Monday, June 2, 2008

Well Played, Sir!

As plenty of libertarians are now aware, the Bob Barr campaign issued a press release denouncing the support of Stormfront and an (apparently prominent) racist, which had been posted on an internet message board. The press release is sweeping in scope, and hits every note that a lot of us had wished Ron Paul had hit. As an expression of libertarianism, it just about hits the nail right on the head, I think:

"The Barr campaign is not going to be a vehicle for every fringe and hate group to promote itself. We do not want and will not accept the support of haters. Anyone with love in their heart for our country and for every resident of our country regardless of race, religion, nationality or sexual orientation is welcome with open arms.Tell the haters I said don't let the door hit you on the backside on your way out!"

I am not going to say that this statement took a lot of political courage (although given some of the comments in the Hit&Run thread, maybe it took more political courage than it should have in this day and age). But it does demonstrate an understanding of politics and media savvy that has been heretofore lacking amongst libertarian politicians (self-styled or otherwise). Moreover, it shows a willingness to tackle issues head-on that I suspect could have some significant appeal to voters in the general election. In any event, this is the first story of any significance involving Bob Barr since he won the LP nomination last week. I think it gives us a pretty good preview of where he is going with his campaign.

1. The campaign is organized and capable of creating its own news stories. Were it not for the press release, it is debatable whether any news outlets would have picked up on the "endorsement" by the hate group. However, in choosing to both disclose the endorsement and vehemently denunciate it, the Barr campaign gets to control the way the story is portrayed in the media. Moreover, they actually are able to get some media coverage of the issue, which is always something that libertarian and LP candidates find nearly impossible.

2. The campaign is politically astute enough to turn a potential liability into an asset. If media outlets had picked up on the "endorsement" before the Barr press release, the headline would have been "Hate Group Endorses Libertarian Candidate." By making itself aware of the "endorsement" and immediately denouncing it, though, the headline becomes "Libertarian Candidate Denounces Hate Group." In the process, the candidate avoids having to answer questions like "What do you think of Mr. X, who has endorsed you?" Look at the fallout that McCain has had to face over the Hagee endorsement, or that Obama has had to face over several of his supporters, and you can see just how difficult it can be to completely recover from an endorsement by a particularly vehement racist or extremist. By taking ownership of the issue immediately, the Barr campaign was able to control its dissemination and to prevent any impression that it was equivocating on the issue.

3. The campaign has decided that the support of more, uhh, mainstream voters is more valuable than trying to keep fringe groups within the fold. One of the biggest problems I had with the Ron Paul campaign was that it appeared to value the support of people like Alex Jones and 9/11 Truthers far more than it valued the support of the average libertarian-minded voter. While this may have allowed the Paul campaign to raise an obscene amount of money, it also prevented the Paul campaign from catering its message to a broader audience. The Barr campaign has no intention of falling into that trap.

4. The Barr campaign is prepared to take advantage of new media to disseminate its message. In addition to being sent to media outlets, the press release was included in what is going to become a regular briefing for "Bloggers for Barr" (Full disclosure: I have joined that list). Within minutes, dozens of bloggers had their hands on the press release, and many of us have now discussed it.

Now, I know there are still plenty of libertarians who resent Barr's nomination or who refuse to consider Barr a libertarian because of his past Congressional record. Obviously, I am not one of them, though I do not begrudge that position. But regardless of whether Barr meets a libertarian "purity" test, there can be no doubt that he is far superior to either McCain or Obama.

The larger point of this post, however, is that the Barr campaign is demonstrating a level of competence that will allow libertarian-minded voters to have a real choice in this election. Even if Barr does not win the Presidency, a vote of just 6-10% would actually have a real effect on the direction of at least one of the two major parties, unlike the usual 1/2 of a percent to which third parties are accustomed.

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