Bob Barr, the former U.S. Congressman from Georgia, has the misfortune of being the Libertarian Party's 2008 nominee for president in a year when third-party candidates have drawn scant attention. His campaign Web site boasts that, as president, he would "work tirelessly to cut taxes, reduce government spending and restore our civil liberties lost during the Bush administration." He has been dubbed "Mr. Privacy" by William Safire in The New York Times.
Barr was interviewed the day after the second presidential debate, which excluded all third-party candidates. But he later decided to have his own debate answers "spliced in" to the third debate via his campaign Web site (www.bobbarr2008.com/counterdebate). Barr will be on the ballot in 46 states, including Pennsylvania -- although the state Supreme Court is still considering a lawsuit by Republican candidate John McCain's campaign to get him removed.
Was it irksome watching the two big-party candidates debate, feeling you ought to be there too?
It's unfortunate, but the poor quality of the answers, the rambling, clearly illustrate that the American people don't get very much out of these debates the way they are structured. It certainly would have spiced it up if I had been there.
Why the Libertarian Party?
It's the only political party in America that truly understands the Constitution and is truly committed to reducing the power, size and scope of the federal government, consequently increasing individual liberty.
What federal expenditures would be the first to go?
That which is under the immediate control of the president -- the personnel in the White House. The huge press office. All of the advisers, all of the counselors. I would refuse to sign any piece of legislation that increases any federal spending. I would not sign legislation that increases the ceiling on the national debt. I suspect the Department of Education would be the top of the list [of axed departments]. It has failed miserably to meet its goal to improve the scholastic ability of America's students. The nearly $60 billion spent yearly on the department should be returned to the parents where they can make the decisions about how the money is spent [in schools] in their local communities. The Department of Energy was created 30 years ago with the express purpose of reducing our dependence on foreign oil. A government department that witnesses a reversal of its goals would certainly place it under a microscope.
And you believe the free market is still the solution to our energy woes? How would that work?
It would work by a company going out, discovering oil, extracting it, refining it and selling it. There are huge quantities of oil shale in the [American] West. Certainly it would take several years to begin taking it to the market. We are very behind the eight-ball. For the next few decades, it is actually physically impossible to switch to a non-petroleum-based fuel. It just is not going to happen. It will have to change over the long term unless new technology is developed. Over the long term, we will have to develop new forms of energy. The petroleum sources are finite, and as those supplies diminish, the price will rise and alternative fuels will become more attractive.
You've called the Iraq war a mistake. So how do we get out?
We get out by making a decision to get out. We made a decision to get in. I supported that decision as a member of Congress because it was presented to us that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. ... But none of us in Congress voted for a multi-year occupation. The only way the government of Iraq will begin to act as a sovereign nation and begin to take responsibility for its own affairs is for us to begin to get out.
And to those who say exiting too quickly will leave us in peril?
I don't see beginning to get out after five years to be too quick. ... If the Iraqi government is not able to defend itself after hundreds of billions of dollars and 4,500 American lives, I'd say we have a problem that is not going to be solved no matter how long we are over there.
What should America do to make it easier for third parties to get on the ballot?
Some states like Oklahoma set a burden that is virtually impossible to meet -- the number of signatures you need and the short deadline you need to do it in. But Oklahomans need to change that. People need to demand that there is a fair system that doesn't move in the direction of having a huge number of extremely small parties [on the ballot] but had a reasonable threshold for parties to meet.
Let's face it -- one of the big-party candidates is going to win. How do you keep going?
A couple of things are important: first of all to raise issues that need to be raised. ... [Second,] to secure a sufficient percentage of the vote so that the other two parties can't ignore the message that is out there, similar to Ross Perot in 1992. He didn't win -- in fact he didn't get any electoral votes -- but [his campaign] influenced America for years to come. If we were to receive a certain percentage of the vote -- it varies from state to state -- we could be assured ballot access in the future.