After interviewing Ralph Nader last week, George Stephanopoulos had Bob Barr, the Libertarian presidential nominee, on his ABC program today. He should be congratulated, but not so heartily until he begins to move further down the candidate list. Nader is a celebrity in his own right, and Barr has credibility with the media because he was a Republican. When Stephanopoulos has a Socialist Worker or Constitution Party candidate on for a segment, to pick across ideological lines, I'll really be impressed.
It took some prodding from the host to get Barr going against the Republicans, whom he accuses of bringing us something close to a police state, but his heart seems to be in running against what he calls the "Nanny State." That's the popular reactionary epithet for the regulatory welfare state. The implicit beef with it is that it infantilizes Americans, but by analogy a police force infantilizes us just as much, since it would seem to discourage Joe Horn-style self-reliance against criminals. People should not have their adulthood impugned because they want some protection from economic predators and the storms and quakes of business cycles. Security is a legitimate object of government even if it constrains the freedom of crafty people to con us. If this sounds like tyranny to you, go live in the woods.
Stephanopoulos identifies fear of the Nanny State with conservatism, so he naturally asked Barr what he thought of the charge from Republicans that a vote for him was a vote for Obama. Barr gave the appropriate answer -- in paraphrase: too damn bad. He's a civil-liberties hawk whose conservative fundamentals can't be questioned, so I wonder how Republicans and neocons will answer his critiques of the Bush agenda. They can't say that Barr opposes them only because a Republican is President, since he was a Republican when this all went down. They can't say that one of the chief persecutors of Bill Clinton during the impeachment crisis of 1998 is some silly liberal. Whether he actually belongs in the Libertarian Party is another story that I'll deal with when Barr gets his profile in the upcoming series, but his opposition, as a conservative, to the Bush agenda is a reproach to the other conservatives who cower around the throne. It shows that there are (at least) two kinds of conservatives in this country. One kind is Barr's kind. They really believe that stuff about small government. They're reactionary in their own right and the country shouldn't follow them, but to the extent that they stand up to Bush like Barr has (and he paid the price by being primaried out of his seat in Congress) they should at least get some credit for integrity. The other kind, probably the majority of self-styled conservatives, really believe only in the strength of the nation. They're conservatives in the same way the typical Iraqi was in Saddam's time: complacent, deferential, and proud above all of military might. They're conservative the way those elderly Russians are who still love Stalin. As long as their country appears to be strong and is feared by its enemies, they are content.
Occasionally amid talk of the Nanny State you hear about the "Daddy State" as what Republicans and conservatives believe in, and what libertarians distrust. The change in gender is probably significant. The Daddy State is forceful and judgmental, more likely to apply the paddle than the coddling "Nanny" and more prepared to shoot down trespassers, even on its neighbors' property. In the past, to the extent that he could be identified with the religious right, Bob Barr has sounded like an advocate of the Daddy State. He's at least party renounced it in opposing Bush's police-state tactics. He must go farther than that, you'd think, to fit well with Libertarians, but how far he's going remains to be seen. The interview might help you form an impression, but once again, I apologize for the commercial ABC will make you sit through.