to have responsibility for managing or tinkering with the American economy. That was supposed to be left up to the marketplace. Capitalism. That is the nature of capitalism.
As an advocate of capitalism, the opposite of socialism, Bob Barr can not be defined with a dictionary as a neoconservative.
Let's try another definition.
I don't like to cite Wikipedia, but I often use it as a starting point in exploring an issue like this. I found a cited definition there from I book that wasn't available at my library. For what it's worth, I will share the quotation and citation from Wikipedia, as I found it on June 2, 2008:
Neoconservatism emphasizes foreign policy as the paramount responsibility of government, maintaining that America's role as the world's sole superpower is indispensable to establishing and maintaining global order. (McGowan, J. (2007). "Neoconservatism", American Liberalism: An Interpretation for Our Time. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, pp.124-133.)
Does Bob Barr support an American empire? He says,
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.
With a clearly stated non-interventionist foreign policy, Bob Barr is not a neoconservative by this definition either.
Finally, I will go to the man most libertarians trust and support, the man we look to for leadership in Congress, and the face of the greatest libertarian revolution since 1776, Ron Paul.
A famous speech presented by Congressman Paul to the House of Representatives in 2003 is titled "Neo-CONNED!" Paul provided in the speech "a brief summary of the general understanding of what neocons believe:"
1. They agree with Trotsky on permanent revolution, violent as well as intellectual.
2. They are for redrawing the map of the Middle East and are willing to use force to do so.
3. They believe in preemptive war to achieve desired ends.
4. They accept the notion that the ends justify the means—that hardball politics is a moral necessity.
5. They express no opposition to the welfare state.
6. They are not bashful about an American empire; instead they strongly endorse it.
7. They believe lying is necessary for the state to survive.
8. They believe a powerful federal government is a benefit.
9. They believe pertinent facts about how a society should be run should be held by the elite and withheld from those who do not have the courage to deal with it.
10. They believe neutrality in foreign affairs is ill advised.
11. They hold Leo Strauss in high esteem.
12. They believe imperialism, if progressive in nature, is appropriate.
13. Using American might to force American ideals on others is acceptable. Force should not be limited to the defense of our country.
14. 9-11 resulted from the lack of foreign entanglements, not from too many.
15. They dislike and despise libertarians (therefore, the same applies to all strict constitutionalists.)
16. They endorse attacks on civil liberties, such as those found in the Patriot Act, as being necessary.
17. They unconditionally support Israel and have a close alliance with the Likud Party.
Dr. Paul has done significantly more research than almost any of us about these issues. He has also been a respected member of Congress for twenty years, watching the movement of neoconservativism grow in the party around him. There is perhaps no one more capable of defining for libertarians the definition of neoconservativism than Ron Paul. If you have read Dr. Paul's definition and still believe that there is any chance Bob Barr is a "neocon," then you have a lot more to learn about Bob Barr.
As I said in the beginning of this post, I felt confused and conflicted in the days following the Libertarian National Convention. I still do feel this way, as I am still undecided about who I will vote for this November. However, there are two things I can say for sure about the mess that is the 2008 presidential campaign season:
1. Bob Barr is not a neoconservative.
2. Bob Barr will run the most successful presidential campaign in the history of the Libertarian Party.
If we abandon the Libertarian Party right now, who will be there to welcome and educate the hundreds of thousands if not millions of new LP voters and possible LP members that the Bob Barr presidential campaign will draw over the next six months? This campaign is the biggest opportunity in the history of the Libertarian Party. I am going to stick around to see it and be a part of it!