Former congressman Bob Barr (R.-Georgia) announced last week that he would seek the Libertarian Party nomination for president. With Republican nominee-presumptive John McCain absolutely the last choice for most conservatives, and the "lesser-of-two-evils" argument wearing very thin after eight years of Bush betrayal, the 2008 election provides an excellent opportunity for a conservative third party candidate. The Constitution Party has already nominated Rev. Chuck Baldwin (a former VDARE.COM columnist!) But Barr could be the most high-profile right wing candidate since Pat Buchanan, and the most serious Libertarian Party nominee at least since Ron Paul in 1988. This, of course, is why the GOP mouthpieces at National Review have already begun attacking him.
The biggest rift between McCain and the Republican base is over immigration. There is discontent with the Iraq War, but it was not enough to make Ron Paul a contender. A patriotic immigration reform stance would provide a great way to win over Republican (and other) dissidents. But it is becoming increasingly clear that Barr will not take it.
Which is surprising. In Congress, Barr had an excellent record on immigration. A look at his Numbers USA grades, shows only a few weak spots in supporting guest worker programs for nurses and agricultural workers. Even in this area, he cosponsored legislation to halve H-1B visas. In every other area, he took the lead in promoting sensible immigration policies. Barr co-sponsored legislation to end birthright citizenship, eliminate chain migration, and cut legal immigration to 300,000 people a year. On enforcement, Barr voted repeatedly to put troops on the border, signed a letter opposing Bush's amnesty when it was first proposed in 2001 and fought against 245(i) and other mini-amnesties.
But Barr has changed his views on many issues since he lost his seat in 2002. Since 9-11, he has been a leading advocate for privacy rights and civil liberties. This has led to some unconventional alliances, such as his "consulting on privacy issues" for the ACLU.
The Republican Party's strong support for the Patriot Act and similar measures led Barr to leave the GOP in 2004. That year, he endorsed Libertarian Party presidential candidate Michael Badnarik and currently serves as regional representative for the party.
Despite Barr's electoral experience and relatively high profile, his nomination is not a foregone conclusion. Barr's conservative stances in the past could cost him among the more socially libertarian types. Indeed, the Libertarian Party targeted Barr for defeat in 2002 due to his support for the War on Drugs.
Barr says he has rethought the government's role in other areas in reaction to the federal government's "War on Terror" power grab. (And, it has to be suggested, perhaps to ingratiate himself with his new libertarian allies). This has made the former drug warrior into an advisor to the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. On many of the divisive social issues, such as abortion, and homosexual marriage, he says he'll to defer to the states. This was the reason he gave for endorsing the California Supreme Court's recent ruling legalizing homosexual marriage.
The question for VDARE.COM readers, of course, is whether Barr will begin to toe a new line on immigration too.
As recently as 2006, Barr maintained his tough stand on immigration. He wrote an excellent op-ed for the Atlanta Journal Constitution where he chided Bush for failing to see that
"the fundamental problem [is] a complete breakdown of respect for immigration laws in this country prompted by an utter failure to enforce those laws against illegal aliens and those who hire them."
He went on to criticize Bush for
"pontificating about protecting the 'decency' of America and reminding us repeatedly that the most important thing we are is a 'nation of immigrants.' The decency about which Bush speaks has nothing to do with the decency of protecting the sovereignty of the nation his oath of office requires him to protect.
"Deflecting and obfuscating the immigration debate by simply parroting the historical fact that America's population growth in its earlier decades was largely the result of external migration does nothing to address the very real and current problem." [Bush Gives Immigration Wink and Nod, April 12, 2006.] [Links added].
This does not square well with the "modal libertarians" who dominate the Libertarian Party. They are dogmatic supporters of Open Borders. (Of course, there are many important exceptions—most notably Ron Paul, who is currently the best-known libertarian in the country, and John Hospers, the only Libertarian presidential candidate ever to receive an electoral college vote, in 1972.)
The Libertarian Party platform says: "Repeal all measures that punish employers for hiring undocumented workers. Repeal all immigration quotas".
The LP position paper on the issue actually opens: "America is and always has been A Nation of Immigrants" and then condemns "the xenophobic immigrant bashing that would build a wall around the United States."
Barr's recent statements on immigration suggest that he is slowly moving away from his excellent record on immigration towards these empty open borders bromides of the Libertarian Party.
During the 2007 amnesty battle, Barr chastised "GOP hotheads" in Georgia who went after Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson for selling out on immigration. Despite edging towards a federalist position on all social issues, he attacked Hazleton, PA and other state and local governments that have tried to do anything constructive about illegal immigration.
"Regardless of whether local elected officials believe they are under a calling—as Hazleton Mayor Louis Barletta has said—to 'not sit back because the federal government has refused to do its job,' the Constitution establishes clearly that they do not possess that power. Immigration policy is a power reserved to the federal government, and especially where you have a federal law (the largely discredited, but still valid 1986 'Immigration Reform and Control Act') that explicitly provides that it pre-empts state laws regarding employment of non-citizens."[Immigration belongs at the federal level by Bob Barr August 1, 2007]
Immigration policy may be "reserved to the federal government" (by an 1875 decision in which the Court told the State of California that they shouldn't do something which might start a war with the Emperor of China—starting wars is a federal responsibility) but what the states are trying to do is deal with people who've committed a Federal crime, as defined by the Federal government, which the Federal government refuses (more or less corruptly) to do anything about.
Barr's website makes a number of ominously vague statements on immigration. He says we must "aggressively" secure our borders, while fighting "the nanny state that seeks to coddle even those capable of providing for their own personal prosperity." He specifically endorses the Libertarian Party Platform's description of the problem of immigration:
"Our borders are currently neither open, closed, nor secure. This situation restricts the labor pool, encouraging employers to hire undocumented workers, while leaving those workers neither subject to nor protected by the law. A completely open border allows foreign criminals, carriers of communicable diseases, terrorists and other potential threats to enter the country unchecked. Pandering politicians guarantee access to public services for undocumented aliens, to the detriment of those who would enter to work productively, and increasing the burden on taxpayers."
But the key phrase here is "restricts the labor pool"—which implies that there is a need to increase legal immigration.
And Barr now made this more explicit in a May 5, 2008 interview with The American Conservative
Barr: "On the issue of immigration, my focus is consistent with the platform, and that is securing the border. I am not talking about physical securing. I don't favor a fence. If there is economic opportunity, people should be free to come into this country and participate in the market."
TAC: "Does that mean you favor a guestworker program?"
Barr: "Yes. I think people ought to be able to come in and compete for jobs as long as they submit to an immigration procedure that ensures they do not pose a security or health risk. Internally, let the market dictate if there is a place for folks.
"It is important to start removing the government-program incentives that bring people here. The market ought to be the incentive, not welfare programs."
Instead of asking if Barr supported a guestworker program (without 14th Amendment reform?), the TAC editors should have asked if he supported removing all limits on legal immigration. His answer implies he does. (But TAC deserves more credit than National Review, which interviewed and editorialized against him without mentioning immigration at all.)
In April Barr was interviewed by libertarian talk radio host Neal Boortz:
Barr: "You set a mechanism internally to determine who is here. And if you catch folks that are here unlawfully, and do not submit themselves to a background check that those coming into this country are going to be required to do, then you send them back to their country."
Boortz: "It sounds to me that you're saying, if you find an illegal immigrant in this country, and they're willing to submit to a background check, that that could open the door to them staying here."
Barr: "I think as a practical matter, that makes a lot of sense. [Emphasis added] I'm not sure how you would go about rounding up millions of people and trying to deport them. The key here is security…."
Bob Barr told Newsweek that "the post-9/11 world is a very different world from the one I served in Congress." It appears that the Bob Barr of 2008 has a dramatically different view of immigration than he did pre-9/11.
Why the shift? He has complained that "If such heretofore conservative stalwarts as Tom Tancredo and John Doolittle now champion increased government power to mold private businesses into their preferred image, is there really any hope left for the dwindling camp of Reagan Republicans who sincerely and consistently dislike government power?"
I've said before that civil libertarians have completely legitimate reasons to be opposed to some of enforcement tools that desperate immigration reform patriots have turned to, such as the RICO statutes and National ID cards.
However, most of the commonsense measures that Barr advocated in Congress such as lowering legal immigration, beefing up border security, and ending birthright citizenship, do nothing to increase state power. In fact, many of the smarter civil libertarians I know recognize that cracking down on illegal immigration is an alternative to Big Brother surveillance. See, for example National ID: Another step to totalitarianism, [January 15, 2008]by Tom DeWeese in WorldNetDaily.
Barr should make his position on legal immigration and birthright citizenship clear, and explain what actual steps he would do to solve the problem besides "securing the border" (but not "physically securing it"?) and ending welfare.
But based on his recent statements, I get the unmistakable impression that he no longer sees mass immigration as a problem at all.
I would be lying if I said that picking back up the standard of patriotic immigration reform would help Barr win the Libertarian Party nomination—anymore than it would it help him become president of La Raza.
But if he wants to attract the maximum number of disaffected Republicans, he should start sounding more like Tom Tancredo and less like John McCain.
As it is, it looks like the Constitution Party's Chuck Baldwin will have the patriotic immigration reform vote entirely to himself.
Marcus Epstein [send him mail] is the founder of the Robert A Taft Club and the executive director of the The American Cause and Team America PAC. A selection of his articles can be seen here. The views he expresses are his own.