Monday, May 26, 2008

Bob Barr: Intellectual or "Real Asshole"?

As you probably already know, or very soon will know, yesterday (May 25th) the Libertarian Party nominated Bob Barr as their party's 2008 presidential candidate. This is obviously a very important topic that we here at the Illiterate Electorate are obliged to address. The trouble is, I had been struggling with what to write about it for a full twenty-four hours.

I finally approached a close friend about Mr. Barr, asking her opinion on this enigma of a man. After explaining the dichotomy that is Bob's political career, I asked "So... what do you think?" Her response was brutally honest, "I think he's probably a real asshole."

I should explain how I framed the question...

Bob Barr represented Georgia's 7th congressional district as a Republican. I didn't know that either... wikipedia is a wonder of our time.

Apparently Bob's hallmark political moments have been when he initiated the Bill Clinton impeachment dialogue and when he went apeshit in support of the 1998 war on drugs (not Nancy Reagan's mind you, rather another failed attempt to control the citizenry).

To make a very long story very short (and I urge you to research the topic on your own rather than take my word), Bob actually penned an amendment, fittingly named the "Barr Amendment", that blocked an initiative attempting to legalize marijuana for medicinal use in Washington D.C. and prohibited future discussions on the topic. Free speech be damned, this last part of the amendment was reversed and then re-instated and still stands to this day (seriously, wikipedia rules).

Oddly, since Bob penned this controversial piece of legislation, he now lobbys for the Marijuana Policy Project, the group he originally cock-blocked with his fascist amendment. That's right, Bob is now trying to turn over his own amendment. He rightly cites the Bush administration's gross expansion of governmental power for the need to curb these further infractions against public freedom.

Also, he now opposes the Patriot Act that he originally voted for. Again nobally citing infractions against public freedom for his newfound sanity.

Finally, while Bob is publicly and legislatively against same-sex marriage (he helped pen the Defense of Marriage Act), he is opposed to the Federal Marriage Amendment because it is against state's rights.

After presenting wikipedia's information, I then destroyed a passage from an article in Foreign Policy that I read recently, explaining the quandary of the political flip-flop. The article illustrates how intellectuals (authors, academics, scientists) are praised for a public change of heart on an issue, while politicians are absolutely destroyed (see the right-wing attacks on John "Flip-Flop" Kerry).

So I finally asked, "So... what do you think?" and, as stated above, this is where the "asshole" comment came in.

The conversation then turned into a discussion, not really about Bob Barr, but about flip-floppers. My friend argues that academics, her chosen field of profession, flip-flop despite themselves. It could be a great detriment to an academic who supported a school of thought his or her entire career to change horses in the middle of a stream; however, when they do change their minds they are lauded for having consumed and digested a new perspective that leads to a more enlightened position (hence the lofty "intellectual" label).

To the skeptic (which let's face it, is most of us these days), politicians seemingly change their minds to gain votes. Nothing intellectual to praise there - just a profitable decision (see Mitt Romney's campaign for Governor of Massachusetts vs. Mitt Romney's campaign for President).

All of this brings me to the point... under what circumstances can a politician change his or her mind? Is it just a sad-but-true inevitability that we will always distrust politicians? Is it our home-team, sportslike view of politics that leads us to hold our own guy (maybe John Kerry?) in esteem after a flip-flop while we brandish the opponent (maybe John McCain?) a "flip-flopper" for supporting Bush tax cuts that he originally said "offended my conscience"? Because ultimately the question comes down to, "is Bob Barr an intellectual or just a real asshole?"


Bradda said...

I see what you mean with the debate but one thing stood out to me after reading your post. When exactly did Kerry flip-flop other than the war vote. I never dug Kerry and am NOT trying to say anything other than when did he flip-flop? That talk came from the lunatic fringe and was thouroughly debunked by everyone including Al Franken of all people. John McCain has actually change his shit to suit his purpose. I mean, anyone who would change his mind about torture after being tortured in real life is a bit unstable to say the least. He really is reminding me of Reagan as each week passes. Not in the electibility and good speaker/actor ways but more the older man who is being told what to say and constantly screws it up. I truly think he doesn't know when he contradicts himself. He REALLY doesn't remember.

puddy said...

oh, i totally agree. i was just trying to depict the public reaction to the implication that kerry had flip-flopped. the whole thing was just a giant pile of bullshit.

Bradda said...

Well as we all know, we live in the Illiterate Electorate. Anything goes when it comes to the "public".

Bradda said...

Back to the topic, sorry I tend to ramble, I don't mind people changing their minds about issues. I for one was a staunch death penalty advocate while growing up. I have changed to an anti-death penalty advocate in the last couple of years after reading up on the subject. Am I a flip-flopper?
In McCain and Romney's case, I doubt they came to their new stances through education and thought. Power and dollar signs are what make them tick.

Reason said...

Bradda, that's exactly it. It's the reasons, or what we perceive to be the reasons, behind the change that determines whether someone appears to be a flip-flopper.

A lot plays into that: the context in which the change of opinion is first made, seeming sincerity, the explanation, the time it took one to change his or her mind, perceived motivation, and so on.

I had a great deal of respect for John McCain prior to this campaign, even if I didn't agree with many of his positions. Maybe losing the nomination in 2000 just really made him question the value of his integrity.

As for this Bob Barr, I don't know him other than what I read here, but I'm inclined to think any legislator who includes a prohibition of future discussion in a bill like that is likely to be at best an asshole. Of course, I would also have questions about the legislators who voted for something like that.

puddy said...

i should have said in my post that the effect of the amendment was to prohibit future discussions.

you can read the wikipedia entry, which is fully cited, for the exact wording.

more info:

from MPP

from the ACLU

Interestingly, Barr is currently a member of both groups.

Reason said...

Check out the editorial review on his book "The Meaning of Is: The Squandered Impeachment and Wasted Legacy of William Jefferson Clinton"

And also the article "Another conservative has a change of heart"

There are some common threads between his opposition to Bill Clinton and his rejection of the Republican party.