Barr: A Spoiler or Just Another Choice?

Posted by Mike Merritt in Election 2008, Politics on

Libertarian Presidential nominee Bob Barr, the former Republican Congressman from Georgia, is getting a lot of flack from his former party for daring to run.  According to this New York Times article, party officials are trying to tell him, “Don’t do it, Bob!”:

“‘Well, gee, you might take votes from Senator McCain,'” Mr. Barr said this week, mimicking one of the complainers, as he sat sipping Coca-Cola in his plush corner office, 12 stories above Atlanta. “They all said, ‘Look, we understand why you’re doing this. We agree with why you’re doing it. But please don’t do it.'”

The argument seems to be that if Barr gets enough votes, particularly from Republicans, that John McCain’s chances of winning will be diminished that much.

Gee, you think?

Third parties and Independents running for President have traditionally gotten a bad rap in this country because of the “stealing the vote” factor.  The idea is that the third party candidate is somehow responsible for the “main party” candidate losing the vote.  For instance, Democrats hold Ralph Nader largely responsible for Al Gore losing the 2000 election.  Yet, those same Democrats would be beside themselves with glee if enough votes went to Barr to lose McCain the election.  On the other hand, they’re angry at Ralph Nader for daring to run again.

So, is Barr a spoiler?  Well, if he actually does get enough votes, than by definition he has spoiled the election for McCain, right?  Yet, I would argue that Barr getting enough votes says something else.  It says that those who voted for Barr either want a more libertarian conservative for President or were unhappy with the options presented to them.

If the reasoning is that people want a return to libertarian conservatism, that should send a huge signal to the Republicans that their neo-conservative, big government policies of recent years are just not appealing to the average Joe.  I’d be a little skeptical that this would be the reasoning, right now at least.  The general American populous seems to be okay with the current level of government, whatever the reasoning may be.

I think it is more likely that a large vote for Barr be because of the second reasoning, that these voters are wary of letting John McCain continue the war, and other Bush policies he agrees with, but at the same time do not wish to associate their vote with the rather liberal Barack Obama.  In that case, the Republicans should still get the hint that people are unhappy with the way things were run for eight years, and modify their platform to suit.

If Barr does get huge numbers in the fall, we won’t find out why until exit polls are released and analyzed.  I do concede, though, that even with larger than normal numbers, Barr is unlikely to win.  Yet, it would put the Libertarians on the national platform where they have never been before.  A large vote for their candidate would send a signal not only to the Republicans, but the nation as a whole, that a significant number of voters are unhappy with elements of the current system.  Look at the Green Party; I think it could be argued that even without large scale electoral success that elements of their platform have been brought to national prominence.  Global warming to name just one.

Yet, the mere fact that Republican leaders seem to be scared stiff of a Barr candidacy says a lot about what they see as their chances to win the Presidency in November.  That they’re not very good.

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